Samurai Bride Complete Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 306 minutes approx.
You will have to cast your mind back some three and a half years to when the first series of this ribald Samurai Era franchise, Samurai Girls first hit UK shores. Set in an alternate Great Japan the Tokugawa Shogunate has remained in power and many of the most feared samurai are now women.
Giving licence to a tawdry harem comedy lone male protagonist, Muneakira Yagyu, a General, has the ability to turn his bevy of busty babes into master samurai via a kiss. Not much has changed for this sequel, so if this visually unique blend of slapstick comedy, nudity and prurient silliness delighted you back in 2012 then you are in for a similar treat with this follow-up.
Returning after a training mission Muneakira finds his beloved dojo has been turned into the True Shadow maid cafe! This was the idea of the ladies – flat chested teen Yukimura Sanada, her loyal bodyguard Matabei Goto, noble tsundere Sen Tokugawa, her maid Hattori Hanzo and the bubbly Jubei Yagyu (no relation) – to help pay off the dojo’s debts. Thankfully this isn’t the overarching storyline, just a conduit for all the fan service/ecchi clichés, of which there is plenty.
The real story involves a group of reincarnated warriors known as the Dark Samurai, who are directed to the cafe by resident irritant and self-confessed “Warrior of Love” Kanetsugu Naoe while handing out fliers. The Dark Samurai, led by Miyamoto Musashi, attack our heroes and seal away Muneakira’s general powers, before demanding that Jubei has her Master Samurai powers reinstated in one month or else.
We’ve been frustrated by anime which sets up an exciting and fertile premise in its opening episodes only to abandon them for spurious silliness then return to them in the closing chapters. Samurai Girls was guilty of this and Samurai Brides is cut from the same cloth. The Dark Samurai provide the group with a proper antagonist to focus on rather than the infighting that dominated the first series, but as ever this is not the whole story.
The titular Samurai Bride refers to a second latent power inside a warrior also unlocked by lip locking with Muenakira, prompting the girls to resume their one-upmanship bickering from before. This time however there is additional competition from Kanetsugu and a monkey named Sasuke. Yup – a monkey! She accidentally steals a kiss from Muneakira and turns into – what else – a busty girl, but she can only remain in this form temporarily.
Shows such as this do themselves such a great disservice in pandering to the lowest common denominator with its cheap thrills, as demonstrated by the quality of the more serious closing episodes. While it may be convoluted guff, a second story emerges in the latter half of this twelve episode run, in which the future of Great Japan is at stake. The malevolent spirit that rejuvenated the Dark Samurai did so with greater evil intentions, the feud with the True Shadow babes being just one stage of its plan.
Whether it is a confidence issue in being able to write a sustainable storyline or the business mantra of “sex sells” rearing its ugly head rests inside the head of Satoru Nishizono, adapting the original light novels of Akira Suzuki. For viewers more demanding of their anime this creates a situation of impatience and ill-will when the story is ignored for sexy shenanigans, made all the more infuriating by a strong finale which demonstrates just what could have been.
But – and this is probably where the real genius lies – the cast are such a enjoyable bunch, even in spite of their hackneyed tropes, with ebullient and likeable personalities that allow them to bounce off each other to make the most fun out of a silly situation. The chemistry between all the women (let’s face it, Muneakira is a mere token) is tangibly productive and entertaining, one of the strengths that drives the show.
There is also a keen leaning towards zany humour which the concept allows to be implemented without seeming incongruous. The greatest example comes during the M! games between True Shadow and Dark Samurai, and an episode in which a disgruntled Kanetsugu is trying to sabotage the Ki training of the others. This chapter in particular is laugh out loud hilarious as Kanetsugu fails each time resulting in Wile E. Coyote levels of spectacular comeuppance.
Of course, the uncensored naked female flesh (Muneakira’s one sole nude scene IS censored – sorry ladies) will be the core appeal for some but this time not all of it is gratuitous, unless one considered bath scenes gratuitous. While the sexual content has been toned down since the first series, one scene later subverts this in an unpleasant and priapic manner when Tokugawa is being orally probed by the evil beastie.
Arguably the true star is the visuals, once again delighting us with the woodblock inspired backgrounds and set pieces, over which the characters with their bold outlines and clearly defined features play out their escapades. The black ink blotches return as scene buffers while the grainy colour palette creates a sophisticated veneer that belies the raunchy content.
The quality of the animation surfaces in the final episodes for the climactic battle, a bombastic onslaught of action, sound and colour, raging with passions and fury as the two sides do battle. CGI appears to have eschewed here, allowing the animators to control the timing of the movements more smoothly, creating a spectacle with a greater natural feel to it.
Samurai Brides is a show that suggests the parts are greater than the sum, but with an inherent addictive quality driven by the strong and amiable characters, enjoyable silly humour and the esoteric visual style, it defies all explanation and expectation by working as a whole.
It may be more boobs than blades and smut than swordplay but inexplicably (guilty pleasure) fun.
English Language DTS HD-Master Audio
Japanese Language DTS HD-Master Audio with English Subtitles
Samurai Bride Shorts
Japanese Blu-Ray Promos
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black