Sometimes anime can be predictable, yet at the same time still fun. Bamboo Blade takes kendo, does a seemingly predictable show of getting a group of girls to be world beaters'excluding the fact they are already good '" and turning into one of the best sports comedies I've ever seen. Yes, comedy.
What They Say
Toraji "Kojir'" Ishida, the coach of the Muroe High kendo club, makes a bet with his senpai, Kenzabur' Ishibashi, the coach of the Machido High kendo club, on a practice match between both schools, but the fighters must be five girls, no boys. Toraji's victory would mean he could eat all he wants at Ishibashi's father's sushi restaurant for a full year. Toraji desperately needs to find more talented female kendo students because he only has the team captain in his club, Kirino Chiba. With only a month remaining before his team's match with Ishibashi's team, he meets an extremely talented freshman, Tamaki Kawazoe.
As what is becoming standard in my set reviews now, I decided to actually review both audio tracks by watching part of both discs in Japanese and in English. The English track has a 5.1 Dolby Surround Audio track whilst the Japanese is the standard 2.0 Stereo Track. Sadly, I found the release of Bamboo Blade to be one of the weakest audio wise from Manga's recent releases. Mainly due to the fact that I could barely hear the Japanese audio (which I listened to first) on my standard settings, and the 5.1 whilst fine, weren't as good as previous releases. In terms of resolution and in combination in the video, there weren't any problems, but with a show where a lot of the sounds come from the impact of kendo stick upon a human, I was hoping for a release which packed the punch, which I'm sad to say, this didn't.
The video had no problems, they were no glitches or slowdown, and linked in well with the Japanese subtitles, there are no transition problems and in widescreen format, which does seem to build to the atmosphere (especially considering the show within a show Blade Braver) and the way the colour scheme works in various scenes is good because of the colour scheme, and also with the weird switching from normal to what is the equivalent of super-deformed mode, it flows surprisingly well without glitches. My favourite moments are just simple art switches from Kirino and Tamaki's first meeting, which then switch to an SD moment of Kirino dragging Tamaki to the Dojo '" this works even better when the same thing happens with Satori, only with the three girls '" it's where the visuals work best. My one niggle is that sometimes the subtitles go too quickly '" this is more prevalent when an explanation is going on describing some of the terms in kendo and the items used.
There was no packaging for this test disc.
The menu is very basic, the first disc having a picture of all 5 main girls in their kendo gear across an appropriate bamboo background, with the second disc having Tamaki, Sayako and Yuuji having a picnic on the same background. On both discs, the selection is easy enough with Play All, Episodes Select, Languages and on Disc 2 Extras. Again, there is no scene selection on the Episodes selection which is always a slight annoyance.
The only extras are on the second disc '" and they are off the cleaning openings and endings.
I'm familiar with a number of sports series, in particular ones which follow a formula of creating a team from scratch to challenge the country's best. Ones such as Princess Nine and Eyeshield 21 work the formula well, whilst others for me like Suzuka, don't. I was wondering how Bamboo Blade would fair especially as I felt Princess Nine was untouchable in being the best sports anime out there.
Turns out it may have a new challenger to the throne.
The story starts with the school and kendo teacher Kojiro, of Muroe High, a typical single man who have money (and food) worries and seems to slack at his job teaching the only kendo student, a bright and pretty girl named Kirino due to it, being very relaxed. However, things change when a bet is made with his old friend and upperclassman Ishibashi, who is also a kendo teacher at a school. The bet '" if Kojiro can make a team of 5 girls who can team a 5 girl team of his, then he will treat him to a year's worth of Edo style sushi at his father's restaurant. If Kojiro loses, then he has to give him a trophy that Kojiro won back in this youth by beating Ishibashi in the final of a national kendo tournament.
Can you say incentive?
Needless to say, this motivates Kojiro up to making a team of 5 girls. However, with the seniors all studying, a friend of Kirino's just absent and only her practicing, he finds it hard how to get a team of girls. Then out of nowhere, a cute young girl saves him and Kirino from some projectiles using just a sweeping broom. Her name is Tamaki Kawazoe '" the only daughter of the Kawazoe dojo, wannabe hero, fan of sentai shows '" and amazingly skilled at kendo to the point even adult men can't touch her.
Tamaki herself sees kendo as a chore, but joints the club to protect some potential new club members from a bully. Immediately one of the themes of Bamboo Blade showcases Tamaki's want to be a hero to others, but at the same time, the show develops not her kendo skills, but her social skills. It's very subtle, but it's definitely one of the highlights. Kirino is like an older sister to her, and when the other girls come in, seeing them become friends with Tamaki (Tama in the dub, Tama-chan in Japanese) is a sheer delight, especially as this show works better as a comedy than as it does a sports drama.
