Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 9th 2012
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Saizo is a samurai who is pulled into an unlikely partnership when he rescues a young woman from bandits. The young woman's name is Isanami, and she is a priestess of the Izumo shrine—or at least she was, until villains torched her home and sent her on the run. Reluctantly, Saizo agrees to protect Isanami, and with the help of feudal lord Sanada Yukimura and his warriors, they are able to keep Isanami's pursuers at bay. However, other great warriors such as Date Masamune and Hattori Hanzo are still trying to get their hands on Isanami, all because she wears a hair ornament that houses the Kushimitama—a jewel with legendary spiritual powers. As Saizo, Isanami and Yukimura head out on various quests across feudal Japan, will they be able to hold off the power-hungry forces that are conspiring to take the jewel away?
Some anime shows are so bad, you can tell they're going to be horrible from the start. Then there are shows that look promising on the outside, only to be completely hollow and unsatisfying on the inside. Brave10 is an example of the latter type, a series built on good intentions and crowd-pleasing elements that end up being wasted. It sounds like such a great idea at first: a butt-kicking samurai, a priestess armed with latent spiritual powers, and an array of near-superhuman warriors, all thrown into a historical setting replete with gorgeous scenery and eye-catching costumes. But then something terrible happens: the storyline never shows up. At the halfway point in the series (6 episodes out of 12), all we've seen is assorted fight scenes, new warriors coming and going, and the occasional comedic aside. But any actual motivation or sense of purpose? No. Nothing to report.
Now, the series' foundation itself isn't entirely bad. Adapted from a manga of the same name, which itself is based on a historical novel called The Sanada Ten Braves, Brave10 has all the classic action-adventure elements in the right place. Despite the characters being constructed from familiar stereotypes—the reluctant swordsman, the uptight ninja, the fun-loving leader, the femme fatale, and so on—their different talents and attitudes complement each other well. Each episode features a variety of fighting styles, on part of both the heroes and villains.
However, having a historically-based ensemble cast (with a few updates to appeal to modern fans) is only the first step to success—and sadly, the series stumbles the rest of the way. After Isanami shows off her spiritual potential in the first episode, she becomes a near-useless pawn, always in need of rescuing and never getting a chance to develop her powers. Come to think of it, her friendship with Saizo never develops either; all he's done after six episodes is constantly run to Isanami's aid and fend off nearby villains. And if that's how poor the characterization is for the lead roles, imagine how bad it is for the supporting cast. The plot itself is equally weak: although the episodes connect loosely to each other, it boils down to a monster/warrior-of-the-week formula where some new arrival comes in search of Isanami's magical jewel (or in Episode 6's case, Isanami herself) and must face off against Saizo and company. Occasional detours, like returning to the burnt-out shrine or conducting political business, give the impression that there might be actual depth to the story ... but in reality, they're just excuses for another fight.
But how about those fights, anyway? The series' displays of strength and skill, with blade clashing upon blade (or whips, or shuriken), is one of its strengths—a much-needed three to five minutes of excitement in episodes that generally go nowhere. Although the show isn't running on a blockbuster budget, the animation still impresses the eye in various ways, with physics-defying fighting techinques and various illusions of super-speed and slow-motion. The striking character designs are also a plus: although it's unlikely that any of these gawdy outfits are totally true to the Edo period, the combination of historical garb and cosplay fodder present a memorable image. The slightly throwback visual style, reminiscent of 90's and early-00's action anime, also stands out against the glut of baby-faced characters that still dominate today. (Shame that they felt a need to throw in needless fanservice, though, with a buxom Russian beauty dressed in impractical battle gear and an entire hot-springs scene full of bawdy jokes.) The deep green countryside and fairly detailed houses and temples also show a fair amount of effort being put into the backgrounds.
If the characters' over-the-top moves and improbable outfits aren't enough of a clue that this series is only loosely historical, then the anachronistic soundtrack should just about confirm it. The sound of traditional folk music coexists quite happily with electric guitars and drums throughout the show, sometimes even right on top of each other—and while the effect is certainly striking, it doesn't always complement the story well. The theme songs are even more out of place, with a screaming rock opener and an autotuned monstrosity of an ending. Ultimately, while the music isn't quite cover-your-ears bad, it ends up sticking out for a lot of the wrong reasons.
At first glance, Brave10 seems to stand at a crossing point where it could appeal to many types of fans—those who like historical anime, or action-adventure, or even a bit of raucous physical comedy. But then it turns out the historical element is only window dressing, the action-adventure is there just to showcase different fighting styles with no story to drive it forward, and the comedy's too dumb and predictable to be a selling point. The best way to enjoy Brave10 is to not worry about the plot and characters, and just wallow in the eye candy as legendary warriors go at it with their amazing powers. But as for the part where the story gets good? Well, that would require there to be a legitimate story in the first place. With half the series already over, that's probably not going to happen. Might as well enjoy these pointless battles for whatever they're worth.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ A lavish visual presentation, with striking characters and over-the-top moves, make every fight fun to watch.
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