Project Haruhi

Review: Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls 1

Yagyuu Muneakira, Sanada Yukimura and Gotou Matabee.

At first glance, Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls has a lot going against it. It's based on a figure series which depicts various historical samurai as busty girls. It's being animated by ARMS, who are responsible for such shows as Queen's Blade and Ikkitousen. AT-X will be broadcasting an uncensored version, with plenty of nudity to go around. By all accounts, this should be another brainless fanservice-fest that only the really, really hardcore otaku will enjoy.

Or is it?

The old adage "don't judge a book by its cover" is applicable here. I actually watched the first episode of Samurai Girls and enjoyed it. Why? Well, despite the conclusions some of you have drawn from my HOTD hatred, I actually like fanservice-heavy shows. I'm a healthy, heterosexual guy in his mid-twenties... why WOULDN'T I enjoy staring at nubile samurai women parading around in skimpy outfits? What I don't appreciate is when such shows tack on a paper-thin plot into which the writers put no thought or effort. Just because a show has bouncing boobs doesn't mean the story has to suck!

And you know what? Samurai Girls actually has a decent story. It's set in an alternate version of the present day, where the Tokugawa Shogunate still rules over a feudal Japan. The main protagonist, Yagyuu Muneakira, is tranferring to a military academy at the base of Mount Fuji. There he accidentally meets Sanada Yukimura and Gotou Matabee, two female samurai who are opposing the ruling Shogunate. After a nasty run-in with the school's Shogun-endorsed militant student council, Yagyuu casts his lot with the rebels, setting the stage for a feudal battle of shifting loyalties in a high-school setting.

This intriguing story is only one aspect Samurai Girl's enjoyability. The tasteful fanservice, gorgeous art style and memorable character designs make this show is a visual treat, and the writing is serviceable enough that you won't be bored out of your skull waiting for the next ecchi scene. Granted, there are still some big flaws... but this show has definately piqued my interest.

Find out more after the break.

Here's the breakdown of the good, the bad and the sexy.

What I Liked

Inkwash Art: The highlight of Samurai Girls is easily the unique art style, which mimics traditional Japanese ink and wash painting. The backgrounds look like Chinese watercolors and the characters are drawn with thick brushed outlines, giving the impression that you're watching some sort of surreal animated Sesshū Tōyō painting rather than an anime. Occasionally, ink even splatters across the screen, either to facilitate a scene transition or creatively censor the nudity.

Competent Protagonist: This show has strong romantic comedy and harem elements. Usually, the male protagonist associated with these genres is weak and pathetic, in the vein of Love Hina's Keitaro. In Samurai Girls, however, Yagyuu Muneakira is actually *gasp* a competent and capable man, plus a samurai to boot! I know I shouldn't be so impressed by this, but after years of nothing but limp-wristed males cowering before their abusive tsundere girlfriends, I can't help but be overjoyed.

Restrained Fanservice: I can't believe I'm saying this, but the fanservice in this show was actually tasteful and restrained, at least when compared with the likes of HOTD or Ladies vs. Butlers. The inkblot censoring makes this no more risque than your average ecchi title. Furthermore, the leading ladies suffer no loss of dignity... even when baring their assets, they manage to remain strong characters with forceful personalities. I can only hope Samurai Girls will continue this trend and avoid marginalizing its girls into mere sex objects.

What I Hated:

Romcom Archetypes: Samurai Girl's plot is an odd mix of feudal samurai drama, highschool-based romantic comedy and fanservice. I also noticed harem elements, though I'm not sure if this will turn into a full-fledged harem show. The romcom scenes were painful to sit through, especially since they followed all the tired cliches to a T. Male protagonist clumsily stumbling on a group of disrobed girls? Check. Making the situation worse by unintentionally insulting the loli's breast size? Check. Girls comically throwing debris at the accidental sex offender while accusing him of being a pervert? Check. Ugh, do we really have to go through this same old song and dance?

Awkward Exposition: Let's do a bit of roleplaying. You're a young samurai girl in hiding, planning a conspiracy to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate that rules Japan. You meet a strange male samurai who, after seeing you naked, demonstrates his martial superiority be effortlessly disarming you. You think he might be a potential ally, but you don't even know his name yet. What would you do?

