Samurai Gun Vol. #1 (also w/box) -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: C

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  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: C+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 29.98/39.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Samurai Gun

Samurai Gun Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Brett Barkley     August 26, 2005
Release Date: August 16, 2005

Samurai Gun Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© 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!
Shadowy samurai warriors fighting side-by-side in the night, armed with newly acquired guns, seeking to bring justice to the turbulent waning days of Japan’s feudal system—truly a promising concept, but can they pull it off?

Samurai Gun is presented in Dolby 5.1 in English and Dolby 2.0 in Japanese with English subtitles. The English track is very nicely done. It’s certainly not overly active, but there is some decent play in the rear speakers. Understandably, the Japanese Dolby 2.0 comes across much flatter in comparison. Aside from the quality of sound and barring a few instances in which the subtitles for the English dub vary inexplicably, I found the English dub track to be the better of the two. Throughout, I found the dialogue to be very clean with no distortions.

Originally airing in Japan less than a year ago, Samurai Gun is presented in it original standard Full Screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1. I thought the transfer looked great and no issues of aliasing or blurriness. I also thought the colors reproduced nicely. The bright, fiery oranges and reds really pop, but even the night sky in many scenes seemed to glow in the gorgeous hues of blue.

Volume one is available with a series box or as a stand-alone disk. The box is well designed and utilizes color contrast to make a very visually interesting and dynamic composition. Framed primarily in black (with regions of black gloss to add additional and subtle contrast), the box makes good use of a primarily vivid red and white color scheme. The title, in English, is showcased prominently in a gritty red font at the top of both sides and the box spine. The Japanese title is used as a graphic design element partially obscured at the lower edge of both sides of the box. Characters from the show, Ichimatsu (not surprisingly most prominently featured in costume and out), Kurenai and Ohana are arrayed across the box, with moody images of Ichimatsu’s single eye glaring at the viewer through his mask featured at the spine and top side of the box. In short, the box very well designed with graphic appeal obviously in mind, and having seen it on retailer shelves I can verify how well this box stands out among the other disks.

The Samurai Gun volume one disk itself, however, is a slightly different story. The disk spine features a design strangely similar to that of Samurai Champloo (so much so, having seen them side-by-side on a retailer’s shelf, I had to wonder if this was a conscious marketing decision), with “Samurai Gun” against a dull red background in a similarly deteriorated block font, though in goldenrod (again striking me as odd, as this font style and color is utilized nowhere else, including on the box) clearly labeling the spine. Below, is a clip of Ichimatsu in costume, though it’s printed a bit too dark to really determine what it is unless you’re holding the disk in your hand. Finally, the volume number, 01 in this case, is clearly found toward the bottom of the spine. The cover, unless you’re holding it in your hand, does not stand out clearly enough. Considering most will see the cover while browsing a retailer’s shelves, and will not be, at least initially, closely scrutinizing it, it truly fails to pop or grab attention as it should. Printed far too dark, at a glance the only things that really stand out are the gritty Samurai Gun title (as found on the box, though again printed slightly darker or duller) Ichimatsu’s head and the smoke trailing from his cigarette and the gun he holds in his hand. Upon closer inspection, it becomes much easier to make out Ichimatsu’s form on the left, dressed in his drab earth-tone civilian clothing, set against the backdrop of a Japanese village and foreboding skyline. Ichimatsu in Samurai Gun costume is also featured in the background to the right, and as he is framed against some more brightly colored Japanese signs, becomes much easier to recognize on closer inspection. The front cover also makes use of the Samurai Gun – Cocked & Loaded logo, something that was slightly obscured on the box due to the size in which it was featured. Here, the logo punctuates the disk title, but as this is the only place it is fully featured, seems almost like an afterthought.

The rear of the disk is printed much brighter, employing more vivid images of the characters, some interesting line art of Ichimatsu’s face, a brief description of the series, and the slogan, “Welcome to the wild wild East” (which I happen to really like). While the graphic design features perhaps a little too much blood spatter effect, I appreciated it utilizing a more visually interesting range of contrasts and colors. One problem I noted was the lack of any indication of episode titles, and barring that, determining how many episodes are featured on the disk was actually difficult to find as well.

