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DVD Review

DVD cover

Samurai Girls
The Complete Series Collection


Starring (voice): Daisuke Hirakawa, Aoi Yuuki and Rie Kugimiya
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £34.99
Certificate: 15
Available 30 January 2012

The story takes place in Japan in the early 21st century, in an alternate reality where the Tokugawa Shogunate has remained in power. In this reality, student councils are tasked with oppressing schools. Yagyuu Muneakira is a high school student who rebels against his student council with the help of girls who've had the names of famous samurai heroes passed onto them.

Samurai Girls - or Hyakka Ryouran ('countless flowers blooming in profusion) Samurai Girls, to give it its unwieldy full title - is a series that unites a lot of recurring themes and trends in contemporary anime. There's a nonplussed and essentially bland male lead who abruptly finds himself the centre of attention for a bevy of attractive girls with shallow, yet charming personalities, ostensibly because of some special power he possesses, which is supplemented as the story goes on by emotional attachments. This power takes the form of a contract sealed with a kiss that enables each girl to unlock her own special ability - the stronger the attachment, the greater the power - an element of recent series such as Negima! and Sekirei. An evil opposite number and demonic power fill out the villainous side of the cast with their own twisted female acolytes, and the story builds towards a dramatic confrontation with evil where all the characters acknowledge their love and support for one another.

So much for the story: what makes Samurai Girls stand out from the crowd is the presentation. The design and art style for the series are bold and distinctive, with the faux-nostalgic world of the 21st century shogunate (more on which later) presented in a heavily outlined style that elevates the usual eye-candy character designs into something more memorable. Action scenes, though animated without much flair, are enlivened with splashes of paint or ink overlaying the frame, tendrils of oil paint dripping across or through to represent the elemental power of the characters' attacks and special moves. While this release presents the series' copious nudity fully intact, the original TV broadcast also used this ink-blot technique as a censorship device, and it's almost a shame that the more explicit version discards this touch of wit. As a visual spectacle it's highly enjoyable, and one only wishes such design flair had been used on a more original show.

The other point of interest for this series is its breezy raiding of Japan's martial historical legacy for situations and characters that brazenly parody their inspirations, which while hardly rare in anime and manga - the rumbustious Sengoku Basara is but one recent example - seems to be deployed here with an edge that crosses over into flagrant nationalism. The stunningly rendered opening sequence, over which a breathless narrator rhapsodizes over how 'beautiful Great Japan' has so many times been the innocent victim of envious would-be conquerors, shows the cast repelling an air raid by what are evidently American bombers with their devastating abilities. The right-wing elements in otaku-targeted anime are something I've written about before here with High School of the Dead, yet while this may be no barrier to enjoyment for Western viewers, it's surprising and not a little disconcerting to see such overt nationalistic sentiments on display.

For all that, and even leaving aside the visual excess that is the series' main selling point, it's hard to get excited about Samurai Girls. The lacklustre plot and pandering elements - the characters are plainly designed to sell expensive figures rather than have any depth or interest in their own right - mean that it probably doesn't warrant a repeat viewing, and the amount of production and vocal talent on display only makes you wish better things could be done with them. A modestly enjoyable show, but no more.


Richard Hunt

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