Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls
Number of Episodes: 12
Production Company: ARMS
Brief Overview: In this alternate-history scenario, the Tokugawa Shogunate has retained power into the 21st century, and student councils are in charge of oppressing schools. Yagyuu Muneakira is a high school student who rebels against his student council with the help of girls who are descended from famous historical samurai figures.
Episode Summary: Yagyuu Muneakira arrives by train to a school at the base of Mt. Fuji, a training ground for individuals from the warrior class. He seeks out a particular dojo, only to discover that the building which should have been empty instead houses two teenage girls. Sanada Yukimura, accompanied by Matabei Gotou, is on a quest to infiltrate the corrupt Tokugawa Shogunate. Her plans and Yagyuu's explanations are cut short when Hattori Hanzou, a ninja working on behalf of the authorities, corners the three of them. They're only saved by Yagyuu's fortuitous knowledge of the dojo's escape route.
Hattori Hanzou's ninjas regroup and corner Yagyuu, Yukimura and Gotou on a footbridge. The trio seems to be in dire straights until the sky is lit up by what they mistakenly assume is a well-timed firework. Instead, the glowing light turns out to be a beautiful, naked woman, who descends into Yagyuu's waiting arms and plants a kiss on his lips. In doing so, an incredible amount of power is unleashed, and the woman reveals herself to be Yagyuu Juubei.
Thoughts: Though it was easy to tell from early previews exactly what type of show this would turn out to be, I honestly and in good faith had some high hopes for this episode. I was impressed by the stylized, ink-inspired visuals that the trailer presented, and the battle animation appeared to be very slick. This is, of course, why it's dangerous to base one's hopes for a show on just a few choice sequences and some design artwork; while it may very well live up to some of the expectations created by a well-fashioned collection of sound-bites and some slick animation clips, hiding beneath the surface may be yet another clich�-filled trek into the land of crushed dreams and wasted potential. Sadly, this show seems to embody that particular sentiment exactly.
Just to be clear: I'm not a fan of panty fighters, and it was obvious from the very earliest announcements regarding this anime series that it was a panty fighter through-and-through. I was never expecting for this to become a favorite series of mine by any means, but I thought it might hold a Queen's Blade sort of appeal, demonstrating itself as a series that was deeply flawed and pretty (well, extremely) exploitative, but with certain decent and even good aspects that would make it worth a watch-through and perhaps induce a few minutes of bittersweet lamenting about what might have been. In this case, I was certainly intrigued by the aforementioned visual style. Unfortunately, while there are some very great stylistic elements to the first episode, the artistry simply does not live up to the hype. The background artwork is often very appealing, and probably the only really good reason to check out this episode if you, like me, don't get a kick out of watching girls in ridiculous costumes fighting each-other. Many of the environments look like straight-up watercolor paintings, styled to resemble traditional Asian brush painting. There are a few brief scenes which take place against a backdrop of bamboo plants, as well as the final battle scene which is acted-out amongst red paper lanterns hovering in the sky, and the effects are realized brilliantly.
Unfortunately, that's where most of the visual value ends. The character animation is emphasized with particularly thick linework which works well in some instances (namely, close-up shots with a lot of detail) but draws too much attention to the poor artwork in some of the longer character shots. The episode (and, I assume, the show as a whole) also employs an ink splatter effect that's both used to censor the frequent instances of partial nudity throughout the episode, as well as to add flourish to many of the characters' actions and the magical phenomena that occur. If the use of this gimmick were more restrained and limited to actions of greater importance I might have been more likely to take to it, but there are so many scenes that are mottled by such frequent overuse of the technique that it becomes annoying. The opening scene, a Strike Witches style aerial battle which features some of the best animation and most impressive choreography of the entire half-hour, could potentially have been the highlight of the episode, but so much of it is hidden behind black streaks and dark spatters that it becomes nearly unwatchable after only a few seconds. It's only one of the instances where a bit of restraint could have gone a long way to making things more enjoyable. The animation during the bulk of the episode exhibits a lot of niggling quality-control issues and plenty of off-model character moments that show up in spite of the heavy filtering's distortion.
The characters' personalities range from clich� to obnoxiously-clich�. One would think that in a television show chock full of female characters, it would stand to reason that at least one of them would be portrayed as something other than a slave to a subset of tired old harem tropes, but sadly, as usual, none of the characters so far (including the male lead) are compelling people. Yukimura is an obnoxious loli (sensitive about her young looks and flat-as-a-board chest, of course), Hanzou is a masochist, Gotou is clumsy... while there is of course a certain amount of wiggle-room for the characters to develop into people with proper, believable personalities and motivations, they all draw so heavily from the Otaku database at this point that it's extremely difficult to foresee any sort of substantial fleshing-out happening (though there is plenty of flesh falling out... of clothing). The male lead isn't treated much better, spending much of the episode as an accused pervert with mixed loyalties that aren't elaborated upon. Were this show well-constructed, the element of mystery about him might be more intriguing, but his poor introduction and typical harem-lead behavior (sure, he might be a nice guy, but he's got no real personality) leave a lot to be desired.
The series gives off the impression of being something of a mash-up between Queen's Blade and Sekirei, with some sprinklings of Ikki-Tousen around the edges. Not exactly the most confidence-inducing pedigree. While a quick glance might be enough to convince one of its surface beauty, a closer look reveals the show's insidious mediocrity, ham-handed use of visual filtering and gimmickry, and poor characterization. Thus far it's clearly not positioned to be a highlight of the Fall 2010 anime season.
- The background artwork is very nice to look at.
- The characters are boring stereotypes with very little potential depth.
- The ink-splotch visual gimmick gets old very fast.
Recommended? No. Although it's questionable whether I would have recommended the show even if the visuals had been as impressive as I expected, the fact that the first episode suffers from some major characterization problems in addition to being disappointing in the animation department makes me feel entirely unenthusiastic about it.