I’ve noticed recently that quite a few anime critics, myself included, have been using the term “generic” as if it’s some sort of foul sacrilege. We seem to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything that contains tropes we perceive to be common or overused. But that’s not really fair, is it? After all, trope by themselves are not bad. Even if a show uses the most well-worn cliches in existence, it can still be entertaining if they are properly executed.
Take, for example, Battle Girls, also known as Sengoku Otome. The plot is a mishmash of elements gleaned from InuYasha, Sailor Moon and Samurai Girls, but still manages to be engaging. The characters are archetypes we’ve seen a dozen times, but they’re forceful enough to be memorable. The animation is limited and cuts corners, but still delivers where it counts. This show is profusely derivative, containing absolutely nothing original. But despite this ostensible shortcoming, a whole lot of fun to watch.
The story revolves around Toyoomi Hideyoshino, who (thanks to her unusual name) is called Hideyoshi by her classmates. She’s a recidivist slacker who prefers to spend her time reading celebrity blogs and texting, despite her plummeting grades. After a particularly stern lecture from her teacher, she decides to stop by a shrine in the hope that divine intervention will help her next test score. She happens upon a strange shadowy woman casting a magical circle in the shrine, and clumsily interferes causing the spell to go haywire. The resultant magical discharge knocks her cold, and she awakens in the fedual era near a town in flames. To her disbelief, Hideyoshi is saved by two Sengoku-era war generals, Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi… except, for some reason, these famous historical figures have been transformed into busty women with magical powers.
More after the break.
What I Liked
Beyond the Boobs: Okay, so the premise of this show is basically “famous Sengoku warriors as sexy women.” Sounds a lot like Samurai Girls, doesn’t it? The difference is, Battle Girls actually keeps its fanservice rather restrained and makes up for it with forceful and memorable characters. Nobunaga easily steals the show with her commanding presence, helped along by a great performance by perrenial badass voice actress Megumi Toyoguchi (who also played Revy, Klan Klan and Winry.) The protagonist Hideyoshi also makes a good impression, due in no small part to her stark similarity to Usagi from Sailor Moon. Although I found her clueless persona endearing, I admit it can be a polarizing character type. If you thought Usagi was grating, then Hideyoshi will probably get on your nerves as well.
The character designs are also fantastic. Once again, Nobunaga was the highlight… both comely and commanding, a warrior who can kick your ass in ten seconds flat while you’re busy drooling over her boobs. Mitsuhide’s design, on the other hand, evokes the aura of a disdainful yet intelligent and reliable advisor. Even Hideyoshi’s familiar dumpling style mini-twintails add to her sense of innocence. Judging by the OP, the other character designs are similarly distinctive and memorable, which goes a long way towards establishing their personalities before they’ve even said a word. With most other shows these days content to resort to bog-standard and utterly forgettable character designs, it’s nice to see a show that does something different.
These memorable characters go a long way towards breathing life into the admittedly cliche plot. Take, for example, the early episodes of Lucky Star. They were rife with bad pacing, boring conversations and terrible comedic timing. Despite these flaws, they managed to leave a positive impression because of Kagami and Konata, a dynamic duo whose chemistry managed to rise above the mundane material they were given. In a similar fashion, Battle Girls’ likeable characters drive the show forward, making it much greater than the sum of its parts.
Simple, Yet Serious: It’s hard to stop comparing Battle Girls to Sailor Moon as it really feels like a classic 90s show. The story is told in a straightforward and convincing fashion. The characters are clearly defined and well established. The animation, although limited, offers spectacular set pieces that conjure a vivid historical atmosphere. Even the directing is firmly grounded in basic principals, using a variety of simple yet effective camera movements and shots. Everything about this episode felt very down-to-earth, almost retro… like watching an old episode of InuYasha on Adult Swim.
Thematic complexity and extravagant filmmaking are nice, but I much prefer shows that stick to the basics of storytelling with a good, old-fashioned tale of heroes, villians and magical swordfights. Perhaps it’s that comic strip simplicity that I find so appealing about this show. It may be a silly conceit on my part, but I can’t help enjoying it nonetheless.
What I Hated
Battle Scene Blues: There’s only one brief fight scene in the whole episode, where Nobunaga shows up to splatter some mooks and establish her badassery. Strangely, during this scene the camera started gyrating about wildly. It seemed as if the directer wanted to add some fancy fly-by shots to Nobunaga’s magical swordplay, but the end result was just confused and chaotic. This is especially odd considering how well-staged every other scene was. I can only hope that this pitfall can be avoided in future episodes when the action is more substantial.
Develop, Develop, Develop! I mentioned earlier that Hideyoshi has a rather polarizing character type. Although this kind of cutesy/clumsy girl can be endearing at first, she also runs the risk of getting stuck in a moe rut and becoming entirely extraneous. This episode seemed to portray Hideyoshi’s extreme self-absorption and obsession with modern conveniences as a character flaw, which means she’s going to need some serious development in the upcoming episodes. If the writers fail to do this, however, she’ll wind up as a Yui Hirasawa expy, and become much more annoying even to those of us who like that archetype. That was one of Samurai Girls’ major problems, and I hope Battle Girls can avoid the same pitfall.
This isn’t a show for everyone. Those who don’t like simple, slick stories or clumsy moe characters will likely find Battle Girls a tad too bitter for their tastes. On the other hand, if you enjoy a straightforward swords and sorcery fantasy adventure with moderate fanservice, you won’t be disappointed. A lot depends on how they develop the story and characters from here on out, but the first episode certainly lays a solid foundation.