Hyakka Ryouran 12 and Wrap-up

Hyakka Ryouran had a nice visual style, but that was pretty much the only thing that made it distinguish itself. I kind of checked out of the last couple episodes because the threat they had to face never really amounted to anything. Shiro Amakusa is barely seen, instead, some kind of melding of Jubeis has to duel Gisen, sacrificing herself in the process in true Samurai fashion. All while Sen and Yukimura guard Muneakira from a sea of, well, more tentacles.

There’s a lot of yelling and screaming about platitudes, but it all seems a little forced and overwrought. It looked pretty good, but the ink blot-blocked fanservice got a little tiresome (do boobs always have to pop out of shirts during battle?) and the fighting got repetitive. I’m glad Yoshikawa redeemed himself a bit, but I still can’t respect his character for the evil shit he did to Nia. As for the main villain Amakusa, well, he’s evil and wants to end or remake the world…because, I guess. Not exactly deep.

There’s an easy way to sum up Hyakka Ryouran – Pretty slick-looking most of the time, but not exactly deep. Rating: 2.5

Series Mean Ranking: 2.833 (Ranked 15th out of 15 Fall 2010 Series)

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Hyakka Ryouran 11

Hyakka Ryouran’s penultimate episode should have been exciting, but there were some issues that held it back. First of all, am I really supposed to forgive a guy for kidnapping his French sweetheart, stripping her down and genetically altering her because it’s “tough at the top?” Nia’s affection for him is admirable, but considering the amount of physical and mental trauma she’s endured by Yoshihiko’s hands, it’s also baffling. Battered Samurai Syndrome, as it were. A brief detour into his past couldn’t make up for the fact that Yoshihiko is just a dull villain.

As for the events of the episode itself; Gisen is wreaking havoc, starting the Amakusa resurrection ritual. Rather than do anything to stop her, everyone at Yoshihiko’s lab just talks for a long time, then fight each other instead of the threat to the country. We’ll have to keep an eye on Jubei too, as the next time Muneakira kisses her, her innocent non-master-samural mode self will vanish and the pact will be complete. The art is still pretty, but this series’s weaknesses are starting to overshadow its strengths at a crucial time. Rating: 2.5

Hyakka Ryouran 10

So we were left at last week’s end with everybody imprisoned; well, we can’t keep everyone imprisoned forever, now can we? An impassioned plea by Sanada for a report on Muneakira’s safety impresses D’Atagnan (Nia) to the point she doesn’t immediately execute her and the others, but rather leaves them alone with lowly guards while she goes off to do…what, exactly?

No matter, Yukimura, Matabei, Hanzo, and Kanetsugu escape to a hide-out, and Yukimura locates Muneakira – and Sen – with her mind; it seems master samurai can locate their general thus. While they race to free Muneakira’s body from Yoshihiko and mind from Gisen, Yoshihiko basically just sits around laughing like there’s no problem.

But the last laugh’s on him, as when his lab is infiltrated, Nia turns on him. She does so because she admires Sanada and the others’ passionate commitment to Muneakira. Their devotion is out of feelings (love specifically), not merely fear or submission. It’s great to see Nia thinking for herself. With everyone freed, now there’s just the matter of dealing with Yoshihiko. More boisterous speeches will follow, I’m sure. Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran 9

I’ll admit I was a little naive in thinking Gisen was a good gal last week just because she had a cute face and innocent voice. She shows her true, ruthless colors in this episode, kidnapping Muneakira and taking his free will away with her evil eye. When Sen and Hanzo locate them, Gisen transforms into a master samurai and proceeds to mop the floor with Sen. The battle is interrupted by Sen’s bro Yoshihiko who has arrived a week earlier than expected. His lieutenant Nia sends Gisen into retreat, but that doesn’t mean they’re on Sen and Muneakira’s side. This was a nice-looking duel; that different fighters create different color ink blots on the screen is a nice touch.

The episode then lays everything out on the table: Nia is an artificial master samurai created in an experiment that made use of the spirited-away students. The reason he wants these fake samurai is because he knows that the seven master samurai believed to be left are actually dead, leaving Great Japan with nothing to fight the evil force of change and destruction embodied by Amakusa. He credits Amakusa with every major calamity in Japan’s history – famines, quakes, bombings. The Master Samurai were always there to cut him down, but he always comes back, and with no natural samurai left, he believes desperate measures are in order.

