Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 22nd 2005
Jubei-Chan 2: The Counter Attack of Siberia Yagyu
DVD 3: Revelation
Jiyu Nanohana, the one-time reincarnation of swordsman Yagyu Jubei, has just lost a duel to Freesia, her schoolmate who claims to be Jubei's true heir. Lost in the forest with the mysterious child Ayunosuke tending her wounds, Jiyu is unaware that Freesia is slowly taking over the Nanohana house. Meanwhile, lone swordsman Kita Furo continues to plot his revenge against Jubei—if only he could figure out which one he's supposed to battle. The rogue Siberia Yagyu clan has the same problem, except they're a lot more incompetent about it. Jiyu thinks she can resolve matters by rejecting the Lovely Eyepatch and handing the identity of the true Jubei to Freesia, but her decision has dire effects on Ayunosuke. Things only get worse when Jiyu gets home and finds her father hoodwinked by Freesia's trickery.
There comes a time in every anime series—let's say, maybe halfway through the second season—where a quirky initial premise loses its quirk. That time has come for Jubei-Chan 2, where the idea of a schoolgirl-turned-ninja is no longer all that funny by itself. What the series loses in comedy, however, it makes up for by guiding Jiyu's story arc towards a struggle over her destiny. Disconnected side characters finally begin to converge on Jubei (and each other), and while swordfighting action is scarce in this volume, the unexpected turns of plot guarantee that there's a big finish in store.
In this volume, everything changes for Jiyu—even though she spends an episode and a half lying in a swamp. That's because other forces are conspiring against her, and in just three episodes she loses control of her family, her best friend, and even her secret identity. How's that for a shocking turnaround? This new direction in the storyline is a double-edged blade, however, seemingly stalling for time until it can get to the final episodes. Flashback scenes for Freesia, Ayunosuke, and Kita Furo flesh out the characters and their motivations, as well as providing strong emotional moments, but they also serve as narrative pit stops until Jiyu is ready to jump back into action.
With all these downers and heartbreakers, though, can the series still be classified as a comedy? Just because it's gone all dramatic on us doesn't mean that the show's sense of humor has disappeared entirely. It's simply been delegated to another group of characters. The schoolboys in the Student Lovelies Fan Club continue their madcap antics from previous episodes, culminating in an encounter with the equally incompetent and Jubei-fixated Siberia Yagyu clan. (So incompetent, in fact, that the boys have to do their laundry for them.) It's a perfect match: Comedy Relief Troupe 1 meets Comedy Relief Troupe 2, providing some absurdity and relief from all the surrounding anxiety. The humor also has a self-awareness that most other anime shows lack: keep a lookout for Jiyu's dad telling the narrator to shut up, and the ever-changing kanji T-shirt.
Studio MADHOUSE gets a bit of a break in these episodes, not having to animate any major duels between Jiyu and Freesia. The most intense action you'll see is Kita Furo's flashback to his sword training days, but it doesn't mean that the staff is slacking off. Other techniques such as the off-the-wall shifts in art style still remain. At one point, the monkey brothers suddenly turn into glittery-eyed model students, while the Siberia Yagyu clan still suffers from a hilarious inconsistency in character design (including that irritating CGI creature). This versatility of style also comes in handy for serious scenes, like Ayunosuke's metamorphosis, and the stunning sunset background when Freesia contemplates her family history. Even the character designs, which seem too simple at first glance, manage to express intense emotions with just a few lines.
With the story taking a more deliberate, dramatic turn, the music score goes in a similar direction and slows down. Some of the best background pieces in these episodes are the solo piano tracks, often expanding into richer instrumental textures. In one crucial scene, the instrumental opening theme—usually a cue for swordfighting action—is transformed into a poignant ballad. Yui Horie's cheerful ending song is a necessary (and tuneful) relief from all this emotional effect.
For a series that relies so much on convincing drama, the English dub doesn't deliver it. Melanie Ridson's Jiyu sounds more like recitation than expression, and I wonder if anyone will ever understand the point of the awkward pauses in Ayunosuke's speech. The one standout performance comes from Brendan Hunter, who takes Kita Furo's character and manages to make him both wildly comedic and serious as needed. Although the dub script takes a casual approach towards phrasing, it still captures the meaning of each line as translated. Now if only the English voice actors could capture the emotion when they actually say it...
Although not as entertaining as the kendo feature in Volume 2, the tea ceremony extra with voice actress Yui Horie is another surprisingly fun bonus for the series. Along with a character art gallery, the tea ceremony feature makes the extras on this disc more satisfying than a typical anime DVD.
There comes a time in every anime series—or at least, every good anime series—where a few major plot shifts can make or break the rest of the story. Jubei-Chan 2 may have started out as a cutesy, comedic romp about the continuing adventures of the schoolgirl-turned-ninja, but a lost duel, a devious best friend, a rogue swordsman and a weak-willed father can change everything. Even as this surprising action-comedy-drama stalls for time with flashbacks and carefully paced scenes, the end is just three more episodes away, and every moment is going to matter.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Intensely funny and intensely dramatic, with the visuals looking better than ever.
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