Over the past few months I've been slowly trying to catch up on the titles I missed in 2007, and I must say the more I watch the more impressed I am with the year as a whole. It flaunted a number of strong titles such as Claymore, Bokurano, and Minami-ke as well as some great ones such as Kanon 2006 and Death Note. Fortunately, to my delight, Bamboo Blade continued this trend and easily took its place as another contributor to the solidness of the 2007 lineup - it's yet another "must see" title.
At first I have to admit I was a bit skeptical - the series was amusing, sure, but nothing capable of blowing me out of the water. As I kept watching, however, my level of enjoyment steadily rose, and ultimately I found myself laughing out loud multiple times per episode. Though Bamboo Blade employs a number of running gags for its humor, the writers knew how to drag the series out to span a full twenty-six episodes without becoming monotonous or tedious, which is generally a fatal flaw for series like this. It progresses in a number of small phases, the first which involve introducing the team's full five girls. Once this is finished, it then transitions into the tournament phase, which starts out humorous but slowly becomes a bit more dramatic and serious until the series finally comes to a close.
The amount of character development that occurs over the course of these arcs is without a doubt commendable, as the one-dimensionality of many of the characters drives much of the comedy. Rather than aiming for making the characters overly three-dimensional and serious, however, the development tends to humanize them with just enough balance to keep them funny, which ultimately creates a very strong viewer-character bond. Because Bamboo Blade also intertwines a fair amount of drama with its comedic storyline toward its latter half, this actually works surprisingly well, as it allows for the characters to retain their hilarity while still eliciting a fair amount of sympathy as they struggle through tough times.
Bamboo Blade's color scheme is deep and vibrant, and I felt it suited the series beautifully. I found just about all the characters to be unique in both flavor and appearance, and all had distinct niches and quirks about them (Kirino's ">:3" face for instance.) Tack on surprisingly detailed backgrounds for a comedy and there's really much to complain about - aesthetically speaking, everything is gorgeous.
Perhaps my only real major complaint is that the kendo fight scenes tend to be a little sparse on animation detail and frames. Most of the crucial or important scenes are touched up to look decent, but for the most part the fights are drawn out through action stills. Given the sheer amount of detail elsewhere this isn't all that important a detail, as ultimately the kendo thematic is more a medium to draw the characters together than an actual emphasis; you're not watching for the fight scenes, you're watching for the characters and the humor.
While the musical score was effective, it was fairly standard and not worth much mention. What I really enjoyed most was the outstanding quality of the voice acting - Kirino's seiyuu easily ranks among the best I've ever heard. Other characters like Saya, Tama, and Dan are all strongly voiced as well, and overall I was enormously impressed. It felt as if the actors really enjoyed voicing their respective characters, as there just seemed to be an uncanny amount of enthusiasm put into making them come alive.
Though initially appearing somewhat archetypical and stereotypical, Bamboo Blade's full cast turns out to be surprisingly fresh and unique. From a complete loser for a kendo instructor to a superficially nerdy klutz, the characters fit into certain molds in much the same fashion as most anime comedies would have them, but ultimately branch out beyond these restrictions to serve much more appealing roles. Kirino, for example, is at her core the "loudmouth" girl, but she pans out to be perhaps the most tolerable and least obnoxious girl of her kind. Her energy and devotion certainly fall within human bounds, and she comes across as a genuinely amiable, yet comedic, character. For those who loathe loudmouth girls (I tend to like them for some reason despite hating them in real life) Kirino's awesomeness knows no bounds, and I certainly could see her changing the mind of many a folk who previously had a disdain for her type of character.
Fortunately this holds true of all the characters, and each one plays off one another differently. Saya serves as a perfect compliment to Kirino, for example, through her similar "loudmouthed" persona while Tamaki foils her quite well. This interconnection plays down the importance of the characters' individual stereotypes, and removes the need for hyperbolic extroverts or exaggerated introverts to fuel its humor. The obvious downside is that three dimensionality tends to dull some of the prospective laughs, but it's not done to a point where it overtly interferes with anything Bamboo Blade initially sets out to do. Instead of appealing solely to fans of random humor it carries a much more universal feel, and for that I felt the characters to be extraordinarily solid.
