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The Summer 2024 Anime Preview Guide
The Elusive Samurai

How would you rate episode 1 of
The Elusive Samurai ?
Community score: 4.2



What is this?

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In 1333, the child heir to the Kamakura shogunate, Hojo Tokiyuki, was abruptly orphaned and deprived of his heritage. Fleeing to another province, the young man begins to grapple with his new circumstances as he builds a following. But Tokiyuki's no fighter, so he's going to rely on what he does best to win his war: run away.

The Elusive Samurai is based on the manga series by Yūsei Matsui. The anime series is streaming on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.


How was the first episode?

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Richard Eisenbeis
Rating:

At the core of this episode is a question: “What makes a hero?” Now some would likely say, “doing great deeds.” Others would say, “bravely standing up for what you believe in.” The vast majority of the characters in this anime would certainly say, “vanquishing your foes and winning battles.” However, that is not the answer this anime gives. Its answer is “the one who survives the longest.”

And, from a practical point of view, that's true. After all, if you can't kill your enemy in a war, you can't claim victory—especially in a society that sees warfare as the greatest possible honor. Sure, you can complain about your enemy's cowardice as it makes you the warrior who can't kill a coward—and that's not a good look. So basically, the main conflict of this series is: “Who will win: the ultimate killer or the ultimate escape artist?”

Of course, if you know your Japanese history, you know how this turns out—and why one of these two rivals is much more well-known than the other. This is even lampshaded in the anime itself with Suwa looking into the future and wondering if there would be a major effect on history if Tokiyuki died along with his family. That said, some major ups and downs are present along the way that could make for a very entertaining bit of historical fiction.

As for the episode itself, I enjoyed it. I wasn't completely blown away but the story was competently told and the characters were well-established—including the ones that are likely to appear only in this single episode. Honesty, to me, the real standout was the animation.

Movement is so important to this episode. All the scenes spent watching Tokiyuki run away from his attendants are vital to its climax. It has to look smooth and effortless for Tokiyuki to escape. That way, in the final scene, where he dodges countless arrows and swords, it feels like a natural culmination of years of unintended practice rather than a sudden superpower. It also looks insanely cool.

But more than all that, the climax is a massive character-building moment for Tokiyuki. He is forced to confront the fact that he doesn't want to die with his family—that he instinctively wants to survive no matter what his sadness and sense of honor are telling him. Honestly, it's great visual storytelling—especially when it ends with Tokiyuki clinging to Suna, the only adult he has left to hold on to.

Was this a great start to the series? No doubt. Do I expect subsequent episodes to live up to this one? No. I rather suspect that within an episode or two we'll reach a much more lackadaisical status quo. That said, I'm more than hooked enough to see what that status quo will be.


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Caitlin Moore
Rating:

The thing about The Elusive Samurai's premiere is that it's excellent. Like, objectively so. So much so that it's hard for me to think of more specific things to say about it because it's like, “What do you want me to say? Everything about it is fantastic!” But that won't earn me a line item on my invoice, so I'm going to have to think of more specific things to say.

The animation? Gorgeous! It's vivid and fluid and lively, bringing 14th-century Kamakura to life. Every frame pops with brilliant colors, from the brightly colored kimono to the pale pink cherry blossoms to fire's ominous red glow. I spend a lot of time watching children run, and Tokiyuki's flights are breathtakingly lifelike. He strides, leaps, balances with confidence, every line and motion expressing the sheer joy of moving in your body that children feel so deeply but most people, like his beleaguered guardians, lose by the time they reach adulthood. It's positively scintillating.

Tokiyuki shares the scampish energy with some of my favorite children that I've worked with, brilliant in their mischief even as they give me a headache. Did I relate a bit to the desperation on his retainers' faces as they run out of breath, unable to catch him. Mmmmaybe. But I also related to the way they clearly cared about him. I also felt for Tokiyuki deeply as he leapt into Suwa's waiting arms, unable to give up on life as Suwa carried him away. Suwa, meanwhile, has a similar trickster energy to Koro-sensei, in case we forgot that this was based on a manga by Yūsei Matsui, creator of Assassination Classroom.

Also in case we forgot this was based on a manga by Matsui—and this is what lost the episode a half-star—there's a weird undercurrent of misogyny to Kiyoko, Tokiyuki's fiancee. I know some of you will say, “Well, there are other female characters!” but this was something that bothered me in Assassination Classroom as well. There's a feeling that “bad girls”—girls who are greedy, or promiscuous, or otherwise exhibit negative traits usually associated with women—need to get punished. Kiyoko is clearly after the life of luxury that comes from being married to a puppet ruler and is pushing to marry Tokiyuki—even though he isn't interested. When she's killed in the coup, the on-screen text mentions that she was “brutally violated,” meaning she was raped. It's a totally unnecessary detail and gave me the ick in a big way.

But it was also the only low point in an otherwise spectacular episode. If The Elusive Samurai can keep up half this energy, it'll easily be one of the best series of the season.


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Nicholas Dupree
Rating:

I'm curious how this show will land over here. Yūsei Matsui's seen sizable success before with the likes of Assassination Classroom, but his latest work definitely comes with some hurdles for a casual audience. A lot of the appeal of this show is based on its imaginative, dramatized, and altogether wacky presentation of history that is fairly well-known in Japan, but at most passingly familiar for any US viewer who isn't a Japanese History nerd. While this first episode does a clear enough job articulating the major players and their relative political alignments, there's also a good chance a lot of people's first question is why Tokiyuki is wearing the Triforce on all his clothes, let alone what the Kamakura Shogunate is/was.

