Samurai Gun Complete Collection (Thinpak) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: C

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: TV MA
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 49.98
  • Running time: 325
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Samurai Gun

Samurai Gun Complete Collection (Thinpak)

By Chris Beveridge     February 19, 2007
Release Date: February 20, 2007

Samurai Gun Complete Collection (Thinpak)
© ADV Films

What They Say
It is the beginning of the industrial revolution, and feudal Japan is in turmoil. The ruling Shogun are wielding their abusive powers to instill fear and dominance over their oppressed subjects. Beatings, imprisonment, rape and even murder are the adopted tactics chosen to maintain their reign. The bloodshed must end. A group of Samurai have banded together, and, with the development of new weapons and new technology, they have both the will and the hardware to stand up and fight. Ichimatsu is one of these fighters. By day, he works incognito at a local tavern, in the evenings he frequents the brothels, and by the dark of night, he doles out some big-time, gun-barrel justice. He is here to help. He is Samurai Gun!

The Review!
At a time with growing western influence, a group of Black Insurgents wage their brand of justice against the Shogunate.

With the two audio tracks on this release, ADV Films has a decent sounding show and one that stands out a fair bit more. The original Japanese language track is presented in a stereo mix at 224kbps while the English language 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is done at 448kbps. The English mix just comes across as much richer and fuller sounding which leaves the Japanese mix in the dust. The Japanese track isn't bad per se, it reflects things as originally presented to the Japanese audience, but it is much more dynamic and expansive as well as detailed in the English mix. We listened to the show in its Japanese mix throughout and spot checked the English mix during a number of key scenes. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either track.

Originally airing during the last quarter of 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. With this being a co-production between ADV Films and avex mode I was surprised to find that it was full frame. The look and feel of the series is one that fits with the time period which means we get lots of earth tones and dark night time scenes. With the average bit rate in the high sixes and low sevens, it comes across well here with little in the way of noticeable break up or blocking. Colors generally maintain a solid feel and the few vibrant moments throughout look very good. There is some occasional softness or fuzziness around some character edges and some aliasing as well, but across the entire thirteen episode set they're fairly minimal. Flesh tones, particularly among the women, tend to be some of the more striking moments as well as the scenes with Kurenai performing.

The original releases never really looked all that enticing to me so I was really interested to see how this version would be different. Going with a less is more approach, the chipboard thinpak box for this release is very stylish with a black and white motif that brings in a bit of red to accent it. One of the main panels has a close up for Ichimatsu with the logo while the other one has Ohana in the same manner. Their character art here, large and clean, is quite appealing and will easily appeal to those that will enjoy this show. The spine is kept simple with the same kind of colors and design with just the logo and a small piece of character artwork. The three individual black thinpak cases are essentially identical on the front with the logo and three rows of guns spread across them in the same color design. Only the spine and the back covers differ across them with volume numbers and pertinent technical information. No summaries or pictures from the show are provided so it's just by the paper insert on the back of the box that you have to know what the show is about. He technical grids are solid throughout though the second volume has an incorrect episode listing (listing episodes 6-8 when it's 6-9). The runtime is accurate though. No inserts or reversible covers are included here.

The menu design for the series follows that of the box itself with a simple black and white feel with a bit of red added into it. Using the character artwork from the box throughout, it's set next to the large text episode numbers while below those are the other areas. With this being a collection release, that means the discs are typically just the episodes and language setup but also a couple of previews on one volume. With a bit of instrumental music playing along, the menus are simple but effective and admittedly nicely stylish as well. Sometimes simplicity works for the best. Access times are nice and fast and navigation quick and easy. On our PS3, the disc didn't read our player presets but it did on our Panasonic unit.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally released as four individual volumes in 2005 and early 2006, Samurai Gun was one of the latest obvious co-productions that ADV Films had made in Japan. The twelve episode series with a "bonus" episode at the end that never aired, it took us back to the time when the Shogunate was desperately holding onto its power while trying to adopt various western technologies to do so. Fitting in within history but diverging hugely with the kinds of weapons that are used in the series, Samurai Gun feels like it wants to be taken very seriously but isn't quite sure how to go about it.

Samurai Gun was the directorial debut I believe of Hideki Sonoda, someone who has been around since the eighties. His past efforts generally focused around scripting and storyboarding so making the transition to directing isn't a big surprise. After working on a number of Pokemon properties for several years it's not a surprise that he wanted to get back to something a bit more serious. Being involved in such shows as Galaxy Railways would certainly point to that but his resume is littered with more humorous shows such as Shinesman and Trouble Chocolate. Samurai Gun is done in a very serious mode with lots of dramatic pauses, dark violence and a lead who doesn't like to kill but continues to be drawn into it.

The series focuses around a man named Ichimatsu, a one-eyed warrior who is trying to get out of the group he's been in since his childhood. Taken in at an early age by an unknown man within a group known only as the Council, he and several other children were trained beyond human means to be the ultimate fighters. With a heavy focus on guns and a training course that had death being the only way out, he ended up becoming part of the first generation of warriors known as Samurai Guns. Under the Council's directions, they would strike back at the injustices of the Shogunate, stamping out evil wherever it reared its ugly head. Often this had them performing assassinations, removing particularly evil men from positions of power, but also many different kinds of operations such as rescues and information gathering. The bulk of them however were assassinations and this has left a bad taste in Ichimatsu's mouth for some time.