Story: I'm not sure what it was about this story that intrested me so much, there weren't many suspenceful moments except for at the end of some matches and it wasn't a terribly deep plot, but nevertheless it was very entertaining. It followed 5 highschool girls and 2 boys in their kendo team, trying to get stronger together and do their best in tournaments. There were a few little side things that didn't really need to be there...such as Tamaki working part time and the Blade Braver series that she and Rin love so much...that honestly bothered me. My only major complaint about the storyline is I really wish they took out the Blade Braver mini-series, it was annoying and your average cliche superhero show and it just really took away from the actual plot. It had its funny moments, especially Carrie's engrish when she's obsessing over Dan thinking he's her pet armadillo named Anderson and their discussion about hemeroids and anal health earlier on in the series during practice. Also the way the sport of Kendo was portrayed here inspired me to learn Kendo myself...though I'll probably never get to, this anime made me really want to learn. If you're looking for a deep story, you wont find it here, here you'll find a light yet entertaining plot that still has much potential. The style of it actually sort of reminds me of Azumanga Daioh with its feel.
Animation: No ecchi! Thats a definite plus there right off the bat, a martial arts anime surrounding girls that has no ecchi! The character designs are fairly generic yet they fit each character well. Though Dan's design reallly annoyed me to no end, the freshmen in the last episode said it right, he looks like an acorn and he just irks me the wrong way. That and the creepy store owner lady, oh my God she is scary beyond all reason! And she wonders why seeing her gives customers the willies? Lastly of the bad character designs is the crotchity old lady with the big lips that harasses Kojiro-sensei in the shop, she needs some serious plastic surgery and I'd love to know what the artists were smoking when they drew her. Other than that though the characters look good and I love Kirino's little =3 face and her ponytail...for whatever reason I really like that. The fight scenes were eye-catching, fluid (most of the time) and I think overall pretty well done, and it greatly portrays the sport of kendo how it should be.
Sound: The opening and ending themes were alright, not something I'd want to listen to, but I don't hate them. They're light and quirky just like the series itself so they work. The only song that really pissed me off was the song in Blade Braver, it sounded like really bad Japanese opera and was just terrible. The voice acting was pretty good, however Dan's voice, the creepy shopkeepers voice, Miya-Miya's voice in her dark stage and Reimi's (the stalker girl) voices just really annoyed me to no end. Dan's voice was whiney, the shopkeepers was just...ugh, it made her seem like a really ugly feminine man, Miya-Miya's dark voice just didn't fit her appearance and seemed out of place and as for Reimi...well the only things she really ever said were obsessing over Miya-Miya and it was freakish, her voice just added to that. Though all the other voices fit the characters very well and Carrie's engrish was very humorous.
Characters: I pretty-much already covered which characters were annoying and which were not, so the only thing I really have left to say here is that Reimi and Dan really need to be removed from the series and that the character development in this series greatly impressed me. Each character matured quite a bit and learned more about themselves, especially Miyako and Tamaki. All of the main characters seemed very real and they were easy to connect to and sympathize with and they were all very individual, like real people and thats personally what I love in a character is when they seem real like that. I hate shallow characters and this bunch here definately were not.
Overall: I'd reccomend this series to pretty-much anyone, except for fans of hardcore ecchi, hentail or blood and gore, cuz you wont find that here. Its not a terribly deep plot, but entertaining nonetheless. If you like Japanese martial arts in any form I would definately give this one a try. Plus, for all those who like lighthearted humor, there's some of that here too. It has little bits of a lot of nice things without being saturated and bogged down. To sum it up all I can really say is that its light, its the low-calorie pack of anime.
For some reason, reading the premise of this show I was reminded of the old Seven Samurai film. Trying to assemble a team of powerful warriors in order to protect a village from evil bandits… Only difference, the warriors in this version are all cute girls and the challenge is a harmless kendo competition. I am of course stretching it with this comparison but I couldn’t shake the feeling of how half a century ago Japan used to make these cool manly samurai stories and now is mostly throwing out moe shows left and right. And I don’t like that.
So anyways, Bamboo Blade is basically two things. One half is a motivational show, aimed to inspire people getting into kendo. The second half is slice of life comedy around the simple lives of its characters, most of which are silly girls. The problem here is that it fails to be captivating in both cases, simply because it is not extreme or fanatic enough. The kendo part for example is just dull. Although they teach you all the basic rules and moves of it, in practice all the duels never last for more than a few minutes and all you see is frozen images of people with speed lines to indicate what happened. Compared to the emperor of thrills, Kaiji was a super awesome show about a guy playing rock-paper-scissors. It felt a million times more exciting that people duelling with swords (even wooden ones). As for the slice of life part, it is still quite basic for the time the anime was made. Every episode doesn’t have more than a couple of funny/interesting moments when there already are similar shows with a dozen things to pay notice to in the same amount of time. So again, the flow of the story is quite slow and basic, becoming boring at times. As for the whole kendo championship, it couldn’t be shown any less exciting. They win or lose and you feel like nothing matters.