Perhaps to help folks over that speed bump, the anime team animated the hell out of this premiere. The colors are bright, vibrant, but never overpowering. The character animation is expressive, shifting from gorgeous fluidity to more limited but excellently timed abstraction, and never afraid to make a stylistic shift to make something land. I adore how much detail and energy was put into displaying Tokiyuki's nimble movements, capturing the weight of his body yet never feeling heavy or leaden. It's superb work, and brings the cast and world to life fantastically. Even if you don't understand a word of what's going on, this show is worth watching for eye-candy alone.

As for the rest of the show, there's a lot to like as well. Tokiyuki is a likable lad, and while he's mostly reactive through this episode, so much of his character is expressed through body language and expression that you still have a strong understanding of who he is. Yorishige is likely to be more divisive, since he's basically Koro-sensei dropped into feudal Japan, with all the tonal and comedic volatility that entails. I like him, though, and laughed out loud when he pulled one of his hair ornaments like a light switch to dim his holy aura. Like all of Matsui's weirdo mascot characters, there's hints of a more serious and sincere character behind the wackiness, and what little we see between the cracks of his persona are charming.

The plot is a bit shakier, if only because of how quickly this episode shifts from wacky character building to bloody warfare. You could take a slightly long blink and miss that Ashikaga Takeuchi betrayed his country and lord before slaughtering the whole Hojo clan, and even if you didn't miss it, it's so sudden it leaves you with whiplash. Combined with the Yorishige's presence breaking the tone like a kit kat bar, and there's at least a few instances in the back half that left me scratching my head.

Those are relatively minor problems compared to all of this episode's strengths, and I'm so enamored with the central theme – that what makes Tokiyuki a “war hero” is his desire for survival, rather than accepting samurai culture's definition of an honorable death – that I can't care too much. This is by and large a slam dunk premiere, and an easy recommendation.


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Rebecca Silverman
Rating:

Good news, manga readers: the horses in The Elusive Samurai's anime version look much better than their manga counterparts! Not that that was a high bar to clear, but it's just one of several ways that this episode is visually impressive. The most important is the flair and fluidity with which our eponymous samurai moves – Tokiyuki's acrobatics have a joyful sense of motion to them, like he really loves moving through space in as many ways as he can. That even carries over to his movements in the second half of the episode, when he's not just evading people for fun, but in order to save his own life. It's breathtaking.

Alongside that, we also get some excellent details, both serious and silly. Everything about self-proclaimed Shinto priest Yorishige Suwa is dialed up to an eleven, whether he's being goofy or serious, and gags like yanking on a braid to dim someone's aura help to balance out the darker elements of the show. And there are dark elements – The Elusive Samurai is, first and foremost, a war story, opening in 1333 with Takauji Ashikaga's elimination of most of the Hojo clan in Kamakura. The episode, despite starring an eight-year-old child, doesn't shy away from that and how horrific it would have been for Tokiyuki to live through it. A scene of a ball falling to be replaced with a boy's severed head is our only warning before things get grim, and the art doesn't skim on the blood and scenes of dead bodies, even going so far as to show us how everyone died; be warned, there are at least two implied scenes of sexual violence as well, one spelled out, and the other simply an image of a dead woman clutching a knife, her body mostly covered to hide what happened to her.

These two elements of the show, both important (this is from the creator of Assassination Classroom, after all), don't always sit comfortably together. Suwa can be too much at times, like a desperate distraction from the horror, and if gore and realistic enough violence are things you'd rather not watch, this isn't going to be the show for you; I had a hard time getting through parts of it. It also may not be for historical purists, or maybe we should hope it won't be – let's just say that history wasn't kind to the real-life Tokiyuki. The opening and ending themes both try their best to sell this as a fun adventure, and it likely will have elements of that, but I wouldn't bank on that being the driving force of the story.

Still, if you aren't bothered by the gore, this is absolutely worth watching. (And if you are, reading the manga is a good alternative – black-and-white is much easier to take than red.) Beautifully animated, it captures the spirit of the source material and plays with history in some really interesting ways. Don't let this samurai elude you.


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James Beckett
Rating:

It's always a good sign when a show has a premiere so good that it gets you hyped before it's first episode even properly begins. The good news is that the premiere of The Elusive Samurai continues to be excellent even after you're finished replaying the OP two or three times over. It's clear that CloverWorks is bringing their A-game to this production, at least, because I would be heartily recommending The Elusive Samurai based on its visuals alone. It's just so colorful, vibrant, and animated with such vivacity — I would honestly enjoy this show perfectly well if I just put it on mute and admired all of the lovely things on display from the animation team.

The story is quite good, though, so don't actually watch it on mute. Our boy Tokiyuki certainly lives up to the title of his own story, because from minute one he is making himself one difficult child to wrangle. Not only does this make him a fun kid to be our protagonist, but it suits him well on a thematic level, too. He's a good boy who is more interested in celebrating life than taking it, so when it comes time to face his supposed destiny as a “hero”, it's no surprise that his first instinct is to run away. The Elusive Samurai doesn't shy away from the gory, grim reality of life as a “noble” fighter, either, so it positions Tokiyuki as a perfectly heroic figure in spite of — and because of — his resistance to fall in line with the bloody expectations of life as a royal warrior.

It doesn't hurt that CloverWorks is doing such a damned good job translating Yūsei Matsui's art into animation that watching the kid duck and weave his way around is just as thrilling as if he were taking out fools with a sword. Seriously, I cannot stress enough just how exhilarating it is to watch The Elusive Samurai do its thing. The art of animation is the art of giving life through motion, and this cartoon has life to spare (and also a lot of death, what with all of the murders going on around poor Tokiyuki).

This is a premiere that I have absolutely no qualms awarding a perfect score to. It does exactly what I want every anime premiere to do by getting me supremely excited to see more of this show while giving its creative team the chance to flex their creative muscles. Go out and watch The Elusive Samurai immediately. You will not regret it.


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