I know it’s too early to call it, but I’m willing to bank money and say that hands down Samurai Girls wins the best animated visuals for a UK anime release of 2012. From start till end you’re treated to gorgeous artistry and brilliantly fluid animation; from the historical depth to the ink blemish to the stunning backgrounds, every frame of this series feels like looking at an ancient Japanese artwork. The colour palette is also very dynamic, with the emphasis on black paint brush strokes making the brighter colours really pop out. And it’s not just that it’s very pretty to look at, it’s also very unique; I’ve yet to see another anime TV series go to these lengths to look this grand. Having watched only the DVD release, I can imagine it must look even more dazzling in blu-ray, and everyone watching this will agree that it is a great to look at.
Unfortunately that’s the only thing they’re likely to agree on as every other aspect of this series will likely gross some viewers out or just feel very underwhelming.
Our story begins when our hero, Muneakira, arrives in Tokugawa at the request of his childhood friend, Princess Sen, when several girls go missing in the area. However, his arrival is badly timed when he ends up right in the middle of an ongoing battle between the Princess and fellow student Yukimura, in the midst of all this a mysterious naked girl suddenly comes falling from the sky and doesn’t hesitate to kiss our clueless hero. The kiss triggers a special ‘contract’ between the two and the girl transforms into a powerful Master Samurai by the name of Jubei Yagyu. The rest of the girls prove to be no match for her but Jubei’s winning streak ends quickly when she abruptly reverts into a state of amnesia and a much more innocent personality. It’s not long after Jubei’s sudden appearance that Muneakira’s kiss apparently has more power behind it then he realises and finds out that any girl who kisses him can turn into a powerful Master Samurai.
Whilst watching the beginnings of the 12 episode series it becomes clear that Samurai Girls is first, and foremost, a fan service show; apart from the Lolita character all girls have FF+ cup sized breasts, make little to no effort to hide them underneath their minimal clothing which rips off during battles as of its of the norm. There’s also plenty of phallic imagery, double entendres and suggestive poses in-between the fights similar to Tenjho Tenge and Ikki Tousen but obviously with samurais. The lack of males in the picture however creates a harem scenario, and the strange reality of having to kiss the hapless Muneakira in order to become a Master Samurai is easily accepted amongst the females who slowly develop feelings for him. The quick-interchange of personalities for the main female Jubei rings of Elfen Lied (especially with the Master Samurai Jubei having a deeper voice and wanting to kill all in her path). You also have small sci-fi and supernatural elements thrown into the mix, with a pinch of a mysterious disappearance to solve and the girls transforming into more powerful forms of themselves complete with elaborate outfits and shouting names of attacks just screams of Magical Girl. So in actuality, although it’s a fan service show, it also tries to cover a multitude of other genres that have proven to overlap slightly in the past. However it quickly becomes apparent that despite the show’s attempt to add depth to its constant panty shots, it instead chops and changes its tone and focus so frequently that the end result doesn’t get any of the other elements right.
The earliest episodes are easily the strongest (if predictable) as the jarring conflict of interests hasn’t really kicked in yet; at the start it knows it’s a fan service programme with violence and nudity, there’s no blood but boobs bounce around as big explosions happen and the characters act out their stereotypes for the fan base. Admittedly some of the battles can be overlapped with the large kanji and big powerful attacks so that you only see the end result rather than the attack itself, the fan service however is uncensored and prominently in high spirits throughout. But it seems that the writers had disagreements as the other girls start to talk about their ‘feelings’ along with lengthy transformation sequences and words to call out their inner power and pretty attacks – does this sound like the kind of thing that the fan service viewers came to see? No, they want tits, sexual references and girls making awkward noises whilst fighting over the male-insert character. Just as much as I don’t want to hear eye-rolling speeches from the male talking about how love, trust and friendship is important in a bond between the samurai and general when seconds before one of the half-naked chicks had her mouth wide open offering to ‘tuck him in’. The lack of focus also ties with the choppy pacing and storytelling; the mystery of the missing girls is not much of one as the answer is told within the first disc, Jubei’s unexplained appearance and personality change from cutesy red head to cold-hearted killer is dropped by episode 3 until the final episodes call for it again, the main antagonist is hastily introduced very late into the series and we never see his face, plus despite the large cast of females the world they inhabit feels oddly small. The opening episodes indicate a large school and samurai warrior community but we never leave the dojo or see any other students after episode 2 until, again, the finale when the series decides it wants to feel ambitious. I suppose the original creators tried to add depth to the context of the story by having the females named after famous Japanese historical figures – not that you would be able to tell just by watching the programme – sure the art and scenery may suggest it but if I hadn’t checked out NEO’s article outlining the historical references it would’ve gone completely over my head. The girls don’t act out the real-life figures, so the references are useless anyway.
I suppose the argument here will be that a fan service show has a ‘free card’ to a lack of good storytelling and pacing, but considering the amount of trouble they went through to research real samurais, dressing it up in stunning animation and taking elements from other anime that do tend to have more substance yet they couldn’t make any of it motivating. The end result is everything you’ve seen before many times, just in a nicer coat of paint. Is it entertaining at all? In places I did chuckle at the idiocy of the cast and I’m sure the fan service will make the right audience happy, but apart from that everything is just bland.
The underwhelming factor also flows into the characters; as mentioned there’s a wide variety of different girls to ogle at but they never attempt to be more than their cliché stereotypes. The only girl with a flat chest, Yukimura, is the Lolita character of the show, by her side is Matabei who wears no clothing below her hips and is mostly reserved. The tsundere character is played by Princess Sen, with the obviously-in-love-with-her Hanzo acting as her body guard in a maids outfit complete with glasses. Jubei jumps from the kick-arse samurai to the wide eyed moe whingeing ‘big brother’ when the plot calls for it. Later additions include the obnoxious Kanetsugu, the highly sexual Gisen and the interesting Nia who sadly gets her back story squeezed into 5 minutes of the second to last episode. Our main (and only male influence until the end) is Muneakira, who at first – with his big leather coat and silver hair – looks like quite the badass, but his lack of actually doing anything until the final moments and being completely spineless when addressed by the other girls is your typical harem lead.
All 12 episodes are spread across 3 discs, and each disc has its own batch of extras. The clean opening and closing can be found on the 2nd disc with the promotional clips on the 3rd. There are 6 fan service heavy OVAs (2 on each disc) that lack on the animation front (relying on static imagery) but focus on a different girl in each episode in provocative poses and going through various sexual discoveries. The first disc also contains 12 mini episodes in manga-strip style that highly exaggerates the cast’s personalities and also references to various plot developments; I found it odd finding these on the first disc as the latter episodes refer to the final arc and characters introduced later on so anyone viewing these just after finishing the episodes on the first disc (like I did) will feel slightly confused and might be spoiled of the minor plot elements.
Samurai Girls is a text-book example of style over substance. Its gorgeous animation and attempts to weave multiple plot devices into itself can’t hide the over-gratuitous fan service, lame storytelling and typical characters. The sexual imagery will be a bit too much for some viewers so if you are remotely curious on the animation style but don’t want any of the nakedness shoved into your face, check out the first episode only.