Samurai Harem (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 302 minutes approx.
The temptation is strong to dispense with a full review and simply state that “the title says it all” which is only partly true – it does involve a samurai and a harem of girls – but also offers a lot more, so I’m afraid a long winded review it is.
17 year-old Yoichi Karasuma has lived his entire life in the mountains being trained in the ways of the samurai by his father, who sends his son to the city as he feels he has nothing left to teach him. Yoichi is to stay at the Ikaruga Dojo to further his mastering of the Ukiha Divine Wind Style but is shocked to learn that it is run by the eldest Ikaruga daughter Ibuki.
With their parents away Ibuki also has to look after her three sisters the shy Ayame, aspiring mangaka Chihiya and the youngest, 10 year-old Kagume. As the lone male in the dojo and with no experience in dealing with women, Yoichi’s life with the Ikaruga sisters is full of the attendant misunderstandings of the harem genre, although this is a rare occasion where he genuinely is clueless about his offending actions.
Originally a manga by Yū Minamoto this is a rare harem show where the fan service is mostly downplayed (but still present) and the idea of the fighting spirit of a disparate unit sticking together is developed reducing the traditional comic conventions to the role of sideshow distraction. It’s still an often by the numbers affair but with a healthy dose of fighting action and honourable chivalry by our wooden sword wielding protagonist.
Yoichi is an interesting chap in that he is very old fashioned, speaking in an anachronistic (and arguably incongruous) Shakespearean-esque dialogue, full of thees and thous. He may have lived out in the mountains and have been deprived of literally all mod cons but surely the language would have evolved from such archaic verbiage? This makes him a proverbial sore thumb from the outset of his arrival in the city but his prowess with a wooden sword at least proves his legitimacy.
One of the first people Yoichi encounters is Ryo Washizu, the feared local tough guy who pokes fun at the new arrival only to fall foul of the aforementioned Divine Wind Style. Washizu, with his Limahl style hairdo (ask your parents), attends the same school as Ibuki, with whom he is in love but thinks Yoichi is her boyfriend. So, Washizu joins the dojo to get closer to Ibuki but his nerve goes every time he tries to express his feelings to Ibuki.
Love triangles, or in this case a love polygon, is another harem tradition Minamoto hasn’t skimped here; along with the above situation, Ayame falls for Yoichi but mistakenly thinks Washizu is in love her. Meanwhile a girl from the Tsubame Benten Ryuu Dojo, Tsubasa Tsubame falls for Washizu but he doesn’t notice her for being in pursuit of Ibuki, who is in fact in love with Yoichi!
I hope you got all that because much of the comedy is built around the various mishaps surrounding these tacit affections, along of course, with the ritual beatings Yoichi gets for allegedly being a pervert – accidental boob grabs, walking in on the girls changing, etc – ironically enough mostly from Ibuki. This keeps the story moving until the final three episodes bring the series to a close with a mini arc involving the dastardly actions of another rival dojo and one character having their memory wiped.
With such a well worn genre as the harem comedy one is no doubt tempted to either give this a go because of the samurai angle or ignore it altogether since the formula has been done to death. Minamoto may not have strayed too far from the familiar template but the martial arts aspect does in fact push this show closer to something like Kenichi than So I Can’t Play H!.
However the intent is build up over the course of the twelve episodes a sense of closeness and camaraderie among the key players, which sees the more aggressive characters eventually cool down and switch from foe to friend. A predictable result but executed with patience allowing this growth to be charted exponentially and not rushed for the sake of a big morally cheesy finale.
This doesn’t stop the characters from being immune from having the typical personalities required for this set up though, nor indeed are the girls’ physical forms any less outrageous to facilitate the bawdier material. Ibuki has a heaving bosom which astounds naive Yoichi while Ayame is teased for being less busty.
Tsubasa’s loyal body guard Angela is apparently only 16 but looks about 30 in every aspect. In other words, the eye candy is present and correct. One odd character is Washizu’s friend Keita Torigaya who inexplicably keeps shrinking throughout the series and, well, you’ll have to see for yourself what happens but this is a very abstract inclusion.
Despite the absence of a real sword and a topknot, Yoichi is a fair representation of a samurai in how he approaches each situation with a practical head and moral fortitude before kicking butt. Interestingly he doesn’t change his dated clothing after acclimatising to his new surroundings and this is hardly questioned either. His genuine innocence, big heart and inherent valour makes Yoichi an easier harem character to get behind, a welcome antidote to the usual perverts.
Prolific studio AIC’s animation and art style is shared with another fighting title Bamboo Blade and is well suited to the storytelling here and the compliments the action sequences, which are neither overly excessive or under developed.
Despite the declaration in the title Samurai Harem is actually more than a generic harem show. With the bawdiness reduced and supplanted by martial arts action, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, this is rather fun and wholly suited for when you want something light and frothy to watch.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black