Sengoku Basara, Samurai Kings: The Complete First Season

Sengoku Basara The Complete First SeasonIn the 16th century, powerful warlords vie for control of a divided Japan. Amidst the bloody chaos, Sanada Yukimura, skilled young spearman and right hand of the great general Takeda Shingen, trades blows with the famed “One-Eyed Dragon,” Date Masamune, resulting in mutual manly admiration at first fight. But the greater good requires that these warriors and their respected rivals put aside their desire to face one another long enough to defeat a common foe: the cruel, conscienceless “Devil King,” Oda Nobunaga.

Based on a popular game series from Capcom, Sengoku Basara‘s first season is a fun, wild ride through a Warring States Period inspired, but clearly not guided, by history. I’m fairly certain the real Date Masamune did not have tricked-out tack with handlebars in place of reins and exhaust pipes for stirrups, nor was he likely to have shouted random Engrish like “Put ya guns on!” to rev his men up as they charged into battle. If you’re in the mood for purely serious historical drama, look elsewhere. Although it has its moments of sobriety (some surprisingly effective, too), what this show aims for and excels at is action. The ridiculousness of the anachronisms and outsized personalities complements the equally high-octane visuals in which war horses run up steep fortress walls and opponents launch themselves at one another like heat-seeking missiles, shooting red and blue bolts of power into the atmosphere and crossing blades with percussive booms heard for miles. In such a context, the characters’ exceedingly earnest declarations of loyalty, honor, and sacrifice fit comfortably alongside the one-liners and running jokes as well as the unavoidable violence of warfare.

The series’ smooth animation brings all that over-the-top emotion and movement to life, but it also catches smaller yet important details, such as guarded sideways glances and subtle sight gags. CG elements throughout add a touch of depth to motion without being distracting (with one brief exception), with very sparing use of a rougher, slightly simplified style to accentuate the elemental nature of one-on-one combat.

There are a lot of names to remember here, and while having a little historical knowledge floating about inside your head doesn’t hurt, the distinct character designs and personalities help the viewer keep them fairly straight. While mustachioed Nobunaga exudes menace with his habitual glare and penchant for drinking sake from human skulls, young Sanada and his imposing master, Takeda, quickly endear themselves to viewers with the back-and-forth of their teaching moments in which they repeatedly punch each other through walls and shout “My Lord!” and “Yukimura!” in adoration and encouragement, respectively.

Sengoku Basara caters to many different interests with its fighting-game origins, historical setting, fantasy and horror elements, and fanservice (in the form of attractive characters of both sexes–not all of whom dress practically–and some amusing homoerotic overtones that are played completely straight). There’s even a giant mechanized samurai. That reach for broad appeal could have given the series identity issues, but because it’s all executed with the same colorful exuberance, it succeeds.

This release features a fittingly rocking soundtrack and some fine voice acting from both casts, though the melodramatic dialogue sounds hokier in spoken English than it does subtitled. Azai’s flat, overly-enunciated English, which makes him sound affected and unemotional rather than authoritative, takes some getting used to. And while Takeda’s English voice doesn’t seem to match his large frame, his attitude does.

The main conflict wraps up in episode 12 and the season could easily have ended there. Episode 13 fills in events occurring off-screen before and during the preceding episode and centers on two characters previously glimpsed for mere seconds in the climax. It’s clearly an additional set-up for potential conflicts in the second season, but seems an odd choice with which to close out the set. Perhaps they included it solely to justify one of the bonus features, a three-episode, minimally-animated chibi comic featuring the two characters from 13? Other special features include textless opening and ending sequences and several trailers.

While the publisher rates the series TV-14, it’s worth noting that Hulu lists it as TV-MA. This could be due to the violence which, while not overly graphic on-screen, is still prevalent and potentially unsettling (Takeda loses a pair of horses to a ninja’s blade, Oda has a thing for shooting people in the head, and his wife likes to level her Gatling gun on unprepared enemies). Beyond that, mild swearing (no blaspheming or f-words) and suggestive bits such as Kasuda’s revealing ninja outfit and her blushing, comically orgasmic reactions to her master’s approbation could push the series into older-teen and adult territory.

Sengoku Basara, Samurai Kings: The Complete First Season
Funimation, 2010
directed by Itsuro Kawasaki
352 minutes, Number of Discs: 2, Season set
Company Age Rating: TV-14

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