The rest of the cast manage to get gradually introduced as well '" in the first episode, we have the two male characters, Yuuji '" a skilled kendoist himself who was part of the Kawazoe dojo and is already friends with Tamaki, and his weird looking friend Danjiro, shortened to Dan, who isn't into kendo but after there was no club that he wanted to go to, gets interested and also gets his girlfriend to come '" the guys are in shock that he has a girlfriend, and even more in shock when she is introduced as the beautiful Miyako, or Miya-Miya as she's called. A sweet, beautiful girl'with an hilarious split personality, shown when whilst a beginner at kendo, she begins to enjoy it when she learns she can HIT people and get away with it.
She also has her own issues later on, in combination with her beginning kendo skills and the fact an old nemesis of hers is stalking her'next is Kirino's best friend, Sayako '" an over the top drama queen who leaves the kendo club at a moments notice when she gets angry or upset, and then partakes in new callings such as writing or music (and then shortly returns when said endeavors never work) '" and along with Kirino is the main cheerleader for Tama-chan, and near the end of the collection, we slowly begin to convince the final member of the team, Satori '" a talented kendoist who is second to skill to Tamaki among the girls, but seems to be unable to join the team due to poor grades and has to concentrate on her studies. She hasn't officially joined the team yet but the opening, Kirino's 'cunning plan''"' and her match against Tamaki suggest that will shortly happen. Oh, and Black Miya's threatening as well'
The bet arc is resolved in the first disc, mainly thanks to a little bit of cheating on both sides (Kojiro having 4 girls so tries to disguise Tama as a 5th member so she fights twice '" it doesn't work, and Ishibashi's sushi bet having a bit of a twist), and then hits an actual storyline with Kojiro having to be forced out of his job because of an unfortunate incident with a bitter old woman at the supermarket. His only hope is to see if he can lead the kendo team to greatness to see if he can change the minds of the powers that be. This slowly begins more sub-arcs, namely trying to recruit Satori to join, Miya's lesbian stalker Reimi (yes, you read that right) who is also the daughter of the said old hag who wants Toraji out (and leads to a fun if evil scene when she pretends to be the photographer of a school who is having a practice match with Muroe High), people bar Dan seeing Miya's evil side, and mostly Tamaki winning friends and admirers on and off the kendo team, as her gradual friendship within the team members grows and grows.
It does seem a bit clichéd at times, with the gradual growth of the team and the plot being a bit self-centered with Toraji basically trying to save his job using the skills of his girls. However, this show does it differently in a number of ways, making it one of the better examples of this genre. First of all, with the exception of Miya, all the girls are good at kendo with Tamaki being an ace so the whole developing into a good team doesn't matter, as proved in their first practice match, they are a good team already. With Azuma on the way, they are bound to be a force as it is, and the show doesn't lampshade that fact '" whilst it Toraji's selfishness that gets us into the plot, it doesn't hide the fact about Tamaki's growth. Secondly, the show is very realistic '" there are a lot of explanations to people who don't know much about kendo both written and verbally on screen, talk about the weapons used, the strikes and the stances are really well shown and can impress people like myself vaguely interested in the sport. Thirdly, and perhaps most uniquely, the show is REALLY FUNNY.
Seriously, I don't know if this is classified as a comedy as much as a sports show, but it really is one of the shows that has made me laugh out loud more than almost any in recent years. The shift change to super deformed (Tama's faces in particularly are a hoot), the Kirino/Sayako team are a riot (whether it's fussing over Tama-chan, glomping Azuma and kidnapping her to go to the dojo, or begging for mercy from Black Miya when they think they've upset her), any time the team thinks Kojiro needs food or money, Black Miya herself is hilarious especially when her stalker comes to see her in the last episode, even the guys who lampshade the fact they are side characters are quite funny, especially Dan who starts off as annoying but is gradually growing, and Kojiro of course is a blast with his worries. Lastly, with the cast finally together, it gives you that hint of intrigue in what is going to happen, especially when Ishibashi says to Kojiro that Tamaki needs to experience defeat once, against a girl her own age. Whether it's testing the waters for some battle in the second disc and whatever arcs show, I'm not sure. But let's just say, this is a show that is going to top of the pile once the second collection comes in.
Bamboo Blade is a simply enough show '" seemingly obvious in terms of it's setting, with a group of girls to form a team for glory reasons. However, what it has other shows in it's nature is a cast of fantastic characters, a show which combines a bit of story and a lot of development of it's main lead, and a show which makes you laugh every episode. Tamaki and Kirino in particular make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but everyone has their moments. Sometimes anime doesn't need to be complex to be really good, and Bamboo Blade is a perfect example, even being quite realistic and may make you take an interest in kendo. Very recommended.
English 5.1 Language, Japanese 2.0 Language, Textless Opening/Closing
Toshiba 37C3030 - 37" Widescreen HD Ready LCD TV '" Tangent Ht-50 Home Theatre System Multi-Regional DVD Players/Speakers '" Tangent Subwoofer 50-150 Hz, Impedenced 8 OHM.