The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Samurai Jam - Bakumatsu Rock
Review: The first episode of Bakumatsu Rock concludes with the show's protagonist, wannabe-rock-star Ryoma, playing his anachronistic electric guitar in front of a troop of 1800s-era Shinsengumi out to arrest him, and unleashing a song so magnificent that it lifts him into the air, makes him glow with radiant rainbow light, and rips all his clothes off to replace them with ridiculous stage costumery. He is joined by two rebellious warrior-musicians who also undergo immaculate transformations (manifesting a bass guitar and drumset out of mid-air along the way) and declare that he has the MAGICAL GIFT OF ROCK THAT WILL OVERTHROW THE TYRANNICAL EMPIRE OF--okay, that's enough of that. It's pretty fantastic, if you're into that sort of thing. (I certainly am. Gimme that cheese.)
It's a real shame about the art. And the animation. And the music, come to think of it. The story's pretty dull and tired too. Hm.
Bakumatsu Rock's problem is the most common problem to be found in manservice shows: it's mostly cheap and boring. Oh, sure, the magical rock concert in the last five minutes of the episode is funny. It's hard not to giggle at colorful androgynous fellas undergoing magical boy transformations under nonsensical circumstances, even if it is slowly becoming a cliche of the booming fujoshi "genre." (If we can call it that, as some people call "moe" a genre. Use your own judgment.) It is definitely a trend, though. Last season's Kamigami no Asobi opened with one of these, and did so better in fact, by making its camp-tastic showstopper the very first scene in the episode. In both cases, however, it's clear that the rest of the show isn't up to snuff in either animation and writing.
Outside of maybe three minutes of ridiculous glam rock magic, this is an uninspired, gaudy-looking slog through platitudes about the "power of (j-)rock" that the writers don't seem to believe in at all. (Free! is a pander-focused show that never stinks of marketing, for instance. Bakumatsu Rock stinks with every uninspired line of dialogue.) Characters sport one trait each, crack poorly paced unfunny jokes, and barely move until the big scene at the end. It's not fun and ridiculous enough to be a cheese-watch, and the writing's not good enough to get invested in the plot, what little exists. Unless you're a hardcore follower of all things manservice, it's probably better to skip this one. Just watch the transformation scene out of context.
Samurai Jam -Bakumatsu Rock- is available streaming at Crunchyroll.com.
Review: The corniness of Bakumatsu Rock cannot be overstated. An otome-game adaptation that reimagines the Bakumatsu as a Battle-of-the-Bands clash of government-subsidized idols vs. rough and ready rock rebels, Rock is unspeakably cheesy, lethally campy. It is said that, if you take enough, anything can be a poison. In large enough doses, for instance, vitamin A can make your skin slough off. But what about corn? If you OD on corn, what happens?
For one, you laugh your ass off. Parts of this episode are so patently ludicrous, so phony and silly and drenched in bishonen excess, that they are genuinely, painfully hilarious. The climax in particular—in which fiery souled rocker Sakomoto Ryoma joins forces with two fellow students of the rock rebellion to destroy (with music!) a team of guitar-confiscating establishment-musician thugs—is a feast of ab-baring idiocy so over-the-top that it has to be intentional. The transformation scene, in which drums and bass guitars materialize Sailor-Moon style and glowing magical seals blossom on oiled pecs, is alone worth the price of admission.
The problem is that we're not laughing with the series, but rather at it. And that kind of enjoyment is short-lived. Once the mean-spirited merriment subsides, all we are left with is a show that is dim-witted, heavy-handed, and smothered in enough follow-your-dreams, be-true-to-yourself messaging to make even the most ardent idealist gag. Brash, starry-eyed Ryoma is particularly trying. This might not be so bad if the music was good enough to justify the in-show hubbub, but from mediocre instrumentation to affected vocals it's pretty much terrible. If you're a fan of gleaming male flesh who is properly up on your Edo/Meiji era history, then the rippling musculature and silly perversions of Japanese history may make the series worth your while. The rest of us… we'll be sitting this one out.
Bakumatsu Rock is available steaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Review: “The government will have its eyes on those who rock.” No, this is not weird propaganda from the late 1960s, it's a line in the latest anime crime against history, Bakumatsu Rock. We've seen the Shinsengumi as a lot of things, but this show gives us yet another interesting interpretation: they're government-sanctioned idol singers. The government carefully restricts who can sing and what they can use; there's a police force that collects dangerous contraband like guitars. Into this pop-perfect capital comes Sakuma Ryouta, a guy whose clothes are as loud as his illegal guitar. Ryouta wants to sing his own songs, not the boy band crap the Shinsengumi puts out. A chance meeting with a poofy-haired guy landed him his instrument, and now he meets two other guys who play his kind of music – rock music! Together they'll Stick it to the Man with their totally righteous music.
To say that this show is weird is putting it mildly. I'll admit that as I was watching it, I kept thinking, “Why can't I just have a Kaze Hikaru anime?” But it isn't totally devoid of enjoyment, either. It's so over the top and so bizarre that it's hard not to at least smile at Ryouma's antics and the sheer craziness of the show. It definitely has a sensibility I recognize from my dad's tales of his teens and early twenties in the 1960s, and that seems a little out of place. But the show is just so enthusiastic that it's easy to just sort of go with it. In terms of visuals, the animators seem to have decided that bright colors take the place of animation, and a lot of it is quite limited. We rarely see the Shinsengumi's mouths when they're speaking, for example, and there's a lot of standing around talking. But it has plenty of hot guys and quite a few beefcake shots, so if you're in the mood for something that's weird, bright, and loud, give this one a go.
Samurai Jam – Bakumatsu Rock is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: In an alternate version of the Bakumatsu period of Japanese history (i.e., the 1850s and 1860s), the shogunate has turned samurai into singers and is using male idol group Heaven's Song to manipulate the populace, with its members including the Shinsengumi. All music other than Heaven's Song has been outlawed, which makes it a problem for hot-blooded Ryoma Sakamoto, whose passion for music earned him a guitar (which the shogunate has outlawed) from his “shaggy teacher” but whose musical style is a distinct departure from that of Heaven's Song's. While trying to make ends meet at a transvestite's pizza parlor, he finally meets one boy who respects his music and then two other characters who claim to be students of Shoin Yoshida, the man Ryoma has dubbed “shaggy teacher,” and want to know how he came by that guitar. Turns out that what Ryoma has been playing is rock music, a rebellious import from Europe. When all three are beset by the Shinsengumi, Ryoma's passion boils over. During a defiant performance he manifests a Peace Sign, which draws the other two – Kogoro Katsura and Shinsaku Takasugi – into performing with them.
Samurai Jam is based on a PSP game undoubtedly aimed at female audiences, given the intensely bishonen character designs. It is patently ridiculous and bizarrely anachronistic but also a lot of fun, the kind of thing where viewers can sit through the whole first episode with stupid grins on their faces. It is actually even more fun if one picks up on the historical references, as nearly all of the characters named in the first episode are actual historical figures in reinterpretations of their original roles; Kogoro and Shinsaku really were students of Shoin, for instance, both were involved in modernizing and/or Westernizing aspects of Japan, and they and Ryoma were all prominent figures in the movement to overthrow the shogunate and eventually bring about the Meiji Restoration. Here they will just apparently be doing it through music.
The artistry for the first episode is remarkably pretty, the animation isn't lavish but isn't bad, either, and the songs are at least passable. All-in-all, it looks like it could be a goofy, mindless little diversion.
Samurai Jam-Bakumatsu Rock is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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