Unfortunately, the only way out of the Samurai Guns is to be killed which means he buts heads with his main contact, a man named Matsuzaki. Every time he protests that he won't kill someone, the mission that he ends up accepting puts him in a position where he has to do just that. The injustices he sees before him draws him to correct them but there is also a deep rooted desire for this kind of violence within him. He tries to balance this out with the rest of his life though as he spends time with a prostitute but only for company and conversation. He also works regularly in a tavern which allows him time away from things when his real job takes precedence. It also work as an ideal place to connect with other Samurai Guns, something which seem to be fairly common.

Of the first generation of Samurai Guns, we learn that there were about ten of them but many more have come since. One of them is something of a friend of Ichimatsu's named Daimon, a friendly and affable fellow who has no compunctions about his job since he believes in the justice that they're bringing. The group also has its fair share of women and one of them is the main attraction at the tavern he works at. Kurenai strums her guitar and sings the same song continually about dark weapons like guns that you can't help but laugh at her giving away her real identity. Among the three of them, they work together on several jobs and provide some amount of balance to the kind of strain such a job will cause.

While Kurenai brings a fair bit of sex appeal to the show, be it her kimono moments performing her music or suiting up in the black skin tight leather Samurai Gun outfits, the real sex appeal comes in the form of Ohana. The prostitute is introduced early on as she provides some solace and escape for Ichimatsu but we see her going through her job as well. While obviously not graphic, it was admittedly a surprise to see them so up front about her customers going down on her and letting her react so much to it. Sometimes it's just a shadowed effect but other times it's a surprisingly close up view. Her role in the show is the only one that really changes throughout though but that isn't a bad thing since she's the most human and disconnected from the real events going on.

With plenty of sex mixed in, the show plays heavily in its other arena of violence. The assassinations and other gunplay moments are straightforward enough and there's a bit of swordplay as well so plenty of blood goes spurting about. It's decent for the most part, but sometimes for some reason they do the blood spurting sequences via CG which really looks awful. Other more traditional methods don't fair better, such as the scene of a bloodied man running and leaving big puddle footprints of blood. The animation for that felt more like it came from the Gatchaman time period than this one. The animation in general is fairly fluid throughout but in order to squeeze in some better looking sequences here and there they tend to do a lot of talking head scenes or dramatic pauses. The final two main episodes get a decent bump up in animation as well.

The character designs are an interesting mix and choice. The leads, such as Ichimatsu, Ohana and Kurenai all look like more traditional characters with their designs. Ichimatsu's look isn't unique with his eye patch as several others of the Samurai Guns are the same way. The secondary characters and others all feel a bit more like throwbacks in some ways, particularly when it comes to eyes and noses. A lot of them have hooked noses that make them feel like they just escaped a Tezuka anime series and are slumming here. Probably the worst aspect of character designs come in the Samurai Gun outfits themselves. The black leather look isn't bad though it is bland, but their helmet design just makes you laugh depending on how you interpret it. They take the traditional samurai helm and tweak it a bit while adding a two part face mask depending on the character. The helm in general is supposed to look like a cockroach according to the characters but when you add in the hook nose face mask, they reminded me more of tengu's. When shadowed, they certainly could inspire some fear, but when clearly set they almost look a bit comical.

Where the greatest failing in Samurai Gun comes from is that the plot doesn't really go anywhere. We get to see Ichimatsu and the others go on various missions and we see that there is an anti-Samurai Gun unit started by the Shogunate but when they cross paths it's fairly minimal. With this being based on a manga with hardly any information available online, it's hard to tell whether the anime is ending is incomplete because the book is still running or that the show was just an attempted money grab or filler piece. Each of the episodes in the series, barring the last two part storyline, are basically standalone pieces with only secondary stories being carried over. Even there it's more just the mild evolution of Ichimatsu as he grapples with what he does in life. Ohana tends to be the one that grows and changes the most.

The show doesn't end well either. With this essentially being an alternate history storyline, it ended up taking more creative liberties than felt like they belonged. Some of the steam powered creations that showed up felt just silly as did the various explosives and weapons. The guns in general aren't bad, but as they become more pervasive and bulked up in power they get sillier. What capped it in the worst way though was the steam powered tank with machine guns on it. Considering that tanks didn't even become used as prototypes until World War I, it just feels incredibly out of place here even with the kind of alterations that they've made for the story so far. If this had been done as a traditional samurai action/drama series without the guns and technology, it probably wouldn't earn the ire that it does from people.

In Summary:
Samurai Gun's greatest failing is that it's in general a series with no purpose. In some ways I don't think it deserves some of the vitriol leveled against it because it is a fairly competent production. The problems that it does have however do start to pile up as the show goes on. From Ichimatsu's weak willed angst that never gets truly dealt with to the way technology is so poorly brought into it, each new poor piece of the puzzle just weakens the entire effort. With the short run time of the series and so much they think they want to accomplish, it feels like it's spinning its wheels more than anything else.

Even worse, the bonus episode at the end is simply a missing story from earlier in the series and just comes across badly after seeing a poor conclusion to the series. After watching it end in such a way, going back to a story that basically repeats things that were already known only makes the shows weaknesses all the more glaring. I watched all thirteen episodes in one sitting and while it had some enjoyable moments and I was curious to see how it was going to build its world, there was plenty in it that just turned me off as it went along. Angst for angst sake with no real effort towards utilizing it is just poor scripting. With Sonoda's heavy scripting background, I expected better.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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