The main menu loads after a short animated “Locked & Loaded” clip from the show’s opening. The menu itself features the logo from the box and DVD cover, this time in white, as well as the “Ichimatsu with Cigarette” image from the DVD front cover. Set against a gritty red stylization of the village background used on the front cover, the menu works in a way the cover doesn’t. There’s enough contrast to make the art and all the disk features easy to see and read. A brief audio clip from the opening runs in the background.

The menu has the episodes listed as “One”, “Two”, “Three”, and ”Four” (which is strange, as the only episode seemingly without a title is the first). Though I’m not certain as to why, “One” is listed in a significantly smaller font size and slightly off to the left of “Two”. Perhaps this was an artistic decision, though it appears more like an afterthought. Below the stack of episode numbers are the Languages, Extras and a Preview for Volume 2, each again in smaller, but easy to read font sizes. As the viewer scrolls through the on-screen features, a blood-red slash marks the selection. One minor annoyance in terms of the menu functionality ties in with the arrangement with the episode “One” to the direct left of episode “Two”. In order to scroll through the menu, the viewer must first scroll right, then down through the rest of the menu options. Again, I’m not certain of the logic behind this.

In short, the Samurai Gun main menu is simple and straightforward. There are slight quirks, and it certainly doesn’t stand out artistically, but it works fairly well, and the options don’t get lost in the background.

For the most part, the first volume of Samurai Gun offers some standard extras, but with some stand-outs. The production notes printed and bound with the disk are actually quite informative, delving in to the history in which Samurai Gun is set, as well as the artistic license taken in the series’ creation. The disk itself features Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, Character Art, Production Art, Fun with Audio, ADV Previews, and Credits. Of these, I found the Fun with Audio extra to really stand out. Considering how seriously Samurai Gun takes itself, it was enjoyable to watch a number of different clips humorously re-dubbed by the English voice cast. I actually laughed out loud on several occasions. Artistically speaking, I also enjoyed the Production Art and Character Art collections, though I feel the Production Art was the more value-added respectively with some truly beautiful conceptual renderings of the scenery and various series backgrounds.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Shadowy samurai warriors fighting side-by-side in the night, armed with newly acquired guns, seeking to bring justice to the turbulent waning days of Japan’s feudal system—truly a promising concept, but can they pull it off?

Based on Kazuhiro Kumagai’s original story serialized in Young Jump Comics, Samurai Gun follows Ichimatsu, the lead character, and his two counterparts Daimon and Kurenai, all serving as the mysterious Samurai Guns, as they battle against the corrupt shogunate’s terrific abuses of power. From the murder of innocent civilians, to torture, imprisonment and worse, serving as gun-wielding samurai assassins, the three strike back from the darkness at those responsible. Their targets, orders and weaponry are supplied by the mysterious “council”, and when the package arrives, they are expected to act without hesitation. But the Shogunate is not without its own protections, as it has established the Shogun Preservation Bureau’s Anti-Samurai Gun unit, led by a man called Watou, who is quickly established as the series’ chief antagonist. As the Samurai Guns seek to destroy the corrupt system of the shogunate, the Anti-Samurai Gun Unit seeks to meet the challenge. This provides for the basis of conflict throughout these episodes and presents the introduction of many interesting antagonists in the service of the Anti-Samurai Gun unit.

Ichimatsu is regarded as a half-breed, born of a foreign mother and Japanese father. A brooding, one-eyed man, he bears the burden of seeing his parents and sister killed horribly before him. But is it the need for revenge, or a sense of justice that drives his dark character? Kurenai is the mysterious equivalent of a nightclub singer in the local tavern. Seductive and strong, she too has tragedy and loss in her past. I didn’t care much for either Ichimatsu or Kurenai in the first two episodes. Though episodes one and two were seemingly designed to flesh out the characters of Ichimatsu and Kurenai respectively, I thought they really did the exact opposite. Ichimatsu comes across as somewhat wooden at times (particularly while repeatedly playing the role of reluctant soldier), and Kurenai seems to only appear as something more than window dressing in very brief glimpses. Surprisingly, Daimon, the least explored character, stands out as the most appealing. A school teacher by day, he projects a public image that is somewhat clumsy and simple, hiding the very capable warrior beneath. By Episode Four (in which Daimon and Kurenai are barely featured), Ichimatsu is definitely showing more emotion, appearing slightly more human, but it comes across as too forced. And in this episode, even he takes backseat to Inazuma, a character used only for that episode. Again, I felt cheated and still don’t feel the viewer has been given a good idea of just who the characters are and why they should be important to us.

