「はじめての忠」 (Hajimete no Chuu)
An early broadcast premiere of the anime adaptation of Hobby Japan‘s 40th anniversary original novel and figure series was aired on Tokyo MX almost a month before the actual start of the fall season. Much like their other work that ARMS studio animated, Queen’s Blade, I just know a lot of people are going to quickly write this series off, but I’m tempted to cover it to prevent that from happening. Ignorance is not bliss. If this series had less emphasis on voluptuous characters and AT-X wasn’t offering an uncensored variety (which they probably will), I get the feeling that a lot more people would be watching it after seeing some promo material and reading about the premise.
In addition to featuring an art style with thick outlines that give off a feudal yet modern feel, this series features an all-star cast of seiyuu led by the young Yuuki Aoi who’s on everyone’s radar nowadays. If I had my choice for male lead, I probably would’ve opted for someone other than Hirakawa Daisuke due to the negative connotation I have with his School Days lead role, but actually don’t mind his voice acting once I get that image out of my head. Rounding out the support cast are names such as Kugimiya Rie, Kobayashi Yuu, Gotou Saori, Kotobuki Minako, Toyosaki Aki, Koshimizu Ami, Mizuhara Kaoru, and Sakurai Takahiro. In other words, it’s a line-up full of names people will recognize from other notable series such as CODE GEASS, K-ON, and Toradora. The cast is nearly the same caliber of names that Queen’s Blade had, but the latter wasn’t given the time of day by most people because it of it’s uncensored variety. However, as someone drawn in by the cast and character designs and not swayed by the obvious appeal, I actually found that Queen’s Blade had more plot than a lot of people would give it credit for. It wasn’t all that profound and had the usual clothes being torn off in battle a la Ikkitousen style — which ARMS also animated — but had enough to it to make it a lot more interesting than other series, even if the fan-service were toned down and censored. Characters die too! Well, at least one of them did.
With Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls, it’s starting to feel much the same way, except the premise involving a fictional feudal/modern Japan where the Tokugawa shogunate remained in power instead of imperial rule being restored under the Emperor piques my interest much more. For anyone with an interest in Japanese history and samurai, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief at the depiction of Japan taking out foreign superpowers and their advanced weaponry (fighter planes and all) with swords alone, but should still find enjoyment from the references that are made to real history. The story itself takes place in the current day 21st century, with the key difference being that the 15th shogunate, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, didn’t resign during the Bakumatsu in 1867 and pave way for the Meiji Restoration. Instead, Japan remained under military rule and is now led by the 25th shogunate, and many of the famous samurai and historical figures from that time have descendants we see here — often of the hotter female variety. Awesome old name samurai and swordsmiths with young daughters taking up their steed? Count me in!
Admittedly, the one thing that I don’t really care for is the portrayal of worldwide Japanese superiority. Somehow, they want us to believe that the katana didn’t lose out to the European-supplied muskets that were heavily employed during the Sengoku period by daimyo such as the infamous Oda Nobunaga. As a fictional piece of work, I don’t mind whatsoever though, particularly after seeing a relatively more faithful depiction of the Tokugawa shogunate’s collapse in Hakuouki, whose sequel airing this fall will provide. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a lot in the way of Japan’s interactions with other countries hereon in, as this over-the-top fiction crossed with non-fiction series is actually considered a romantic high school comedy. Given the setting, it’s hard to really see it as simply that, but it becomes more prevalent that that’s what we’re dealing with as things move along.
This first episode gave us a feel for that with Yagyuu Muneakira (Hirakawa Daisuke) arriving at Buou Gakuen Juku, a military type of school located at the base of Mt. Fuji. He’s actually there on official business that has yet to be revealed, but runs into Sanada Yukimura (Kugimiya Rie) and Gotou Matabee (Kobayashi Yuu), who are members of the anti-Tokugawa faction, the Toyotomi clan. Being the true spirited samurai that he is, Muneakira isn’t quick to judge them as radicals, even though they’ve made themselves out to be by sneaking into the Yagyuu dojo and going against the “Toyotomi hunters” led by Hattori Hanzou Yoshinari (Gotou Saori). On paper, the Hattori ninja army is considered the school’s public morals committee, and Yoshinari in particular seems to have an S&M relationship with the student council’s vice president, Tokugawa Sen (Kotobuki Minako), the daughter of the current Tokugawa shogunate. Muneakira’s sense of righteousness and suspicion of corruption in the Tokugawa shogunate opens the way for additional conflict, as he’s a descendant of the Yagyuu clan and a master of the Yagyuu Shinkage-ryuu school of swordsmanship that’s supposed to serve the shogunate and teach them the art. Things get even more out of whack when a mysterious girl appears out of nowhere and affectionately addresses him as her older brother, before kissing him and becoming what appears to be the reincarnation of master swordsman, Yagyuu Jubei Mitsuyoshi. For that stark change in personality, cue in Yuuki Aoi to provide the meaner side of her voice’s range.
So with the action-filled feudal premise extended to modern times, the lovely character designs, all-star cast of seiyuu, and a unique ink-splatter type of art style that’s reminiscent of Street Fighter IV and handy for censoring, I’m definitely going to follow this series to see how it turns out. Based on this first showing, it already has the makings of being better than it initially seems, much like I felt with Queen’s Blade when I gave it an honorable mention in the Best of Anime 2009 as a series that exceeded expectations. Quite frankly, I’d be willing to watch and cover the censored version like I did with Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou if it means more people will give it a chance. From the looks of it, AT-X won’t be the first station airing it, so that will likely be the case if I do end up covering this series next month.