Samurai Warriors is a popular (at least in Japan, less so in the West) game series made by Koei, and was the first spin-off of their popular (again, mostly in the East) game series Dynasty Warriors. The games, and therefore this anime adaptation, tell exaggerated versions of the battles during the Sengoku, or warring states period of Japan, much like so many other anime, games and TV series, though I am happy to say that this anime focuses on the latter period of the Sengoku era, rather than the more predictable Nobunaga-based period.
Yukimura Sanada is the poster boy of the game series and is indeed the focus here, specifically how he and his brother Nobuyuki come to end up on the opposite side to each other during the war. The series starts with Hideyoshi Toyotomi successfully taking Japan under one single ruler, the goal of his old boss Nobunaga, but he soon dies of illness. The power vacuum left by his death immediately splits his forces into two, one side thinking his son Hideyori should now lead, and the side that thinks fellow ex-Nobunaga retainer and Hideyoshi’s ally Ieyasu Tokugawa should take over. Ieyasu soon takes control, but a large force of Hideyoshi loyalists rally around Hideyori instead. Nobuyuki is on the side of Ieyasu, and oversees his brother’s capture, hoping he’ll soon see the light, but Yukimura eventually joins the Toyotomi side, leading to the aforementioned conflict between the brothers.
That being said, there is plenty of airtime for a lot of the other exaggerated versions of the historical characters of the era, plus some of the fabled ninjas that were rumoured to exist who of course are given supernatural powers… or a flying squirrel called Tsukimaru, one of the two. Much like the games, the officers who have been given actual character designs and personalities run riot over the “peons” who just look like copy and paste soldiers, but other than that, the ninjas and a few little things, the storyline actually matches reality reasonably well, with people dying in the right place at the right time (even if they get killed in more dramatic or storyline-interesting ways), making this remarkably different from the Sengoku Basara anime that was a small hit a few years ago.
Sadly for the Samurai Warriors anime, that’s the only thing it does better than Basara, as the animation here is quite… low-budget. The artwork is undetailed, using single colours and no shading whatsoever, characters attacking are often a single piece of artwork with a single-colour background and black “motion lines” slowly being panned bottom to top or from left to right rather than actually animated, and generally characters spend most of the show standing or sitting still, talking. Even when two top characters fight you’re lucky if you get an animated weapon clash before either a few motionless shots of them fighting or a few scenes of them “fighting the camera” so as not to have to animate two people moving.
The background music, much like the games, is a mix of traditional Japanese instruments and modern techno dance music, and it’s fine. Wagakki Band performs both the Opening, “Ikusa” (“war”) and the Ending, “Nadeshikozakura” (“Pink Cherry” is the closest translation I could get…), both songs are done in the same blend of old and new instruments that the games and anime use, which is a nice touch. The extras are the 45-minute OVA “Legend of the Sanada”, that actually takes place before the anime (and was made before it) but can only be accessed in the extras menu on Disc 2 (mildly annoying!) and a textless opening and ending.
To sum up, Samurai Warriors has a few things going for it, but generally feels low-budget and very talky for an anime based on a hack’n’slash game. It does a good job re-telling the historical time period, with overhead battle maps and plenty of scenes depicting the politics of the time, but with so many wildly designed characters with unique weapons wandering around, it seems at odds with itself. Only recommended to those who are into the game series and want to see the characters come to life… well, sometimes, anyway…