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Samurai Jam: Bakumatsu Rock Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Samurai Jam Blu-ray CoverRocking to the beak of the Bakumatsu!

What They Say:
There are just three things standing between Ryoma Sakamoto and his dream of becoming a famous rock star: 1 – he’s barely making ends meet working in a pizza parlor, 2 – the government of Japan has banned all rock music except for the prefabricated propaganda music performed by the state-run group Heaven’s Songs, and 3 – he lives in Japan in the middle of the 19th century. Okay, so those are three VERY big problems, but on the other hand, Ryoma DOES own his own guitar (even if it’s illegal to own one) and that’s enough incentive for him to take his one-man show on the road in search of fellow rockers. Sure, getting all feudally Footloosey in a land where a battle of the bands will probably involve swords may be a risky business, but once fellow rebel rousers Kogoro and Shinsaku come on board, there’s no telling where these six-string samurai might end up!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track only and it’s done up in standard and welcome DTS-HD MA lossless in stereo. The series works the music angle well and a clean sound is important here, which it achieves regularly throughout the run. The show doesn’t hold the music to specific moments and it’s fairly regular overall with performances and that helps to make the track stand out more in general. There’s not much in the way of traditional “action”, but we get a few moments that are conveyed right. Largely, the show has a strong sounding mix because of the polished musical aspects of it and that gives it a good feeling throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. As there is only one language track, it all fits easily on the single disc. Animated by Studio Deen, the show has a pretty good look overall and utilizes its colors well to have some very standout moments in terms of design, notably with Ryoma’s hair for me, but also with the glossier aspects of the music production side with the concerts, lighting and so forth. The show doesn’t skimp on its feudal backgrounds either so we get some good designs with a healthy bit of detail to it as opposed to simplistic blank walls and the like. There’s a good flow to the visual design that translates very well through the transfer as it has the right kind of clean look that’s problem free as there’s no real noticeable noise or blocking problems either. Fans of the show will largely be delighted by how it looks.

Samurai Jam Image 1Packaging:
The packaging design for this release is definitely a busy one and it’ll certainly draw attention. The standard-sized Blu-ray case holds the single disc where the front cover is a big splash of color with the red background and the use of the green, yellow, and blue to give it a lot of pop with stars and lightning bolts. The main cast of characters gets plenty of attention here as well with their diverse colors and solidly detailed designs though Ryoma is pushed out of it all a bit due to the logo along the lower level. While a busy cover can often be a bad one, it works for this because it has a kind of power and intensity – I just wish it had more of the guitars on it to really highlight the music aspect. The back cover goes with the angled look once again with a red background that works well if not for the small font white text for the premise. The large text section is fun as it has the tagline and we get a pretty good image of Cindy as well as some decent shots from the show of the characters rocking it out. The bottom is nicely laid out and clean with a breakdown of the discs extras, the production credits, and an accurate technical grid.

The menu design for this release is a bit of a change for Sentai from the norm as they utilize part of the opening animation across the whole of the screen where it has the black background and lets the music performance as the camera swirls around take center stage. it’s definitely appealing looking and I like that it uses the whole screen as we see when shifting to the play side. The menu navigation is layered over it on the left where we get an old school look with some nice guitar elements combined with the angled look of the actual navigation strip. Focusing on red, black, and yellow for it achieves a good look and the fonts used have that “rock ‘n roll’ feeling to it in the right way. There’s not much here beyond a look at the special features, so menu utilization is low, but it works smoothly and effectively while fitting in with the theme perfectly.

The only extras included with this release are the always welcome clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ryoma Sakamoto has come to Kyoto to rock ‘n roll!

Based on the game from Marvelous AQL that came out for the PSP back in early 2014, Samurai Jam is known as Bakamatsu Rock and is a twelve episode series that kicked off the summer 2014 season, a few months after the game came out. Animated by Studio Deen, it was directed by Itsuro Kawasaki, who worked as an episode director on a few shows but was the main director for Rental Magica and Listen to Me Girls, I Am Your Father. He also spent some time working on Sengoku Basara, which with its time period and game origins made him an ideal fit for this series. I didn’t watch this show during its simulcast, but there were some very fun promos that had me interested in this, especially since it works the whole Bakumatsu era concept well enough with familiar characters and the expected “twist” to breathe a new life into it.

