Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 19th 2013
Sengoku Basara: The Last Party
Japan is in the midst of the Warring States era, a time when warlords are all trying to take over the nation. Date Masamune, the sword-wielding "One-Eyed Dragon," has already helped dispose of two power-hungry generals, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, Hideyoshi's successors—Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu—are looking to continue where he left off. Mitsunari wants revenge for his master's death, while Ieyasu is hoping for a more peaceful alliance. Meanwhile, Masamune's rival Sanada Yukimura faces another challenge: trying to lead the army left to him by his lord. A political ploy eventually leads Masamune, Yukimura, Mitsunari, and Ieyasu to meet on the battlefield of Sekigahara. Will this confrontation lead to war or peace? And how will the great warriors respond when a long-gone adversary suddenly returns, threatening to plunge the nation into even deeper chaos?
Sengoku Basara: The Last Party is one of those blustery, everyone-fights-everyone-else action movies that turns out way more enjoyable than it deserves to be. The storyline, essentially an epilogue to the two previous anime seasons, is really just a setup for this all-encompassing fight—and the final apocalyptic twist goes even beyond standard supernatural powers. In short, the Sengoku Basara movie is absolutely ridiculous. And that's what makes it absolutely great.
The closest this movie comes to having a concrete plot is Mitsunari's quest for revenge, and even then it's only enough material to occupy the first half. Although not the most popular character, Mitsunari is clearly the angriest, and his unquenchable rage is what propels the waves of conflict early on. Whether it's swearing vengeance against Masamune, or being at odds with Ieyasu's peaceful approach, Mitsunari's single-minded purpose makes him as compelling as any of the more traditional heroes.
Meanwhile, the other major characters have the far simpler task of demonstrating what tough warriors they are: Yukimura inherits the mantle of leadership, Masamune crosses blades with anyone he meets, and Ieyasu goes on a (mostly unsuccessful) diplomatic road trip. Individually, each scene has its entertaining moments, especially when skirmishes break out and everyone shows off their fighting prowess. However, the storyline does little to connect the dots, at least until everybody comes together at Sekigahara ... where an inexplicably huge bowl of hot pot awaits.
That unusual prop is a clear omen of where the movie is headed: the stakes of combat have been raised so high that it's now impossible to tell whether this is an exaggerated action-adventure or history-spoofing comedy. The best way to enjoy it is to accept both extremes—one moment it's about hundreds of soldiers clashing violently and shedding blood, and the next moment it's about leaping 500 feet in the air and drawing arcane symbols in the sky. Even minor characters step in, appearing just long enough to spout cocky one-liners and launch a few attacks. The "final boss," however, will really throw viewers for a loop—this doomsday villain strains the very logic of the Sengoku Basara universe simply by showing up. Can they really do that? more skeptical minds will wonder. But that's the whole point: if feudal warfare can be exaggerated this far, you might as well go beyond the limits, finishing with a throwdown so ludicrous that nobody will think to try it ever again.
The main reason these battles get away with their ludicrousness is because the animation is polished enough to pull it off. The characters are constantly striking dramatic poses, and hand-to-hand combat is choreographed right down to the individual moves, some of which happen within a fraction of a second. Even maneuvers that would be impossible in real life, like Masamune and Yukimura rising to stratospheric altitudes in the midst of battle, are handled so deftly that they look like a natural part of how things work in this world. CGI visuals aren't quite seamless—watchful eyes will easily catch the transitions between hand-drawn and computer-assisted animation—but it's still effective enough to show entire armies of 3D-modeled soldiers rushing down a sandy plain. Basic design elements also show a strong attention to detail: rich colors and textures are a part of every landscape, from soothing forests to rock-strewn wastelands, and the distinctive color-coded characters make it easy to tell who's who, even for those who barely know the famous names of Japanese history.
An energized orchestral score also adds to the thrill of battle, with forceful drumbeats and strident melodies setting the mood. Every now and then, the music still falls back on pre-programmed rock instrumentals more typical of the TV series, but there's enough of a symphonic sound here to give the movie a true blockbuster feel. However, the opening and ending themes sung by T.M. Revolution don't fit in quite as well—these hard-rock tunes are fine by themselves (and as a bonus, the end credits come with a hilarious animation gimmick), but they trivialize the movie by treating it like a really long TV episode instead of a theatrical feature.
Full-throated performances by the voice actors add the final touch of fighting spirit to the movie—both in Japanese and English. The cast of the English dub does a remarkable job of matching the original voices, along with capturing the personalities of the characters, and even the cheesiest or most convoluted lines are delivered convincingly. Wanting revenge for a lord's death may be just another fantasy cliché, but when said dramatically enough, a statement like that can sound as heartfelt as anything else. This 3-disc DVD and Blu-Ray package also comes with a good hour-plus of extras: lighthearted tidbits like spinoff shorts and movie trailers, and a more in-depth, 50-minute featurette where the Japanese cast, animators and producers share insights on how the movie was made.
Although it comes as an endcap to the anime series, Sengoku Basara: The Last Party is light enough on story and heavy enough on action that any fan of feudal warfare—especially superpowered feudal warfare—can enjoy it. The lack of a more solid, serious storyline may disappoint those hoping for historical accuracy, but that's not what Sengoku Basara is aiming for anyway. Instead, it tries to have as much fun as possible with this oft-fictionalized era, even testing the limits of logic and supernatural ability. Polished animation and sheer creative passion go a long way in making it work—proving that even a blustery, amped-up popcorn movie can be good popcorn every once in a while.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C-
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B
+ Expertly animated fight scenes, passionate characters, and a willful embrace of ridiculous, over-the-top powers lead to nonstop entertainment.
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