ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:00 - 30th January 2016, by NEO Staff

Samurai Jam – Bakumatsu Rock

It’s a familiar story – a young man works his everyday job tirelessly, but deep down he has the heady dream of becoming a famous rock star, playing his guitar for thousands of adoring fans. However, for Sakamoto Ryouma, the enthusiastic but dim waiter / pizza delivery boy, his fantasies of rock and roll stardom are impeded slightly by the fact that he lives in 19th century Japan. And if that didn’t make things difficult enough, the Shogunate has dedicated itself to stamping out all forms of popular music that aren’t the government-manufactured ‘Heaven’s Song’, in an attempt to placate the common people.

Together with his bandmates, and supercharged by the mysterious energy of the ‘Peace Soul,’ Ryouma works to achieve his mission of bringing the joys of rock to the people of samurai-era Japan. Adapted from a PSP rhythm game that unfortunately never made it outside Japan, now UK residents have their own chance to experience Ryouma’s rocking rebellion against the establishment, the forces of censorship, and more than a few angry hecklers...

Samurai Jam – Bakumatsu Rock is a curious mix of comedy, musical and historical fiction; the primary characters are all very loosely based on actual samurai revolutionaries, except in this incarnation they have magic powers and can play crazy guitar solos – unlike their historical counterparts (as far as we know). The series definitely takes its time warming up – the meat of the plot doesn’t really get going until around halfway through the relatively short 12 episode series. However, this doesn’t detract too much from the early episodes, which are enjoyable in their own right, though a little filler-ish. But once it finds its feet, the show does exactly what it promises, which is to deliver an entertaining adventure that never comes even close to taking itself too seriously. Those of you who have fond memories of Saturday-morning cartoons will probably enjoy the series most of all, as its daft sense of humour and blissfully over-the-top storyline are definitely reminiscent of the charmingly cheaply-made cartoons where plot took a backseat to pratfalls.

However, in the art department, Samurai Jam looks anything but cheap. It can often be the case that new and untested anime series have to make do with a smaller budget, and the quality of the animation in particular is usually the first thing to suffer. In this case however, the art is definitely given a lot of life, utilising the medium to the fullest extent, although the characters are occasionally rendered as cel-shaded 3D models, which can look slightly jarring as they don’t have quite the same fluidity as the normal motions of the 2D versions.

Although there are few complaints about the visuals, as the series continues, some viewers might find that the plot becomes a little too predictable, even for a series as unusual as this one. Though there isn’t anything specifically wrong with Samurai Jam, it doesn’t ever manage to fully live up to its potential, and what could have been a modern classic in the same vein as Samurai Champloo feels a little too safely-written to be a truly memorable story – the characters are driven at all times by their musical passion, but the script itself doesn’t always feel like it was written as a labour of love.

However, adapting something from one medium to another is difficult at the best of times, and turning the plot of a PSP rhythm game into a full-fledged anime is trickier still. And Samurai Jam definitely has more high notes than flat ones, with likeable and bouncy characters, a good soundtrack and an incredibly bright and energetic art style. It may not earn a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’ll keep your toes tapping for a few hours or so.

Samurai Jam might not have much beneath the surface, but it’s good fodder for a quick binge of raucous fun.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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