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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bamboo Blade - Review

Due to my own involvement in Kendo, I decided to be as fair as possible and not review this until I've seen this anime at least a couple times to get the "excitement" out of my system and notice all the shortcomings.

Bamboo Blade is about a Kendo (Japanese swordfighting/fencing) instructor, Toraji Ishida, at Muroe Highschool. He's made a bet with his highschool kendo captain that he can assemble a better kendo team. So Toraji Ishida (nicknamed Kojirou)along with Muroe Highschool team captain, Kirino Chiba, search the school for kendo practitioners. Their first member is Tamaki Kawazoe, a short freshman whose extremely skilled and would become a pillar in supporting the Kendo team.

Bamboo Blade is a very simple series and is presented as such. Besides having a focus on Kendo, there aren't any complicated, convoluted story elements that would alienate the viewer. It's better to think of it as "an exaggerated high school drama with a theme of kendo." The focus on having female kendo players isn't really that big of a deal nor does it set up some awkward harem type love drama. It's really more of a slice of life anime with exaggerations for comedic purposes.

A lot of bamboo blade is actually just the team going about their lives with humor and the occasional stab at their own characters/story. The focus on Kendo shouldn't distance non-kendo practitioners much. Sure, there's a "learning curve" but it isn't that steep. There's one thing to say however, because it's so Japan school life oriented (even more so than other dramas in my opinion), there will be cultural references that one may miss. They're not necessarily a major part of the story, but the quickfire, simple humor would definitely come with some reference to Japan's culture.

If you take a look at the soundtrack, it consists of two CDs generally filled to the brim with calm relaxing music with a dash or the tense fight music and major secondary character themes. Meaning, the series itself isn't very action based, that isn't to say there isn't any, but I'd just like to tell people three things to clear up any confusion.
1. It's not a campy love triange/square/haremfest type of drama.
2. It's not action packed either.
3. It's not so engrossed into kendo that it would alienate everyone besides kendo players. There'd be no point in that.
Still though, the music is fitting and although repetitive, I like it very much.

Animations are really clean. With the exception of terrible use of CG, many of the characters have trademark expressions or designs that make them easily noticeable. In addition to that, the character personalities are pretty generic, but work well with the story. The interaction that occurs when the Muroe highschool team goes to tournaments or goes against other schools is probably the most interesting as you see personalities clash in odd ways. Fun Fact: Kirino and the team captain for Machido (the first team they face) have the same character design (same hair, same face, only she has dark hair and glasses).

One thing worthy of notice are the voice actors. I feel as if this tends to be one of the bigger differences between the US and Japanese voice acting staff (there are many exceptions of course) and some parts of Bamboo Blade really make it stick out. For one thing, when characters are participating in matches against each other, what really struck me was the ferocity that the voice actors were yelling. I occasionally heard some voices on the edge of cracking but it was times like those where I thought "wow, they really sound serious" and it heightened my enjoyment of the anime. There are live-action actors who need to look ugly (figuratively) when they have to. It's no different with voices. It's very noticeable when you're trying to sound serious or when you're afraid to sound ugly. There are of course, great english speaking voice actors (just realized there were a lot of studios in Canada) but I feel as if some voice directors settle for half-assed acting. That's something that needs to be changed. To be honest, I haven't heard the English dub yet but once funimation releases the DVDs, I intend to at least hear them once.

There are a few things that detract from this anime being really good. Pacing would be an issue. Ishida Toraji is the man of unfortunate events, and despite it being funny, there are times when these scenes that ridicule him take very long. Not only that, the pacing itself is inconsistent sometimes cutting off days, sometimes weeks to months. I guess it's necessary if you look at it as a whole but at the same time some of the major character development happens very late.

Some aspects which are supposed to act as comedic value kinda annoy me. In particular,Reimi (if you decide to see it, you'll know who I'm referring to) and her relation to Miyako. I get the humor in that some badass girl is freaked out by a stalker but at the same time, I find it aggravating that the way she deals with it is by basically running away and focusing on something else. The emphasis could be toned down a bit which I believe would be much funnier.

To be honest, Bamboo Blade took me by surprise. I expected it to be ultra concentrated with a dash of life (look at: Prince of Tennis, Major!, Hikaru no Go, Slam Dunk etc. etc...) For it to be more focused on life and how kendo is involved it rather than what usually seems to be the other way around, was very interesting. It had a casual club feeling to it while it occasionally switched over to the "hardcore" kendo, the way of life, atmosphere. That nice balance is what I find to be well done.

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