Reviewby Theron Martin,
DVD - Complete Collection
In the Sengoku Era, power struggles rage across Japan as ambitious men seek control of the country. Noboyuki and his younger brother Yukimura lead the Sanada clan in seeking a path to peace and well-being for their people. Initially, they find it under the auspices of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the ally and successor to Oda Nobunaga, but his eventual death sets off another power struggle, where Ieyasu Tokugawa seeks to carry out Hideyoshi's dream of an end to warfare by bringing all under his control – even at the expense of Hideyoshi's son and successor Hideyori. As battle lines are drawn, the two brothers find themselves pulled into opposing factions, each one seeking to secure the fortunes of their clan by following a different master toward the path they see as most righteous (for Yukimura) or practical (for Noboyuki).
The 2015 TV series Samurai Warriors and its predecessor, the 2014 TV special Legend of the Sanadai, are both adaptations of the fighting game Samurai Warriors 4, released together on DVD from Funimation. All of the major characters and scenarios in the anime are derived from the game's reimagining of the later years of the Sengoku period. Hence this series has three potential audience draws: fans of the original game, fans of hot-blooded warrior men in dramatic fights, and history buffs. Since I'm largely unfamiliar with the game, I will only concentrate on the latter two appeals.
Many anime have starred the samurai of the Sengoku period to one degree or another, but few have cleaved as close to history in their representation of events as Samurai Warriors does. The TV series details events beginning with the Siege of Odawara in 1590 (which gave Hideyoshi Toyotomi control of the Kanto region, the last hold-out against his rise to power) and ending with the Summer Campaign part of the Siege of Osaka Castle in 1615, the series of battles that decisively unified Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Each of the key battles during this time period is described in significant detail, including the use of major players on each side, the shifting loyalties that fueled the conflicts, and some of the tactics used in those battles. The 50-minute special details the circumstances leading up to and including the Battle at Kami River in 1585, where the Sanada clan first successfully fended off an attempt by Ieyasu Tokugawa to seize some of their land.
This fealty to history has its limits, however. The TV series never gives dates, so it implies that the events it describes happen only over the course of a couple of years when in fact they spanned 25 years – and of course the various samurai show no signs of aging during that time. Conveniently skipped over is the whole failed Korean campaign that Hideyoshi waged in an attempt to conquer China's Ming Dynasty, as is the prominent presence of Yukimura and Noboyuki's father in the incident described in the special. The ultimate disposition of certain characters also gets creative treatment; for instance, the first wife of Hideyoshi historically retired to become a nun after his death, but Samurai Warriors depicts her as a wandering ninja, while one major character who dies dramatically at the apex of the Battle of Sekigahara was actually captured, executed, and had his head displayed in Kyoto. Some characters also come off better in this version than their historical reputations; Hideyoshi gets portrayed as an idealistic nice guy who has the best interests of his subjects at heart, but he also disarmed the peasantry, used crucifixions to drive Christians out of the country, and had a total of 15 wives and concubines.
Many of these liberties were no doubt taken not only because this is a video game adaptation, but also a story about how the spirit of the samurai both drove and threatened the creation of a 250-year period of stability for Japan. This is a tale about manly men doing exaggeratedly manly things, such as wiping out whole squads of troops with a single sweeping blow (a feature carried over from musou games) or clashing so fiercely with each other that the ground shakes and rips. In that regard, neither the TV series nor the special disappoints, as both are peppered with dramatic confrontations often taking place amidst waves of
The visual aesthetic of the series, which presumably borrows from the game designs, features its samurai perpetually in colorfully elaborate battle gear, including helmet designs that seem ridiculous but are occasionally based on actual history. Female character designs are likewise creatively elaborate, though always with a bent toward sex appeal that's almost certainly not historical. The series also goes into great detail depicting the major fortresses of the time. Battle animation emphasizes the grand blows and superhuman attacks that feature in the game, and at least some attempt is made to animate massed troop actions. Unfortunately, the animation is not up to the task of fully supporting the battle scenes for the most part; extensive shortcuts are taken, resulting in viewers seeing only the results of the blows rather than the strike actually being made. The animation also has a tendency to slip off-model in places. For as much death as is involved, the action is also almost entirely bloodless.
As might be expected from a series so brimming with machismo, the musical score takes on a manly sound, full of dramatic, sweeping numbers that might come across as too heavy in other contexts but are just right for all the overblown elements in the series. Interspersed among those are gentler numbers based on traditional Japanese instrumentation. Opener “Ikusa” fully captures the energetic spirit of the series, while more melodic closer “Nadeshiko Sakura” provides a loud but still more tranquil finish to each episode.
Though Funimation opted not to give this title a Blu-Ray, the DVD release still includes an English dub. Casting choices and roles offer no complaints, with Michael Johnson being a particularly good fit as the stern Ieyasu. The English script takes some liberties but still flows smoothly. In addition to the special, which can be found in the extras menu, the only other extras are clean opener and closer.
Compared to similar period titles like Sengoku Basara, Samurai Warriors comes off heavier in both its storytelling and the color saturation of its artistry. It does a decent enough job at telling the history of major events of the time that it can be worth watching just for a history overview, but this is otherwise a fairly standard series about epic conflict and nation-building with a slough of colorful characters.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Distinctive character designs, engaging depiction of historical locations and events, lots of manly fervor
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