Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 22nd 2010
Samurai Harem (Asu no Yoichi!)
Yoichi Karasuma was raised and trained in the mountains in the disciplines of the Divine Wind School, but when he finally betters his old man in skill, his father decides that Yoichi's new “training regimen” should be learning how to live in a different wilderness – i.e. the city. To that end Yoichi journeys to an in-town dojo of his school, which becomes a challenge not only because of his unfamiliarity with the setting but also because he's never really been around girls or women, which is a particular problem since the dojo is operated and inhabited by the four young Ikaruga sisters: the gorgeous elder sister Ibuki, second sister Ayame, third sister Chihiya, and youngster Kagome. Much nosebleeding and bashing about by Ibuki ensue over Yoichi's innocently inappropriate behavior. Local tough Ryou Washizu, who is head over heels for Ibuki, sees Yoichi as an obstruction to his romantic goals, while various warriors from rival martial arts schools occasionally pop up to challenge Yoichi. As he and the Ikaruga sisters soon discover, though, the fox-masked brother and sister behind most of the attacks have their own sinister goals involving Yoichi and Ibuki.
Yes, Sentai Filmworks changed the named of this series, which was originally known in Japanese as Asu no Yoichi, to something far removed from its literal translation (which would be something like “Yoichi's Tomorrow”), but the new name is far more attention-catching in English and far more descriptive of what the series is actually all about, especially since Yoichi is regularly referred to as a “samurai.” It should also serve as both an invitation and a warning: if you do not normally have at least some tolerance for harem romantic comedies then this series is not for you, as it does not do enough to separate itself from the pack to merit an exception.
It is not entirely a typical harem romantic comedy, however. Oh, sure, it is so awash in common harem clichés that it practically drowns in them, and the personality and body type distribution of the principal female cast looks like something borrowed from an ero game or “Creating Harem Romantic Comedies For Dummies” book. Here we have the busty older sister who is responsible for the rest; the more tomboyish, petite-built second sister, who is self-conscious about her comparative lack of breast size (even though she has probably the most normal female build in the series) and goes into tsundere mode when it comes to her feelings about the male lead; a third sister who is an anime/manga otaku, fairly busty herself, and watches the antics of the others with amusement; and a fourth sister who is still on the young side to satisfy the loli crowd. (And of course they all have different hair colors despite being full siblings.) Naturally the series is rife with seemingly endless scenes of the male lead accidentally groping female cast members and/or getting inappropriate looks at them, which, naturally, results in considerable physical abuse heaped on said male lead. And naturally most of the female cast members are attracted towards him to some degree or another. Adding in the whole samurai angle just allows the series to pile on some samurai/martial arts clichés, too, as well as giving the series its excuse for action scenes and a rather stupid overarching plot.
The series does have just enough twists on the basic concept to tread water, however, and those primarily come from not having all of the romantic focus on the male lead. Complicating the romantic side of things is the addition of a second regular male character (Washizu, whose delinquent tendencies cannot withstand Yoichi and Ibuki) and having one of the non-sister girls fall as vainly in love with the second guy as he is with Ibuki, while various misunderstandings lead to people thinking that the second guy and the second sister might have something going on, too. One of the male villain is also in love with Ibuki, which becomes the main point in what amounts to the plot in the series' later stages and turns the relationship issues into a royal mess – but that is, of course, much of the fun inherent in a series like this. A sidelight involving the younger sister and her potential like-aged love interest infuses in a bit of cute, too. Yoichi not being a milquetoast also helps; for all that he gets beat up by the women around him, he might be the most puissant male harem lead since Tenchi Masaki as well as an appreciably likable guy. The action, which comes in brief but regular doses, adds a further twist but is not meaty enough to sustain the series on its own strength.
The comedy side of the series works best when the writing concentrates more on being silly than on being bawdy. In fact, this series could be looked at as a poster child for an all-too-common problem with fan service in anime titles released over the past couple of years: a lack of originality, or even really effort, in how the fan service is set up and executed. Most of the fan service “humor” here is so painfully predictable and time-worn that it is as much groan-inducing as titillating; in fact, the only good joke of this type in the whole series is that one of the girls only achieves her full combat potential when having to strip down to an S&M-style costume, as she requires being sufficiently embarrassed to switch over to Mindless Warrior Mode. More effective are the recurring Washizu Vision and Tsubasa Vision gags, which work here, despite multiple-generation recycling, simply because they're named. Best is the silliest fare, such as the enemy warrior who is built up as a badass but gets thoroughly lost trying to find Yoichi, the body-swapping technique involving the teddy bear, the whole concept of surfer warriors, and the curious way that Washizu's sidekick Keita seems to be shrinking as the series goes on. (And wait 'till you see him in the final episode's waning moments!) Some of the Next Episode bits, which mostly feature Yoichi's little-seen father, are also amusing enough not to skip.
The other strength of the series is its visuals. AIC actually put in a goodly amount of effort here, making this one of the better-looking harem series out there. While nothing may be strikingly different or especially sexy/cute about the female character designs, they are done well and offer considerable variety, and this time even the guys get some good design effort, too; Yoichi has a pleasingly cheerful, fresh-faced look, while Washizu, with his two-toned hair, has the convincing look of a delinquent without slavishly conforming to stereotype. The rendering quality and quality control of the character animation is especially high, as is the rich use of color, which, coupled with some solid background art, gives the whole series an appealing look. The animation is even a little above average for a series like this, although that aspect looks best in the opener and closer. (And look for a significant change in the closing animation for the final episode.)
The highlight of the musical score is the opener “Egao no Riyuu” by meg rock, a peppy rock number which well-represents well the enthusiasm, action, and romance of the series. (It is very similar in style to one of the other anime theme songs she is probably best-known for: the opener for Solty Rei.) Aki Misato's closing theme “Life and proud” is a gentler but still pleasant adult contemporary-styled number. In between the musical score complements the content well without being obtrusive.
Unsurprisingly, Sentai Filmworks has not changed its subtitling-only ways with this one, but at least it only has one noticeable error in the subtitles and does include a couple of valuable on-screen notes about obscure food and cultural references. The twelve episodes are split across two disks, with clean opener and closer on the second disk as the only Extras.
Given that both are anime staples, it is a little surprising that samurai stories and harem stories have never combined in the same series prior to this. The result is not without merit and entertainment value, although its first episode is one of its weakest and the series hurts itself a bit by rendering the second most powerful character essentially helpless for the last few episodes while the plot struggled along. Still, those with an appreciation for harem series should find this one sufficiently entertaining.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Looks good, funny in its sillier moments, entertainingly complicated romantic pairings.
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