DVD Review – Samurai Girls

Imagine if you will, a man standing on a small bridge in a dojo in what can best described as alternative reality of Japan known as Great Japan. A time where the Tokugawa Shogunate, the era of feudal Japan that prohibited contact with the rest of the world among many other things, is still in power when suddenly a bright ball of light appears in the sky. The light descending towards this perplexed man, who we later find out is the main male protagonist of the series, is made even more confused moments later when he discovers a naked unconscious lady inside this ball of light who addresses him as ‘big brother’ (as in biological brother, not a term of affection), & then kisses him. This is the opening scene of Samurai Girls, the latest release by Kaze in the UK.

This twelve episode story quite literally throws you in at the deep end, a feat that on this occasion caught me very off guard but at the same time gave me great curiosity in wanting to know what on earth was going on. The story is essentially split into three sections that’s conveniently formulated in the same manner over the three DVDs. The first third is very much an introduction to this alternative universe of Japan and the characters who will be the focus of the story. It’s done in such a way that relationships are clearly defined from the outset and make you want to know what’s next for them. The second disc very much begins to explore the main story that has previously been hinted at, allowing the characters to further develop, both as personalities and how their relationships interact with others, that is a great demonstration of how to build sub plots that have a consistent underlying theme. The final disc is very much the meat of the story, especially when it comes to drama and action. The plot escalates to a whole new level with alliances truly being tested in the process.

Looking at the story development of Samurai Girls as a whole it does a very good job of building everything up to the eventual climax, but this where it goes a little awry. Despite the time and effort invested in building up the characters, relationships & more that you have very much become interested in, the payoff seemingly occurs and plays out too quickly. I was left feeling underwhelmed & almost annoyed at the lack of explanation on certain details, which is a shame as I really enjoyed this series. Now while this may be a detriment to some, in my opinion the series as a whole outweighs my feelings on the abrupt conclusion.

Moving away from the story. One interesting, yet completely unexpected aspect of the series is how many genres of anime this manages to encompass or take influences from. This is predominantly enforced by the ongoing notion that for any perspective samurai girl to achieve the status of a ‘Master Samurai’, essentially meaning they have gained expertise in fighting & acquired added strength too, they must form a pact with a General. (As in a ranked General in the military.) In this case the method of forming a pact is kissing. This that creates many homages to different genres such as Magical Girl – with the female protagonists gaining these new powers I mentioned, and Sci-Fi – given the use of future technology & the appearance of certain background characters towards the conclusion. There are also many romantic comedy moments, be them to create emotion or for simply for comedic effect, present in this series. The mixture of these references make for a welcome feel of diversity in this universe while at the same time managing to remain in context and, most importantly, never alienating the viewer.

The look of the series (excluding the copious amounts of “fan service” that I’ll address properly in a moment), specifically the art style really stands out in a positive way. Although this is not present throughout the entire series, in many scenes the characters are drawn on what appear to be pre-painted backdrops that compliment the setting wonderfully in turn making the characters in the foreground stand out. A perfect example being with outdoor scenes that include depictions of Japanese architecture. Also throughout the series ink blotches are utilised to add a very unique effect to what is happening on screen. They appear as though someone has flicked from a paint brush towards the screen. Be it during a fight where black blotches appear to demonstrate the ferocity of the action, or simply to act as a transition between two scenes by filling up the screen rapidly, they really add a lot to the series. Particularly, without giving much away, at the climax of the series where the art style has a fairly dramatic change that really stands out, predominantly because of the lack of colour used. (If that’s too vague a comment, from a visual perspective perhaps think of something similar to the House Of Leaves fight scene in the Kill Bill Volume 1 movie from 2003.)

I mentioned fan service. If you’re someone who is vehemently against the sight of what lies beneath the clothing of female characters you will find this series to be a kiss of death. A big, and I mean big part of this series, are the female protagonist assets. These are not only shown in many scenes but in the early going are somewhat integral to the plot. While I’m someone who can look past fan service, I can assure you that you’ll find it very difficult to do so in this series. There were moments when it almost felt, pardoning the unintended pun, too much. But in the context of the story and how the characters act around each other, I can understand why this decision was made to include a lot of it.

The English dub itself is ok. A decision I applaud greatly in the English language version is that many integral Japanese phrases are retained in favour of translation notes on screen, which helps to retain the authenticity of the setting. However, because the series is very Japanese in its roots and circumstances, there are moments where the English dialogue feels awkward and at points where there is too much information to fit into a sentence at the cost of timing with the mouth movements of the characters. A minor point perhaps, but there are very prominent moments where the characters mouth are not moving and yet during that instance a few words in a continuing sentence have been spoken. Obviously when translating a series such as this it can happen. But given the care and attention to detail of many releases nowadays it’s a shame to see this happen in unique series such as this. It was something that annoyed me given the very recognisable voices in the cast. I would have thought more attention to detail would have been used. That aside the English cast do a great job of clearly defining each character and their personalities that helped add to the enjoyment of watching it.

When it comes to the presentation of this release, this review is based on the three disc DVD version. As previously alluded, each disc contains four episodes along with a few extras. There are a total of four OVA comedy short stories featuring some of the female protagonists in a variety compromising situations. These are viewable with Japanese audio and English subtitles only. Not a major fault by any means, but given the entire series has been dubbed it does make you wonder why these were not. There are also the opening and ending sequences viewable with subtitles either for the literal Japanese vocals and the actual translation of the vocals, both in English. There also some manga panels containing a few more stories with the characters, again in Japanese audio with subtitles only.

The good thing about the delegation of extras to each disc is that they appear to have been arranged in terms of how far the story has progressed according to what is on that particular disc. For example the OAV shorts on disc one will only feature characters that have appeared up to episode four as some of the later shorts feature characters that have not been introduced at that stage of the story.

This is now where I’d like to take a moment to discuss the layout of the menus and function ability of the discs. The menu layout has been created in such a way that there are no submenus, resulting in all the content being crammed into the main menu. For disc one in particular this was troublesome as I was initially confused with what everything represented. Ultimately it was the obligatory “Play All” button that saved me from this dilemma of confusion but I don’t understand why all the content had to be condensed into this one menu. Another note is that you seemingly can’t switch between the Japanese and English audio via the audio button on your remote. You have to go back into the main menu to switch the audio. Also despite there being a French audio portion of the disc, only accessible when you insert the DVD into your player, you can’t view any French content with English subtitles. Again a small note, but one I wanted to mention as having watched a small portion of the series in French out of curiosity, without translation, it’s a fairly compelling sounding dub.

Presentation criticisms aside, being completely honest you certainly get your monies worth with this release. A compelling story that has good character exploration, back story & plot development, unique visuals (not including the copious amount cleavage & beyond), lots of comedy moments and great action sequences. You can’t ask for much more in a series about girls wielding swords can you? And given this is being released on Blu-Ray in the UK it’s definitely worth shelling out the pennies for the HD version.

Release date – January 30th 2011 | Rating – (18)

Order at Amazon : DVD HERE | Blu-Ray HERE

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