Samurai Jam Image 3The premise of the series is straightforward enough as we’re introduced to Ryoma Sakamoto, a young man with a dream to share his rock ‘n roll music with Japan. He ended up gaining a guitar from a wandering musician named Shoin who is like a wandering master that touched a number of students that are now finding their way into the world. Ryoma’s pretty good at the guitar and on vocals and has that kind of overly eager and excited element that makes you cheer for him easily because it’s pretty infectious. Unfortunately for Ryoma, his arrival in Kyoto reveals that people there are only into the Heaven’s Song music that the Shogunate has approved of and is largely performed by the familiar Shinsengumi characters. They’re like the incarnation of many other young men singing groups so there’s not a lot to be surprised by there though those far more invested in the historical side will get more out of it (or more frustrated depending on how far off the beaten path some of the characterizations are).

Suffice to say, it’s a tough road for Ryoma ahead in trying to get his music out there. The audiences aren’t all that interested, there are few venues, and eventually there’s a push to outlaw all other music and college “rogue guitars.” The concept behind this is interesting and severely flawed, at least in its presentation. The Heaven’s Song material is good because it brings about peaceful feelings to those that hear it. It’s part of a larger storyline that works far too slowly in the background about the Shogunate and who is really pulling the Tokugawa strings and their larger goal of bringing peace to the land. With the mixture of song and device, those that perform can unlock their Peaceful Soul aspect and that brings a lot more impact to their music, extending what they can do in soothing the audience and beyond. The downside, again mostly in presentation, is that it’s pretty much entirely female audiences that are seeing it. So it gets a little iffy on how they’ll bring peace to the land if half the population (or more, at the time) isn’t really involved in being soothed.

Samurai Jam does follow a fairly familiar plot progression as we get Ryoma figuring out the larger trouble, but it really doesn’t connect for that until the end. Often that’s a frustrating element yet I found that it worked here. Initially, Ryoma does get to grow the group with a couple of friends, with Katsura on drums and Shinsaku on bass. Amusingly, Shinsaku gets called Cindy since Ryoma thinks it’s cooler sounding and there’s definitely a touch of English/Americanism to it all as part of the rock ‘n roll roots. This trio works particularly well together though admittedly the struggles they have are mild and there’s not a lot of background to be had overall. Still, even though it’s fairly superficial, the actors pull it off and the way they do manage to work well as a group allows it to come together smoothly and believably as wandering samurai musicians.

Samurai Jam Image 2

The other area where this works, again, in limited form, is with regards to the Shinsengumi. My own introduction to them in the realm of anime was with Rurouni Kenshin seemingly an age ago and I’ve seen so many variations on them since that it’s boggling that they keep working with them. Here, they’re the top tier stars and there’s some mild nuance brought in as to the dynamics and how they’re being manipulated, but I really appreciated that they worked it so that some of them become rather good friends with Ryoma and the others, appreciating his actual raw talent and what he’s doing with his enthusiasm. There isn’t exactly a strong conflict between the two sides but more of a rivalry. This makes for a comical battle of the bands a couple of times, but there’s more a blending of talent here than anything else and that really does come across in a very enjoyable way compared to how it could have gone.

In Summary:
I had a wary approach to a show called Samurai Jam, or Bakumatsu Rock if you prefer because we’ve seen this kind of attempt before. This period has been mined hard over the years though it’s been eased up on a bit in the last few years and that helps with this series as it doesn’t feel like we’ve had one every season like we used to. The show has a pretty good infectious level of fun and if you’re into the music side of it you’ll likely enjoy it even more. I’ve fallen out of J-pop and the like for a few years now so while I can appreciate it, it doesn’t do a whole lot for me. But they do change things up enough here to keep it moving, fun, and engaging with the way the cast dynamic works. I would have liked to see things firm up a bit more on the bad guy side before it hits the big finale, especially in regards to the workability of the plan, but for the most part, there’s a whole lot to like here if the basic concepts behind it are up your alley.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 13th, 2015
MSRP: $59.95
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Samurai Jam Image 4

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