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Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings Complete Series UK Anime DVD Review

8 min read
Like with any release which is based on a video game, you need to understand the game to really appreciate the series a bit more.

Samurai slashing of the east and west combined – and action has never looked slicker.

What They Say
In the bloody Warring States period of feudal Japan, many generals fought in an endless struggle for power, but one man proved to be too big a threat – The dark lord Oda Nobunaga. Sanada Yukimura and Date Masamune, two young warriors from different regions who become heated rivals, begin to form an unlikely alliance with the rest of the generals to take down the Devil King.

The Review!
This review as I tend to do now was done in both English and in Japanese as the audio had a 5.1 English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese audio. I have to confess that this is one of the most impressive audios I’ve heard for a while because I watched the first disc in Japanese where the sound was vibrating throughout the room that I wondered did they mistakenly put 2.0 on when it was also a 5.1. Every strike, vocal chord and bass rap note you hear is perfect defined and with no problems concerning transition with audio and visual, this is one of the best releases audio-wise I’ve heard. Doubly with the excellent English track, where you realize that it was a 2.0 in Japanese as the English track pumps up the volume in a good way – making for a very slick and classic audio release.

The video is as slick as the audio, with a beautiful widescreen effect that doesn’t take over the screen, moving with amazing animation without falling to slowdown or screen effects. The main strength of the video aside from no reported problems regarding the subtitles is the way that the video almost wants you to watch it in a cinema ‘” the visual effects on a widescreen television combined with a thumping audio track make it a completely surreal atmosphere. There are various effects that help with, but you barely notice if anything is computer-generated, because it flows so smoothly. Look at any of the earlier episodes with Yukimara going into an army of fighters and obliterating them, it just looks amazing. Very impressive.

There was no packaging for this test disc.

The menu is very basic ‘” Disc 1 has Masamune looking menacing with basic selections of plays, episodes, and set up, whilst Disc 2 has a cheerful-looking Yukimura with the same selection but with the addition of extras. Simple and easy to navigate through both on menu screen and sub menu screens, with the usual but now common niggle I have with episode select screens not letting you select any part of the episode (previously opening, part 1, part 2, ending and next screening) is always a pain for me, it’s still a minor niggle and a fairly easy disc or two to navigate.

The extras all appear on disc 2, with ones you expect, namely the clean opening and ending are shown in their glory.

The smaller other extra is a trailer for the recent Sengoku Basara game ‘” named Samurai Heroes. To say the difference between the game and anime looks is well different is an understatement, but the action is as slick in the game as it is in the anime.

The fun extra is a mini three-episode saga involving two characters which only appear near the end of the series, Mori and Chosokabe, who basically complain about their lack of screen time, writing to the developers to complain, and then get lost at sea trying to find their way ‘” and trying hard to make the other show weakness. It’s very off-topic compared to the show, but it’s definitely a fun little extra, pretty much lasting the length of an entire episode and it’s a bit surprising that as the main show has its comic moments, it did fall flat in the series that it’s in, so they tried to make up for it in these extras, and it does actually work.

Not being familiar with the games, Sengoku Basara was a look into the unknown, despite hearing the name a few times from a number of people, and most of them loved it. Going through it, I can definitely agree about the series being a goodie, but just fails to break into really good.

The first episode is your typical introduction to the main characters and the plot ‘” though it does it in style, as we get a battle sequence in widescreen magic between the two main characters, Date Masamune, the young cocky warlord of the Date clan, a cocky eye patch wearing samurai who has the ability and skill to fight using 6 swords at a time. His counterpart, Sanada Yukimura, loyal to his master Shingen, a fire-based warrior who is a happy-go-lucky guy who is the main source of the comic moments in the series ‘” and are quickly established as the rival to each other.

Based on real-life characters of the Sengoku period, the series is essentially about several warlords trying to rule over each other. Yukimura’s mentor and master, Takeda Shingen ‘” has a rivalry in respectful terms with the handsome Useugi Kenshin ‘” along with them they have their own bodyguards, Sasuke – a ninja with a sense of humour who enjoys teasing Kenshin’s bodyguard, a female ninja named Kasuga who is implied to say the least to be Kenshin’s lover. From there alone, we get split into several other mini-arcs with other countries being ruled and ready to be taken over. However, things change when the arrival of the Demon King, Oda Nobunaga arrives on the scene. He has some ability to control and use darkness to a degree that his nickname is more to his seemingly godly power, scaring all the countries and to do his bidding ‘” as in the second episode, his appearance along with his followers take out a cowardly ruler.

