Originally a manga by Masahiro Totsuka dating back to 2004, Bamboo Blade was turned into an animated series a few years later. It went on to run for 26 episodes and proved to be moderately popular in Japan. Will it have the same success here? FUNimation just compiled the first collection of 13 episodes and has released them as a two-disc set. If this collection is any indication of how the show will be received by American audiences, then the answer to the proposed question would be a resounding yes!
Bamboo Blade is a rather straightforward sports comedy centering on kendo as its main source of action. The story here revolves around a painfully hungry and debt-ridden kendo teacher who is truly down on his luck. Nobody takes part in his club, he's quite disheartened, and all around he's a sad individual. One night while trying to get a buddy of his to buy dinner a challenge is put on the table by his friend, who also happens to be a fellow kendo instructor at a rival school. Basically all Kojiro has to do is assemble a team of five girls and get them all trained and ready for competition. Should he win, Kojiro will eat at his friend's father's restaurant free for a year. Should he lose he will have to give up a kendo trophy that doesn't hold much value to him. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?
Well, things get off to a rocky start for sure. Complicating matters is the fact that when he begins thinking about this challenge he only has one member in his club. All the upper classmen have moved on and no lower grades have expressed interest in kendo activities. Naturally it gets Kojiro down, but he's not about to give up! Free food will be his and it's just a matter of finding an able body that can hold a blade.
First up on his recruiting roster is a young girl named Tamaki. Kojio and his only active member, Kirino, happen to come across Tamaki in a series of bizarre events where several objects and the school's principal are thrown at them one day. Tamaki steps in with a broom and saves them with ease. It's clear from the start that she's experienced with kendo and it's revealed that her family runs a dojo where she has been training every day for her entire life. This makes her a master of sorts, but considering she looks upon kendo as a household chore she doesn't express any interest in joining the group.
This all changes when she sees the opportunity to step in and be a hero as one of Kojiro's new male recruits is being bullied by another schoolmate in the dojo. Though she has never set foot inside this dojo before she gives it to the bully quite good, despite the fact that he's very skilled. It's rather amusing to watch as this little girl wallops on the guy and affirms her decision to join the kendo team to fight for justice. This reminded me a little of Konata from Lucky Star and really made me appreciate the character of Tamaki even more.
Slowly, but surely, the rest of the team falls into place. The latest male recruit's girlfriend, Miya, joinst he ranks, a hot-headed AWOL member named Saya comes back, and another first year student named Satori joins as well. A lot of the show is the preparation for the big event and this first installment goes from episode to episode following the group gathering more members and training to do their best. While his friend's dojo is chockfull of students, Kojiro seems content with what he has. The kids mostly know that he's training them for his own selfish reasons as well and I assure you that leads to plenty of amusing moments.
In this first part of the series we get to see a lot of tournament action as there is a school contest and practice against another dojo. It's all leading up to the climactic battle that backs the premise of this show and watching the series get to that point is very entertaining. There's a lot of humor here, the characters are quite endearing, and the writing has a lot of personality. Bamboo Blade was kind of a sleeper hit in my opinion and it's a show that I really enjoyed watching. I can't wait for the second installment in order to see if Kojiro gets his chance for free food or not!
Bamboo Blade is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image. The show has a very nice look to it and it's not often you see a kendo-themed anime, so some of the designs are pretty unique. With that being said the characters are fairly generic and the backgrounds aren't exactly impressive. Technically speaking the show looks pretty good as well with solid colors, clean lines, and an all around crisp presentation. There were some elements of grain here and there, and compression artifacts can be spotted at times, but I didn't spot a drop of aliasing anywhere. All around this is a good looking show, but not completely flawless.
Part 1 of this series hits DVD with an English 5.1 surround mix and Japanese 2.0 stereo. I enjoyed both and felt the dubbing casts for each performed admirable, though I leaned towards the Japanese track for my preference. As far as the presence on the soundstage is concerned the quality is about what you'd expect. The 5.1 mix offers some nice immersive moments during kendo sparring and events, though little else in terms of other aspects of the show. The 2.0 is fairly flat by comparison and doesn't pack much of a punch.
Textless animation and some trailers are all you're going to find on this release for Bamboo Blade.
Bamboo Blade is another strong title in FUNimation's recent lineup of titles. The show packs in a lot of personality, some fun characters, and an interesting premise. It's unique in some respects, but familiar in others, and I'd have to say that the series leaves the door open for fans of different genres. I'm going to strongly recommend it for now, though we'll see how it fairs when the second installments comes out!