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DVD Review

DVD cover

Bamboo Blade
Series 1 - Part 1


Starring (voice): Katsuyuki Konishi, Megumi Toyoguchi and Ryou Hirohashi
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: PG
Available 22 November 2010

Perpetually broke part-time Muroe High School kendo coach Toraji 'Kojiro' Ishida makes a bet with an old school chum: if he can assemble a winning girl's kendo team, he'll get a year's free dinners at a sushi restaurant. Ishida-sensei's motives may be less than altruistic, but he manages to recruit a few promising candidates. The wildcard in his hand is diminutive Tamaki Kawazoe, who's grown up in her family's dojo and is a likely candidate for a national title. Tama-chan loves “Super Sword Squadron Blade Bravers," a sci-fi anime show. By playing on her desire to emulate the champions of justice in the series, Ishida gets her to join the team, knowing her skill and speed will inspire the other girls...

Of anime series released in the last decade, perhaps the one casting the longest shadow is 2002's Azumanga Daioh, the school comedy series that solidified the tropes that characterise many series made since: a contemporary Japanese setting without fantastic elements, a majority female cast centred around an eccentric prodigy and a somewhat unprofessional teacher, and a focus on the minutiae of everyday events rather than conflict or drama. These are the elements that make up what's known rather narrowly as 'slice of life', and shows partaking of them have been a staple of the anime schedules for years. Bamboo Blade was 2007's second major entry in the genre after the blockbusting Lucky Star and while it doesn't have the gleefully cynical otaku-baiting wit and playfulness of that show, in a way it's more representative of series of its type.

To be mean to BB for just a moment, the extent to which it plays like an updated and diluted remix of Azumanga Daioh is sometimes painfully apparent. Supernaturally gifted kendo genius Tamaki blends the roles of AD's Chiyo-chan and Sakaki, being both an endearing little prodigy who serves as a rallying point for her seniors and a stoical, emotionally aloof natural athlete more interested in her cute hobbies than her sporting prowess. High-spirited team captain Kirino and her flighty, spontaneous friend Saya have traces of the comedy double act Tomo and Yomi, and Ishida-sensei himself, with his lackadaisical approach to teaching, chaotic personal life and enduringly close friendship with a more mature school friend, is easily a gender-swapped variant of AD's Yukari-sensei. It's this kind of cut-and-paste approach to character creation that can turn more experienced viewers off a new show, but luckily for BB it doesn't go so far as to mimic its predecessor's four-panel gag format, instead opting for a slow and steady drift towards the end goal of the kendo tournament that's as carefree and haphazard as Ishida-sensei's own coaching efforts.

Indeed, it's the decision to spend a great deal of time with Ishida, at the expense of screen time for the more telegenic girls, that prevents BB from sliding altogether into the territory of the plotless and pointless moe shows that have grown in popularity since it aired. The timely casting of voice actor Katsuyuki Konishi, best known as the idealistic blowhard Kamina in the hit 2007 mecha anime Gurren-Lagann, works perfectly: Ishida is a passionate firebrand suited to inspiration rather than organization or leadership, his fiery enthusiasm almost immediately fizzling away into apathy as he contemplates the actual planning and effort required to achieve his goals. As he bickers with his hard-working parents, wheedles his way out of paying his share of bar bills and merrily delegates most of his duties to his team captain, he's instantly recognizable to most of the audience as exactly their kind of irresponsible faux-adult who spends entirely too much time on cartoons and videogames; as unflattering a portrayal as it might be, Ishida still has enough concern for his students and determination to live up to his youthful ambitions to fall short of being downright unsympathetic. The student characters, too, have the right amount of distinction and promise to break free of their stereotyped roles, and their interactions often create genuinely funny comedy, although the tendency of the director's camera to linger fetishistically over the girls' (clothed) chests, legs and feet while they chat away may be off-putting for some. A word to anime directors: fanservice doesn't have to be explicit to be intrusive.

Bamboo Blade, despite having not a shred of originality, has a lot of charm and although the snail-like progress of the plot may not hold your attention, there's plenty of odd and memorable scenery along the way: the equally undisciplined kendo team of Ishida's rival who could easily be the main cast of their own show, ditzy team beauty Miya's efforts to keep her dumpy boyfriend unaware of her psychotically vengeful personality, and the strange time-out in one episode given over to a gushing tribute to journeyman anime director Goro Taniguchi have all stuck in my mind since I first saw the series three years ago and managed to make me laugh just as much the second time around. Don't expect mindblowing action or drama and you'll find it entirely enjoyable.


Richard Hunt

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