Once again another video game franchise comes to life in the form of anime. This time around it's from CAPCOM's series, Sengoku Basara. Until recently the franchise has been relatively unknown here in the States. A couple games have been released in Japan, but Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes has just made it here. Does this newcomer have what it takes to make strides in the States?
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings is a 13 episode series that was produced by Production I.G. The first season has been licensed by FUNimation, and a second season is on the way. All 13 episodes are presented here on two DVDs, though a Blu-ray edition is available as well.
"Over-the-top" is probably the best way to describe this series. It's flashy, packed with intense action, and focuses more on the absurd style rather than actual plot. Sure there is some story and interesting characters, but they are overshadowed by the off-the-wall fight sequences. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you, but it does leave the series feeling a little shallow in the end and definitely not for everyone. Only those looking for high-octain action need apply as the series is simple popcorn munching fun.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings takes place in the Sengoku Period of Japan (otherwise known as the Warring States Period). The show prominently features rival factions, honor-bound samurai, and a whole crap load of clashing swords and mystic powers. Events primarily focus on Date Masamune, also known as the One-Eyed Dragon, and Sanada Yukimura, who become respected rivals when they first meet on the battlefield. Sanada's warlord, Takeda Shingen, has sent him on a mission to flank Uesugi Kenshin's forces, but he bumped into Date instead.
Data and Sanada get to it post-haste and the tranquil field erupts in an explosion of firepower and blue lightning. It is borderline supernatural and powerful enough to be seen as basically a nuclear blast a couple klicks away. It's enough to stop other warring forces from killing each other and is a nice precursor for things to come. Basically what happens from this point on is the emergence of a single foe, Oda Nobunaga. Oda stands out as powerful and dangerous enough that the warring factions introduced early on are forced into an alliance in order to survive.
Following the plot gets a little difficult later in the series. Who hates who and what characters have specific ambitions gets kind of jumbled together. The writing isn't strong enough to compensate for the lack of a robust plot and ultimately it's the concept of the series (lots of fighting) that takes the spotlight. I mean, the supernatural content, asinine fight sequences, and confrontation with a robotic samurai are just really out there. It's almost like the plot is an afterthought. The writers used it as a way to string together the cool ideas and action sequences that stuck on the wall after they threw them.
Though I wasn't moved by the series, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings really isn't "bad" by any stretch of the imagination. Sure it's light on plot and heavy on action, but every once in a while isn't it nice to shut your brain off and look at all the pretty colors? That's what this show brings to the table, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you're okay with that fact, or if you're a fan of the game franchise, definitely pick this one up. It's the kind of series you can watch by yourself or with a group of buddies and walk away from feeling energized.
Sengoku Basara is presented on DVD with its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show is quite the looker since Production I.G. almost always churns out a great product. Vibrant colors, clean, fluid animation, and a good transfer make for an attractive release. Some of these action sequences border on sensory overload and there's some intense contrast between the characters. As far as the transfer is concerned the DVD features some grain and the picture is a bit on the soft side at parts. A light amount of artifacts can be seen as well, but none of these nitpicks is really enough to detract from the presentation. This is a gorgeous looking show that is a real eye-catcher.
As for the audio, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings comes with English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 tracks. The English dub wasn't exactly the best I've heard, but given the context of the series I suppose the sometimes goofy dialogue fit the material well enough. I preferred the Japanese 2.0 track the most, though the 5.1 English definitely had the edge when the action picked up (which was like every five minutes). The rear channels got some nice use and there are many points where you'll want to crank up the bass.
For bonus features here we receive clean animations and trailers. The set also includes "Sengoku Basara Chosokabe Motochika-kun and Mori-kun" Special Episodes. These are non-animated chibi-style comedy pieces that are worth watching, though not very meaty as they clock in at about seven minutes a piece.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings is the kind of show you watch when you just want to see something blow up. It's a flashy anime that presumably captures the spirit of the video games (from what I've seen) and it appears to be faithful to the source material. Sure the plot falls short in the end, and yes the series isn't very engaging, but if you really want to see some intense action sequences they don't get much more kinetic than what's here. Consider it recommend if you want some action to shut your brain off to.