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Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings Season 1 DVD Anime Review

11 min read

Hip and flashy but also shallow with some construction issues.

What They Say:
Sengoku Basara drops you directly into the burning battlefields of feudal Japan, where rival warlords hack and slash their way to total domination. Each conqueror wields a special attack that boosts their powers of devastation, and each commands a horde of relentless warriors. But when a supreme evil – the Demon Lord – threatens the land, these fierce generals launch a co-op campaign of annihilation and build an army of armies to obliterate their common foe. As the front line grows crowded with gun-toting, mechanized samurai and mystical ninja, some will say that war is hell – but Sengoku Basara proves it can also be kick ass.

The Review:
Audio:
The feature is presented with two audio tracks- a 5.1 English track and a Stereo Japanese one. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a fairly solid one. The audio track is free from dropouts or other distortions and it gets its point across as dialogue is delivered clear while also communicating the effects subtleties such as crackling of leather or the clash of steel. Pretty much the only noticeable issue is there is a little difficulty shown at times when dialogue is present at the same time as background music as the music becomes a bit soft comparatively almost as if it is begging the audience to work to hear it.

Video:
Originally starting to air in the mid 2009 Japanese television season Sengoku Basara is presented here in its original 1.78:1 ratio and it also is given an anamorphic encode. The series has some really good positives as the bright colors come across really well and the blacks are nice and rich and solid. It isn’t all positive though as there are some issues that pop up, notable some noise, some minor blocking in colors, banding, occasional minor ghosting, and some dot crawl being present. Also a note- those with a high definition set up may chose to move back a decent distance from the screen as some of the issues- like the noise in some of the colors- is particularly noticeable from a fairly close distance and can be somewhat distracting.

Packaging:
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging for this Blu Ray/DVD release was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases review.

As for the DVDs themselves, they use colorful images of Date Masamune on the first disc with standing with his six swords drawn near the top 2/3 of the disc against a metallic looking background with the series logo and disc number written in the banner on the bottom third of the disc. The second disc uses Sanada Yukimura as he stands with one of his spears in front in one hand and his other one behind him ready to swing into action against a similar background and banner set up as the first disc.

Menu:
The menus for the series are rather basic affairs with static images being used while some rather dramatic tracks play in the background. The first disc uses the same image of Masamune that is on the disc label but sets him against a background that is mostly while with a bit of red banner at the top separated by a thin black line. The series logo is up in the red portion and just to the left of Masamune’s helmet with the options listed in black just below that. The Episode Select screen reverses the position of the red banner as it is now at the bottom as an image of Japan as displayed in a map in the series is faintly visible in the white portion with the episodes selectable in black laid over it. The language screen offers some change up as the red banner is now relegated to the a diagonal slash in the upper right corner while the background image is one that displays some rather simplistically drawn fallen warriors.

The second disc’ menus are largely the same as the first though Yukimura gets a different pose than on the label and some of the background colors and images are slightly different. Additionally the second disc has an Extras menu which is mostly white with the extras feature written in purple over the three stills that represent the chapters for the extra as the Clean Open and Close choices are below that, next to a red rectangle that lists the screen as the Extras in white and the back function under that. The menus themselves show which option is currently highlighted by having it tinged red and the menu is quick to respond to changes in selections and initiates the selected highlight with minimal delay.

Extras:
Included for extras on the release are the featurette New Anime “Sengoku Basara Chosokabe Motochika-kun and Mori-kun” Episodes 1-3 and the (almost industry standard) Textless Songs. When I first looked at the listings I was disappointed as I saw the Blu Ray version of the release had 7 episodes of this listed. I have since changed my mind as what looked like it could have been a chibi-style parody of the series turned out to be bone dull to try to watch. It also doesn’t help that in addition to not being funny- or even particularly interesting- the series stars two characters that barely appear in the TV series, and even then they get minimal screen time until the 13 episode. Dub fans may in addition be disappointed that the feature is available sub only, as frankly I was as well so I could just switch over to that and do something else while hoping it got interesting at some point. It is nice that FUNimation included this for completions sake but I am not sure there is going to be a great audience for it. On the other hand it is nice to have the textless songs as the high powered opening is by far my favorite part to this season of the franchise.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings is an animated adaption of the Capcom game series which first appeared on the Playstation 2 game system in 2005 in Japan. The series is set during the period of Japanese history commonly referred to as the Warring States era (roughly the late 15th to early 17th century) when some of the most powerful warlords Japan has ever known took up arms and attempted to unify the entire country under their banner. Much like a good deal of dramatizations though a good number of details and characters get rather loose adaptations to make for better story telling but this is hardly unique to this series in the least.

The series begins with events coming to a head as the various warlords are making strides to eliminate their competition, which also serves to show off their fantastical powers. When Takeda Shingen decides to move on his rival Uesugi Kenshin he has to dispatch his strongest fighter, Sanada Yukimura, to stop another warlord Date Masamune from interfering. This move up will prove to be a rather fateful one as Yukimura and Masamune discover in the other a very powerful rival and the two will alternately clash and form a sort of truce throughout the series.