Sen and Co. are now in an unfortunate situation. Her brother wants to kill them all, but the threat to Japan he speaks of is real, and must be dealt with. Gisen was likely Amakusa’s scout, and she was no slouch. It would seem there are two ways to defeat him: Yoshihiko’s human sacrifices, or Muneakira’s master samurai. Here’s the rub re the latter: Sen was weaker then Gisen, but Nia was stronger. Next week, beyond the more immediate challenge of escaping Yoshihiko’s clutches, the good guys will have to figure out how they’ll be able to win against the next iteration of Amakusa. Rating: 3.5

Hyakka Ryouran 8

So it’s pretty obvious that Sen’s brother will be gunning for them soon, so it’s strongly suggested that anyone who hasn’t kissed Muneakira and become a master samurai should do so at once. This means Hanzo, Matabei, and even Naoe, none of whom are eager to do so, for their own reasons.

Jubei is also against it, but because they see the kiss as a formality, not a sign of love, something she believes is crucial to forming the pact between samurai and general. Before this debate goes any further, however, another naked girl falls to the sky, just as Jubei did. It turns out she’s another Yagyu; Gisen Yagyu…who proceeds to use her boobs in…unorthodox ways.

Gisen insists that she’s nothing more than Muneakira’s slave, just as they all are. This pisses off Sen, who then challenges her to a duel. Gisen’s no slouch, but Jubei of all people intervenes – the first time we’ve seen her handle a sword in non-master mode. The end result is, Jubei now has a little sister, and the good guys have another bullet in their magazine. Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran 7

This week focused more or less on Sen’s bodyguard Hanzo. With Sen now able to transform into a master samurai, Hanzo questions her usefulness. When an invisible, Cerberus-like beast terrorizes the dojo, her super-trick glasses are the only thing that can detect it. (This being the present day, heat-sensing goggles for everyone are just a couple eBay clicks away…but then again, the beast’s arrival was unexpected).

Once out in the courtyard where the beast can be seen due to the falling rain, the time comes for Hanzo to kiss Muneakira and become a master samurai herself – but she just can’t do it. The rain stops, and she decides to try to sacrifice herself by holding down the beast so Sen can kill them both. Naoe summons water with her mallet and Sen dispatches the beast without harming Hanzo, and she reiterates that their relationship isn’t just servant and master, but best friends as well (who, you know, occasionally licks her leg). They’ve known each other for ten years, and Hanzo was her only real friend at school.

Hyakka Ryouran hasn’t exactly distinguished itself in the character development department, but this was a nice episode for both Hanzo and Sen, as well as Naoe, who seems to have smoothly integrated into the gang as Sen’s new foil…or Jubei’s pet dog, depending on who you ask. The icing on the cake was an excellent battle against a quick and intelligent enemy. We’re left to assume it was sent by Sen’s brother, but we don’t actually know. That’s okay, there’s 5-6 more episodes to sort that out. Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran 6

For a series that thus far has had no problem tearing women’s clothes off at every possible opportunity (albeit with strategically-placed ink blotches), a beach episode seemed redundant, but as soon as I heard ‘vacation home’, I knew full well what was coming. Also, I believe the “girl with too much luggage” trope was played out around 1860…

Fortunately, it seems that for the time being Muneakira will only have to deal with two women vying for his love – Sen and Yukimura – which simplifies things on the love polygon front. I’m not sure what the significance of his choice (if he ever makes one) will be. What we do know is, Sen’s brother is bad. So bad, he’d even throw Kanetsugu under the buss if she fails in her reconnaissance mission. Kanetsugu releases a shikigami he gave her that immediately turns on her and swallows her.

Fueled by compassion rather than rage, Sen and Yukimura have to stop squabbling and work together to defeat the monster, with crucial help from Jubei, who I thought was too dangerous to revive, but apparently she’s become less wild and more amenable. This is a decent battle that saved the episode from total mediocrity. Since they saved her life, I assume Kanetsugu will join Muneakira & Co., despite having consistently deemed him a perverted scoundrel. Rating: 2.5

Hyakka Ryouran 5

Another samurai girl is introduced – Naoe, voiced by Aki Toyosaki – an old friend of Sanada’s who was hired by Princess Sen’s brother to spy on the dojo. She’s not very good at subterfuge, however, and everyone is immediately suspicious of her. Also, she isn’t a threat, because Sanada can now transform into a master samurai at will.

