Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 25th 2005
Jubei-Chan 2: The Counter Attack of Siberia Yagyu
DVD 2: Vendetta
Jiyu Nanohana has renounced her status as the reincarnation of legendary swordsman Yagyu Jubei, but that doesn't stop Jubei's old enemies from hunting her down. The renegade Siberia Yagyu clan wants revenge, but that may be tricky if Jiyu refuses to fight them. Meanwhile, Freesia, who claims to be Jubei's true heir, is still after the Lovely Eyepatch that turns Jiyu into Jubei-chan. Unable to hold back her grudge any longer, Freesia reveals that the only reason she hangs out with Jiyu is because she wants the Eyepatch. But that isn't the only shock in store: when Jiyu learns that her father lied to her, she runs out of the house and straight into the clutches of Yagyu rebel Kita Furo. The more she tries to stay the same, the more she has to change ... into the warrior Jubei-chan.
There are plenty of humorous ninja shows in anime. There are plenty of serious ninja shows. But few of them can cram those extremes together like Jubei-Chan 2, which bounces between comedy and drama like a warrior traversing the rooftops. Friendly characters and bright colors welcome you in with a smile, and then ... BAM! Suddenly it's all action and battle and fear and death. It takes a lot of guts to pull off something like this, where silliness and despair share such close quarters. Luckily, this is one series that meets the challenge.
Being a reincarnated swordsman is serious business. Yes, even if that swordsman now occupies the body of a cheerful teenage girl. Two of the three episodes on this disc begin in a reflective mood—Jiyu sitting on the rooftop, contemplating her dual identity and how much she just wants to be herself. Fans of ninja Jubei-chan need not worry, though, as Jiyu is forced into transforming a couple of times and still displays her usual swordfighting skills. The direction of the storyline isn't too surprising—everybody wants to fight her, while Jiyu just wants to live her life and be friends with Freesia—but each scene makes the most of its dramatic potential.
For those averse to prolonged melodrama, however, the comedy sequences balance things out at a breakneck pace. Kita Furo's encounter with a tree in Episode 6 would normally be just an ordinary gag, but the timing makes it ten times funnier. Or just when Jiyu/Jubei-chan is about to get into serious trouble, we're suddenly whisked away to a ridiculous scene of the guys from school stalking her house. These rollercoaster mood swings—contemplative one moment; zany the next—can be either imaginative or confusing, depending on your viewpoint. But never let it be said that this is a mediocre show: it does wacky comedy better than most, being sassy rather than stupid, and it does drama better than most, going deep into the characters' issues of vengeance, family, and life's purpose. Sometimes the two even collide in the strangest places: who would have thought that Freesia's tragic back story would involve being raised by a community of talking, singing forest animals?
Madhouse's animation style is as daring as the storyline itself, jumping between art techniques as often as the series jumps between moods. When Jiyu's father loses himself in the samurai novel he's writing, a montage of traditional feudal art complements the scene; the Siberia Yagyu clan, even at their most serious, still have that one guy who's drawn really weird. The studio's only misstep is experimenting with CGI—there's a mascot character that's supposed to be the Siberia Yagyu's spy, except it looks more like a reject from the Toy Story cast. Luckily, the character only appears in one episode here (perhaps the animators also realized that it wasn't working out). The simple, rounded character designs may look like kids' stuff, but there's a certain craftsmanship in being able to render Jiyu and Freesia's features with just a few bold lines. Further craftsmanship comes out in the action scenes—in Episode 7, the transformed versions of Jubei-chan and Freesia duke it out in mid-air, twirling and slashing away in a swordfight that rivals any of the more conventional action series. Best of all, the fights don't take three episodes to finish, so you can be guaranteed of the story moving along.
Although the urgent, wordless theme song is still an essential part of the soundtrack, it's no longer as much of a repetitive nuisance as it was in the first four episodes. The music branches out into more styles, and while most of them are just simple melodies repeating in different ways, the unique arrangements help to set the mood. The fight scenes in particular are marked by heavy percussion, resembling traditional Japanese music that the original Jubei himself might have listened to.
Despite this show's strengths, it's let down by an English dub that fails to make the characters real in the way the story does. All too often the voice actors trip up over the phrasing and dismantle any natural flow of dialogue. Even when it's to sync with mouth movements, there's something about the way the words are arranged that puts pauses in all the wrong places. Maybe the script is to blame, taking a free-and-easy approach with the original translation and rearranging much of the dialogue. Shades of meaning get lost or conversations take a different turn because the dub script refuses to agree with the subtitles.
This DVD contains one of the most entertaining extras to ever accompany an anime release: voice actress Yui Horie (Jiyu/Jubei-chan) takes beginner's kendo lessons with actual swordsmen from the Yagyu school. Not only does she discuss the history of the real Jubei, but she learns a few basic moves from the masters. Sure, you could look at the art galleries too, but make sure not to miss this fun little foray into kendo.
With Jiyu trying to escape her destiny as Jubei-chan and her pursuers trying to force it upon her, this series needs a good dose of comedy more than ever, and somehow it works: absurd antics right next to revenge-driven drama. Even with all that, there's still time for blistering duels between friends turned into bitter enemies. How can one series do so much? It's all about exploring the consequences of history converging upon the present. Consequences that can be sad, sweet, strange, or silly—and consequences that will depend on the choices of one young girl.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Great sense of humor, and at the same time, great dramatic weight.
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