While the Warlords are busy going about their various machinations through either forming alliances or setting up their opponents to clear the way for them to advance on the field of battle, many of them come to the conclusion that there is one foe that must be defeated first. Among all the Warlords the one who seems to be instilling the most fear in the others is Oda Nobunaga who is known as the Devil King of the sixth heaven. It quickly becomes apparent to Shingen, Kenshin and Masamune that Nobunaga must be stopped before he spreads his reach across the land.

This task won’t be easy as Nobunaga is a master strategist who has been laying the ground work for his attempt to seize the land for years. To this end he has used whatever he felt he needed to achieve his goals- be it signing agreements which he knows the other party will feel honor bound to keep even when he changes the terms or even marrying off his sister to facilitate an alliance between powers which he believes will limit his possible opponents’ ability to collect against him. This need for alliance to counter Nobunaga’s strategy will produce some strange bedfellows as various warlords will have to ally themselves with those who would take their head on a normal field of battle and Yukimura and Masamune will find they will find themselves semi aligned in their goals- but even that may not be enough to stop Nobunaga from placing all of Japan under his fist.

Sengoku Basara- Samurai Kings is a series I was looking forward to seeing at one point. I know some people have (not unreasonable) reservations about series that are based off a different medium’s stories and are hesitant when encountering them. I’m not free of this feeling from time to time myself but I have a tendency to appreciate a work for what is (or isn’t) on its own as the staff behind a show (or game, etc) are responsible for their own work regardless of the source material. And I don’t think the game part is entirely the problem here.

The (limited) trailers I watched for the show gave me the impression I’d be seeing a colorful and action packed series and in that regard it pays off. The creators of the series made sure to give each major character their own visual flair which creates a bit of a visual feast. The action also tends to be rather smooth and well thought out which makes for two strong legs in a stool that can support a good series. Unfortunately the last leg of the stool- the characters themselves- comes up short.

Maybe because the series is semi based off historical events or perhaps because of its video game roots the viewer is dropped into events already well in motion. While this works well for an introduction to a series and an attention grabber from the go, very little of the characters back story is ever filled in along the way. Basically someone without a background in the game or maybe a degree in Japanese history is left just trying desperately trying to find something to cling to if they hope to enjoy more than just splashy colors. The series likes to present some very manly men doing manly things but it often appears that this is reason enough for most of what happens. In this case, the colors look like they are partially used to help characters be identifiable like they are from some sentai show rather than taking episode time building the characters up.

In many ways the series feels like it consists of a large number of recap episodes, summing a long running series that came before this and which assumes you know the characters already and just need catching up on the major story points. This just seems to undercut everything else the series attempts and makes even the hip elements (Masamune’s dropping of English terms and decidedly motorcycle looking saddle and reign additions to his horse) seem like an attempt to help the series stand out since it can’t do so through its characters alone.

Almost every episode had me checking the timer to see how much was left of the show and almost inevitably the feeling I got was that the episodes felt twice as long as they actually were. I hate feeling this way with series but in the case of this title it actually felt worse than normal as I kept seeing points where just a little more work establishing characters would have helped tremendously in getting me to care about what was going on, but I couldn’t even get past the almost generic nature of the main villain who was more talk about how bad he was then show.

Perhaps some people who have a better grasp of the historical time period or who have played the games will get more enjoyment out of it, but I found the series to be a drag and it took me days to watch all 13 episodes (home video exclusive episode and the 12 TV ones) as I couldn’t watch more than a couple at a time and dreaded returning to them after a pause. What also undercut my interest in the flow of events is the series bizarre approach to building up events as on a few occasions it built up to what should have been the emotional climax of the episode just to have a scene happen that. These additional scenes before the end largely mitigated the emotional impact the episode just managed to carve out for itself and rather than leaving events on a crest it left them flat (at best). Which then doesn’t take into account the almost deus ex machina appearance of several characters near the end who barley get enough screen time previous to that to even bother keeping on a scorecard of series characters.

Also of note, the 12th episodes dramatic ending was undercut by being window boxed for FUNimation to get their credits in which was pretty much one last indignity piled on top of my trip through this material as the images flipped between being full screen to a small box of about a quarter of the screen in size making it harder to follow the events.

In Summary:
Sengoku Basara-Samurai Kings is an incredibly slick series that really shows off the high level of skills that its animators and action director possess. Sadly this talent is saddled with a writing team that is either unable, unwilling or just doesn’t see the necessity to actually develop characters as they take numerous shortcuts using archetypes to try to patch the holes where character development should be while just moving forward to get to the next action sequence. This lack of developing characters leaves a large hole in the series for those looking for more than just some impressive action and a rather hip update to some historical figures and the result is it leaves a rather flawed series in its wake. Those who don’t need much more motivation than manly men doing manly things may find this isn’t as much of an issue for them but others may find the entire presentation to come off as more aimless than purposeful in terms of story with everything existing simply for some high level action and a few hip throw-ins.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, New Anime “Sengoku Basara Chosokabe Motochika-kun and Mori-kun” Episodes 1-3 (DVD) / Episodes 1-7 (Blu-ray), Textless Song

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: February 7th, 2012
MSRP: $44.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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