A. Get to know him better, and casually try to learn his allegiance and opinion of the Shogunate.
B. Try to demonstrate to him how evil the Shogunate is by revealing some great atrocity or crime they committed.
C. Immediately tell him your complete master plan for toppling the Shogunate, and hope he is impressed.

If you chose option C, congratulations! You're as stupid as Sanada! Honestly, the only reason they shoehorned in this clumsy bit of dialogue is to explain Sanada and Gotou's political position, and set up Yagyuu's decision to join them later. The whole thing stretched credulity beyond belief.

Here's another example.

"Y-You're Yagyuu Muneakira? F-From the Yagyuu family that has been teaching swordsmanship to the family of the Shogun for generations? You're still going against the Student Council even though you're in that position?"

Because that's how people talk in real life, right? I, Jon Snyder, the chief editor of Project Haruhi and a college student who is studying Japanese language and culture, certainly think so!

Overall Thoughts:

Samurai Girls is a bit of a mixed bag for me. The art style is gorgeous, the characters are likable enough and the plot is intriguing. However, I can't help but feel it was dragged down by indulging in certain romantic comedy cliches. Granted, the impact of these cliches was somewhat lessened by the strong male protagonist and frenetic pacing, which prevented the show from dwelling on them for too long. Still, the fact that they were included in the first place is a bit disheartening. That, combined with a few instances of awkward dialogue and exposition, kept me from giving this show a perfect Picard score. I think Samurai Girls has a lot of promise, but it needs to ramp up the originality of the writing to match the unique art style. For the time being, though, this show has definitely caught my interest. The fall anime season is off to a promising start!


About Jon

Jon is a Japanese culture enthusiast, professional pervert and roleplaying fanatic who appreciates flexible gender identities. He enjoys science fiction, Gunpla, classical music and Red Stripe.
  • Hmm…as I said on Twitter, I like this review. Of course, I also liked the episode as well, and I generally agree with what you’ve said. However, I didn’t take nearly as much of an issue with the “stumbles in on girls changing, insults loli’s breasts” stuff. Perhaps I’ve seen so much of it by now that it’s just fairly innocuous to me, or maybe it was just executed well enough that it didn’t stick out as being overdone. As for the awkward exposition, I agree about Sanada exposing her plans, but that “Y-You’re Yagyuu Muneakira?” quote didn’t bother me near as much. Since all of these names are pretty well known in Japan (sort of like Washington, Grant, Patton, and MacArthur here), I’m inclined to think that she was trying to reconcile why a man from that family would be siding against the shogunate, and the quote was just a verbal part of her thought process. An exposition of who they are wouldn’t be needed to a good Japanese viewer (though it would for us), so that’s how I came to think this way.

    Regardless, I was pretty impressed with this episode. I think 4/5 is a good rating for it. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this series.

    • Kei

      Actually, the whole “state your name and affiliation” thing is pretty common in feudal samurai dramas. I didn’t talk about it too much in the review, but I saw a lot of samurai drama influence in this show. For the most part, that’s a good thing… but there are a few tropes (such as the over-the-top honor speech) that I wish they hadn’t used. As for whether or not this influence will clash with the romantic comedy aspects, we’ll just have to wait and see. It’s a difficult concept to pull off, but I think it could be very entertaining if done right.

      • I agree, and good point about that sort of thing being common in samurai dramas. I don’t watch many, so I wasn’t really aware.

  • Ryu

    Wow, I couldn’t even get past the halfway mark. Maybe I should give it another chance…

    • Kei

      It’s not a show for everyone. Between the fanservice, feudal drama and rather bog-standard romcom elements, I expect quite a few people will pass this one by. All I’m saying is it deserves a chance.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll have to look into this series… you know how I love samurai dramas. I’m not sure how far I’ll get in it though. I am a bit tired of the romcom/harem stuff, but maybe I’ll like it if I give it a chance.

    Anyway, good post! I love the picture at the end!