by Lauren Orsini,
It's the Edo Period of Japan—somewhere between 1603 and 1868. Everyone is donning their finest Visual Kei attire, eating pizza, and playing 20th century American rock music. Wait, what?
The first thing you'll have to learn to forgive about Samurai Jam: Bakumatsu Rock is its copious use of anachronisms that add an air of surrealism to the show. Add to that some fantastical powers exhibited by the main characters and their antagonist, and Bakumatsu Rock becomes more bearable over time as you start to realize that it doesn't fit easily into a category.
Although the setting is a bewildering kaleidoscope of style choices, the plot is pretty cut and dry: a vague yet menacing government entity is controlling Japan through appointed idol singers. Their music lulls citizens into complacency as they squander their money on concert tickets.
Meanwhile, our excitable shounen hero, Sakamoto Ryouma, much prefers the forbidden genre of “rock music,” which as far as I can tell, is the same as what the government-appointed idols sing except the characters appear to be playing their own instruments all the while. Together with his conveniently available rock-loving friends, he dances in uncanny CG animation while singing music that is at once the cause and solution to every problem in the show.
So far every plot twist has been an expected one. I'm astounded we only just discovered the kid is the shogun, a development that only serves to make me suspend my belief even more. Every episode involves our heroes falling into a trap at a concert, and singing their way out of it. By episode eight, you'd think they'd stop showing up to concerts! And for a Big Brother style government, it sure is convenient how enemies stay away when it isn't conducive to the plot.
It should be no surprise to viewers that Bakumatsu Rock is based on a videogame that's heavy on style and music and light on plot. This anime is little more than a vehicle for over-designed pretty boys to be pretty. Any backstory is superficial and let's face it—those musical magical girl-style transformations do little more than take their tops off.
By episode eight, we've united all five “Peace Souls,” a shakily explained talent all the main characters have in which they begin glowing when they rock out. For another unexplained reason, the vague yet menacing government wants to eliminate Peace Souls since they will somehow destroy Japan's peace? (But… they're called… Peace… Souls…) Tune in for the next four weeks, when they inevitably defeat the government with anachronistic music.
Bakumatsu Rock is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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