Not just Sanada, either. When eavesdropping on Sen and Jubei, Naoe misunderstands the situation and believes Muneakira is running a harem. Naoe is a woman of spotless moral fiber, and invokes the name of Ragaraja when challenges Muneakira to a duel. Guilty over the burden he’s placed on Sanada, he simply lets Naoe whale on him until Sen intervenes, eventually kissing Muneakira and transforming into a master just as Sanada did.

Naoe retreats, but she’ll definintely be back. So it’s official, Muneakira is a master samurai maker. As usual, the character design and art direction remains above reproach, and even the dialogue has been tightened up a bit as the chemistry between characters has begun to gel. We’ll see if the improvement is cumulative. Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran 4

While Jubei continues to harbor some mysteries (why did she fall from the sky, etc.) we at least learn something new and significant about Muneakira: when Sanada kisses him (while locked in an extremely compromising position) she is transformed into a master samurai as well. Princess Sen probably wanted to test this as well, but the opportunity to kiss him never came up. Seriously, aren’t these people adults?

Anyway, while Sanada has gained supersized wind-emitting fans (perfect for slicing strategic bombers), she cannot control the sudden surge in powers. Interestingly, her personality doesn’t change like Jubei’s does, and Muneakira isn’t paralyzed either. This probably means there’ll be a similar result if Sen, Hanzo, or Matabei kissed him.

It’s intimated that without master samurai, Great Japan would fall to invading armies (apparently there’s no JSDF in this alternate present). So it’s good that Muneakira can make them simply by kissing people. But how and why, we simply don’t know yet. Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran 3

Some answers are revealed in the mystery of the bipolar Jubei Yagyu, while she, Muneakira and Princess Sen become roommates at the dojo. This presents numerous opportunities for Sen to exhibit her jealousy of Jubei. The love triangle here could prove annoying. However, I don’t think I’ll tire of the textured animation style and costumes, which still look superb three episodes in.

Anyway, whenever the cheerful, docile Jubei kisses Muneakira, the master samurai within her is drawn out, and Muneakira is paralyzed while she wreaks havoc, which fortunately isn’t much. It turns out she isn’t a mindless killing machine, but stays her sword when Matabei protects Yukimura with her person in a show of loyalty to the death. Shortly thereafter Jubei reverts back to docile mode, so we don’t learn much else. Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls 2

I definitely like the idea of a ‘what if the Tokugawa shogunate survived to the 21st century’ setting; this isn’t steampunk, but it is an odd and interesting melange of the modern and the historic. All the social structures are still in place. It’s also good to be a childhood friend of a princess from the Tokugawa clan.

The combat scenes between Yagyu and Hanzo were nicely done, and the quality and style of the animation has held up well in this second episode. I continue to enjoy the nice colors and textures of this series, but so far the story is neither exceptional or thrilling. The comedy too, mostly falls flat. So far, this series’ only strength is that it looks really good, and takes place in an interesting alternate universe, which is enough…for now. I guess. Rating: 2.5

Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls – First Impressions

This series takes place in the 21st century, but there is still a Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan, and there are still samurai…on of the only things about them that seems to have changed is their fashion design. The first episode begins with a ridiculous exposition – strategic bombers being sliced into pieces by the katanas of (flying?) samurai girls in suitably over-the-top outfits. From these opening minutes, you know pretty clearly what you’re in for with Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls.

Also immediately apparent – this show has a gorgeous art and animation styles, and novel costume design. The characters have bold black borders, and the entire frame has a rice paper-like texture to it. Colors are usually desaturated for the (rare) quiet scenes, then jacked up for the action. There are times when the samurai aren’t fully clothed, and that’s where the innovative use of ink blotches comes in, to keep things nice and PG-13.

First impressions? Long on style, somewhat lacking in anything else. The first episode was mostly exposition…and exhibitionism. I can’t strongly recommend it for anyone, but style and design go a long way for me, so I’ll stick with this for the forseeable future. Rating: 2.5