Visually, the animation is clean and somewhat consistent, though at times a bit flat. While I found there was nothing new or truly cutting edge in the artistic direction of the series, it was fairly solid and did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the show. The colors are slightly subdued, but mix in a healthy amount of warm crimsons, purples and oranges. Additionally, the opening is actually really nice (though the Samurai Gun title is featured in yet another font. This is not a good way to developing branding), utilizing a collage of traditional Japanese art from the period juxtaposed with sharp, brightly-colored kinetic visuals.

The opening theme song, “Samurai Crew”, as performed by ZZ is very catchy and fun, and on whole the rest of the audio works nicely. I did have some slight issues with the dub, however, as the English subtitles are just stronger. But I was most surprised how they sometimes completely contradict one another. For instance, in episode three, Ohana, while speaking of Ichimatsu, says, “From what I’ve been told, Ichi’s mother was a foreigner. I don’t know from where. But I’m sure that’s why his hair is such an ugly color.” The subtitles, however, read, “Ichi’s late mother was apparently a foreigner. Maybe that’s why his white-ish hair is so beautiful.” And occasionally during the course of an episode, the mood music reminded more of a crime show like Dragnet, than a samurai action piece.

I had a great deal of expectation for Samurai Gun. The concept itself has nearly limitless possibility for exploration. The series focuses on an interesting period of change in Japanese history, while not binding itself too closely to authenticity (machine guns, anyone?). It introduces several potentially interesting characters, from Ohana, the former prostitute and Ichimatsu’s confidant, to the very formidable Watou and his dangerous Anti-Samurai Unit which seeks to destroy the Samurai Guns. There are also some attempts at brief humor. Most of the action is well done. I was particularly fond of the combination of traditional Eastern fighting techniques with the Western weaponry. In one scene, a Samurai Gun catches an arrow in mid-air, and then takes down his foe with John Woo-inspired gunplay. I really like that dynamic.

However, there are many troubling aspects to the series. As stated, the series does not open strongly enough to really grab new viewers. Beyond this, I would suggest the first episode could actually turn-off some viewers, as it plays heavily on the graphic murders of scantily-clad women with no shortage of blood spatter. The second episode features yet another scantily clad female, this time hooked to an electric torture device. Episode three isn’t much better, actually opening with the violent death of another female, though we’re thankfully spared most of the goriest visuals.

Finally, and with what is perhaps my greatest complaint, after four episodes, being just under one third of the way through the series, we still don’t have a great idea of all the players and the extent of the story. It seems Samurai Gun was being developed for something much longer than 13 episodes and as a result is really dragging through what is a very important introduction period. Beyond a somewhat slow start, there’s a lot of room for character development, but not a great deal of episodes left in which to do it. It’s my hope the creators will make the most of this in the remaining nine episodes of the ADV release.

In Summary:
In summary, combining aspects of the secret agent, the cowboy vigilante and the samurai assassin, Samurai Gun holds a great deal of promise and I’m hopeful it will live up to that potential. While I can’t recommend this for younger viewers due to the violence, language, and sexual content, fans of moodier, bloodier anime, may take notice. If you enjoy voluminous blood splatter interspersed with some samurai-themed action, you may be interested in Samurai Gun. However, due to the slow start and some of the issues I’ve suggested above, I would recommend renting this first or at least waiting until volume 2 arrives to see if the story fits your tastes and is actually going somewhere.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles, Production sketches, “Fun with Audio” segment, Clean opening animation, Clean closing animation

Review Equipment
34” Sony FD Trinitron Wega HDTV KD-34XBR910 and Sony Dav-FR9 progressive scan Home Theatre System with 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers.


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