Toraji is a second-rate sensei – a starving teacher who manages the Kendo team at the public high-school where he is employed. Toraji’s enthusiasm for his job is rekindled after a fellow Kendo coach makes Toraji a wager he can’t refuse. Both coaches will test their girls teams against one another, with Toraji winning a year’s worth of free gourmet sushi if his team is victorious.
There are just a few small problems standing in the way of Toraji’s getting a full belly. Thanks to his lax discipline, most of last year’s team members were scared off by bullying upperclassmen, who only showed up to practice to beat people up. And as the school year opens Toraji only has one serious team member left – energetic sophomore Kirino. What is worse, the only new recruits he can field are boys!
Things are looking grim until Toraji chances across Tamaki – a pint-size freshman with lightning-fast reflexes and years of fighting experience. But Tamakai sees Kendo as more of a chore than a hobby and has little interest in anything besides her favorite anime programs! But Kirino won’t take no for an answer and after a chance encounter with the same bullies that drove off most of last year’s team, the injustice-hating Tamakai decides to stay and serve as team’s champion.
As the year progresses, they will recruit the rest of their team. There is Miya-Miya, whose cheerful façade hides a dark, sadistic personality. Next is Saya, who seeks stability to balance her unfocused creative spirit. Finally, there’s Azuma, a would-be scholar who doesn’t study well and is clumsy and awkward everywhere except the dueling floor. Together they will forge a team. And in time, a slacker sensei may learn to be a better teacher, a group of outcasts will become friends, and a would-be captain will learn her first hard lessons in leadership.
I’m not usually a fan of sports anime, but Bamboo Blade is not your typical sports anime. The focus of the series is firmly upon the characters and their relationships – not the sport. Indeed, the viewer doesn’t need to know anything at all about Kendo and even during the tournament scenes the action is easily followed by a novice.
This focus on the characters – and the fact that those characters truly develop and grow as the series goes on – also separates Bamboo Blade from most comedic anime and sport series. While Sensei Toraji is a comic (and occasionally pathetic) figure, his heart is in the right place and he honestly does try to be a good example. Being obsessed with victory at any cost early on, he later removes Tamaki from the action in one tournament after it becomes clear her temper is getting the better of her. And in one dramatic moment, he leaves the ethical decision of how to handle one situation in the hands of Kirinio, despite her protests that as advisor he should tell her what to do.
Most of the other characters undergo similar growth arcs. Indeed, one of the only weaknesses of this series is that so many members of the ensemble – particularly the two male team members Donny and Yuji – aren’t as well developed as they could be. Indeed, Donny and Yuji comment to one another about how neglected they feel compared to their female teammates – a complaint that could be aimed at their sensei or the series writer.
The series is well-animated, though the animation is strictly standard. The one noteworthy thing about it is also one of most maddening points regarding this series. As written, this would be a wonderful empowering series for young women about sports and friendship. Yet the camera of the series has a bad case of “male gaze”, focusing at times upon the back of the girl’s skirts or their chests as they workout and talk to one another, for no apparent reason! While there are no panty shots or any bouncing cleavage, it is just distracting enough to make me think twice about showing this to any audience with any children younger than 13, despite the series’ PG rating. With that caveat in mind, I highly recommend this series for all anime fans.
FUNimation, , 2007
directed by Hisashi Saitou
650 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, Season set
Company Age Rating: PG
Related to: Bamboo Blade by Masahiro Totsuka, Neko Sutajio