Other characters are introduced as an unholy alliance to defend themselves against the Demon King is formed. The main problem hits us quickly in these first few episodes, as there are simply too many characters for a 13 episode series to really flesh them out. For example, episode 3 introduces what seems to be a comic relief character named Keiji, who is the main reason that the alliance eventually gets formed. However, despite being the focus for the entire episode, soon after his fight with Masamune, he’s barely mentioned or shown much throughout the remainder of the series. Episode 4 again introduces a character that could be interesting named Nagamasa, who is the brother-of-law of Nobunaga, and his wife (and Nobunaga’s sister) Oichi. However, a couple of episodes later, and his brief moments in the spotlight are abruptly cut off.

Granted, this does lead to the alliance building up to stop the Devil King, and his followers, whether it’s the sadistic Akechi, or Oda’s wife Noihime who he apparently destroyed her village, a lot of the characters do show they are interesting, and whilst it’s hard to keep track of everything, the good thing about the series is the battle sequences, and the last few episodes, in particular, begin to wrap things well. Throughout this, we have the rivalry between Masamune and Yukimura, as well as a fun one between Kasuga and Sasuke ‘” Kasuga being the only prominent female character who does anything adds so much fun to the series in the male-dominated series and it’s great to see despite her devotion to Kenshin that she’s no small fry in this universe who kicks ass when she wants.

The combination of eastern and western weaponry is also interesting, as they actually explain in doses how this is possible in this samurai society and adds a real punch to the animated battles. When Kenshin and part of the alliance is led into a trap, when Akechi is delighting in the warlord’s misery, when Masamune and Yukimura finally team up to take on Oda ‘” all these moments add up to a fantastic climax.

I get the feeling though that this would be better for me if I was more familiar with the game. Similar to the Layton review, but in reverse, you could increase the grade up a bit to B+ or even to the A’s if you’re a fan of the games. Doing a bit of research, all the major characters from the games appear (as shown in the trailer for the latest game) and there’s no doubt the action, animation, sound and battle sequences really show as a really polished product ‘” in fact, in terms of visual and audio quality, Sengoku Basara could probably be the best release I’ve ever had to review. As mashed up as the early episodes do seem to be, they really come down as everything someone manages to make sense and capitalize at the end. Whether it’s Oichi finally trying to avenge her husband by going up against her brother, the side characters from the DVD extras finally getting their chance in the spotlight (again, I’m going to say I really would need to play the games to understand this better) and the rivalry between Masamune and Yukimura coming to a fun end after the battle against the Devil King. The comedy elements can fall a little flat though in this series, and despite the whole Yukimura/Shingen relationship being quite amusing, it’s best when it goes into the battles. As an action series, it’s one of the best, but as an overall package, because of the cast of characters who have little time to develop, even when some conversations suggest they will be a big part of the story (Noihime’s role in particular is disappointing) it just falls short of being essential.

In summary:
Like with any release which is based on a video game, you need to understand the game to really appreciate the series a bit more. For a viewer like myself unfamiliar with the games, it’s an excellent viewing experience with fantastic animation, sound, and battle sequences, with some decent characters in there and it actually manages to tell a good story when the finale comes. It just takes a lot to get there with a lot of confusion in between. That said, it’s a recommended series for fans of the game, and definitely worth a rent for another else.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Sengoku Basara Chosokabe Motochiku-kun + Mori-kun (3 Super Deformed Shorts), Sengoku Basara Samurai Heroes Game Trailer

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

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: November 15th, 2010
MSRP: £24.99
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Toshiba 37C3030 – 37″ Widescreen HD Ready LCD TV ‘” Tangent Ht-50 Home Theatre System Multi-Regional DVD Players/Speakers ‘” Tangent Subwoofer 50-150 Hz, Impedenced 8 OHM.