What further ruins it are the completely average production values. The characters and the sceneries are rather simplistic and with basic colouring, while actual animation is very rare. You mostly stare at frozen caricatures with flapping mouths, and even the duels are crummy motions based on speed lines, zooming and panelling. Voice acting and music themes are nothing memorable either. This becomes even bigger of a problem if one has already watched other school comedies with higher production values such as K-On or Suzumiya Haruhi.
Yet another problem are the unimpressive characters, who just like the humour and the production values are also average. You get this team of kendo chicks, their teacher and various friends, and nobody seems to be memorable for any given reason. That short fat guy is definitely standing out for being drawn completely different and for having a super hot girlfriend but is otherwise not memorable. As for the main team, only the airhead blond is given actual focus for watching most of the anime through her, and that other Super Sentai fan for being very dynamic and rather dramatic. All the rest are stock material and completely forgettable.
A thing which keeps you interested a bit more is the various references it makes to other anime. Being a parody of sorts, it uses them as both means to make a joke, as well as motivating the viewer to watch further (two early examples are Initial D and Super Sentai ). As funny as those extras were, they weren’t that many or that often after awhile, so compared to other major parody shows such as Gintama, this anime again fails to leave a lasting moment.
In all, I didn’t enjoy it much and I doubt it will be remembered in a few years. Anime are great when they are extreme and this one played out too safe and basic to even have a shot at glory.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: General Artwork 1/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 1/2
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 2/4, Sound Effects 2/3
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 1/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 1/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
Nice one, 26 episodes, and -rare thing- not one felt like a filler.
It's hard to actually evaluate story in sport anime. Well "normal sports" at least, as most of it will involve winning matches and competitions. But outside the simple "fight and get better" this one has a few good addiction. Instead of everlasting matches, the encounters are actually quite short, leaving lot of free time to develop the story and the characters personality. And the story is able to catch your attention without releasing it that soon.
A nearly closed club of kendo arises from it's ashes to climb the mountain of opponents that oppose it. Well maybe this is a little emphasized, but hey, surely they will face a few challenges!
The good mix of humor, deep thoughts and a few sad, or at least not happy, dramatic moments actually achieves a good result. Some tournaments, troubles -either small or big-, victories, losses, and a small part for romanticism take place during the story, in a sequence that jumps from a theme to another, and it's done so well that the watcher won't actually notice it so immediately.
The characters are really good, not a single one that looks similar to another. And, although I had some difficulties, they could be recognized even while they wear the kendo clothes, which is not easy task, as you can only see their eyes. A really good point is how they've made front side of the protection mask nearly transparent for most of the time, so that one could see sometimes the whole face, but most of the time just the eyes. And it's exactly in the eyes that the animators actually did their best. Perfection in simplicity! :) Especially in Myia-Myia's. So lovely when she's angry...
Just two minor negative notes... The background is somehow repetitive, but it's actually well masked, as the characters catch your attention so well that the background is absolutely not important. Second thing is that while I said that I appreciated the short fights, it is also true that they are somehow too simplified. It's about the same scene over and over again, what change is just which one of the two kendoka lands the winning blow. Still, while it may seem a huge downside, in fact it is not, as most of the story evolves outside the fights.
Voices are nearly perfect. So many characters, and each one has his/her own voice, similar to noone else, just like the appearance. And even if taken one by one, every voice is so well made that you could tell the expression and the feelings of the character, even if you just ear it's voice without looking at the screen. Again, a note of distinction goes to the voice of Miya-Miya :)
I would have appreciated at least a minor musical background every now and then. Nothing big, just something that is not the opening of the Blade Bravers, the anime-in-the-anime.
A massive amount of characters, each one with distinct look, voice, personality, etc. And surely there is no risk of getting bored for looking always at the same one. Still, while there are that many, there's a bit of emphasis on just a couple of them, leaving most of the others as a side choice. Not a big damage, as each one of the 5 girls in the team soon or later receive their own moment of glory, And there's a fairly average attention to the team evolution, rather than just one character at a time
Something that I felt it could be better is that the two male members of the kendo club are nearly not considered. They do have some importance in the whole story, but since they are part of the club just like the five girls, if they had about the same importance as the girls it would'n hurt for sure.
There are no bad points at all, and a few things bring this anime slightly above a "good" evaluation.
I can't say much more that I haven't already, just enjoy it! It's not a must, there are better ones, but it deserve a place in the "to watch when I have some spare time" list.
I thought that overall this was a very watchable series. There was nothing about this series that was great but it remained entertaining from start to finish.