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Anime Reviews: Bamboo Blade
It's not the most innovative series around, but Bamboo Blade's memorable cast and pleasant visuals make it a rock-solid entry in the sports anime catalogue.
Title: Bamboo Blade
Production: AIC A.S.T.A.
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 10/2/2007 to 4/2/2008
Age Rating: 7+ (light violence, mild language)
Summary: Toraji Ishida is a luckless and penniless part-time high school teacher, as well as the advisor to an anemic and dwindling kendo team. One night while drinking with his old rival, Ishibashi, the two make a bet: Their girls' kendo teams will go head-to-head in a practice match, and if Toraji's team manages to win, Ishibashi will treat him to a year of free Tokyo-style sushi from his father's restaurant. The bet is made, but Toraji has a big problem--his tiny kendo team only has two female members after the third-years left: Kirino Chiba, a spunky and enthusiastic airhead serving as the team captain, and Sayako Kuwahara, an on-again-off-again drama llama driven by wild emotions. With big dreams of going to the kendo nationals, as well as the promise of free sushi, Toraji must find new members fast and turn them into a well-oiled kendo machine!
The Good: Bright artwork and smooth animation; excellent English dub; attaching cast of characters
The Bad: Suffers from Escaflowne Syndrome
The Ugly: The absurd amount of money surely being made by light bulb manufacturers as the result of kids trying out their brand-new shinai
Watch out, everyone! It's another sports anime! Quick, run away before you're forced to learn something new in your entertainment! Sports are for French people and Communists! AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!
Or, y'know, we could just watch it like civilized human beings. Ya dirty atomic Communist. Because Bamboo Blade is a really good show, and an excellent example of the sports anime genre (y'know, if Hajime no Ippo, Princess Nine, and Chihayafuru don't catch your eye for some reason). Come to think of it, with this many great series at hand, why do sports anime get thrown under the bus so much? Well, I'm not nearly smart enough to have an answer for that, so let's just stay on track: Bamboo Blade. I've already told you it's good, so let's talk about how much and to what degree it's good!
Golly gee willikers! Am I starting with the aesthetics again? You'd better believe it, Seb! I gotta start with the series' artwork, because not only is it bright and colorful and wonderful and expressive (I seem to be on a roll when it comes to anime with pleasant artwork these days), but it's also done in a style that is recognizable as quintessentially anime yet unique to the point where you could very easily identify any character instantly in a high-school anime lineup. Sure, you might groan at first because every color of the rainbow is present in the characters' hair, but that just comes with the territory. And with the rest of the artwork being so crisp and pleasant, I can very easily let that minor nitpick slide.
The animation quality was a pretty big surprise, as well. At least on the Funimation DVDs, the series moves at a baby's-bottom smooth 60 frames per second, and for the most part, the animation keeps up with either an equivalent or comparable framerate--at least double the norm. So it's not just still frames that look pretty; the entire series is bright and colorful, smooth and fluid. Like puppy poop. Only, y'know, not gross. Okay, that's a terrible simile, but you get the idea. Bamboo Blade is consistently great to look at. No poop involved!
Now, I'm not sure if I've mentioned this yet, but I'm a dub kinda guy. If a series has a competent dub, I'll likely latch onto that version first before delving into the Japanese version. And in the case of Bamboo Blade, not only is the dub really good, but I liked it a heck of a lot better than the original Japanese. There are a few familiar names (Luci Christian, Christopher Sabat, Stephanie Young), but there's also quite a few I don't think I've ever heard of (Cherami Leigh? Ian Sinclair? Whaaaaa?!), but regardless, each and every single one gives a fantastic and fitting performance. Now, the Japanese version features a lot of voice acting greats like Houko Kuwashima, Akira Ishida, and Maaya Sakamoto, and they're all excellent, too, but I just felt that the adapted English script and the performance thereof was slightly stronger. You're in for a treat regardless of which you choose, but I'd definitely recommend the dub.
As it seems with every sports anime ever made, the greatest amount of focus and attention goes into the characters, and Bamboo Blade is no different. It's not often that I love every single main character in a series (there's usually one or two I can take or leave), but this is one of those cases where I liked pretty much everyone. Actually, it's to the point where picking a favorite is difficult, but if I had to choose...I'd probably go with Tamaki or Miya-Miya. Tamaki is just so gosh-darned cute in her obsession with super sentai TV shows and her pursuit of justice, and Miya-Miya's Jeckyll/Hyde personality quirks are a constant source of hilarity, and her boyfriend Eiga is consistently hilarious as well. Toraji is great as the perpetually self-interested and whiny teacher, Kirino's bubbliness makes me smile each time she's onscreen, Sayako's dramatics are always worth a laugh, and let's not even get started on the various side characters and rivals that crop up, or else I'd be here all day (and be late for work!). Long story short, any sports anime worth its salt has to have an exceptional cast, and Bamboo Blade puts a tick in that box on the checklist.
And unfortunately, I've gotta say it: Ticking off boxes on a checklist is pretty much exactly how Bamboo Blade was made. It's a great series, don't get me wrong--it's pretty to look at, the characters are well-written, the jokes work more often than not, the few serious moments work very well--but, in the end, I've seen this anime before, back when it was called Princess Nine. And I'm sure that if I'd seen this series first, you'd find this paragraph in my review of that one instead, or it'd still be here if I'd seen any other number of sports anime beforehand. That's ultimately the only real, major problem I could find with Bamboo Blade: If you're at all familiar with sports anime, you've already seen it. It's the exact same problem I had with Escaflowne. It's been done so much already that, no matter how well it's made or how likable it is, you're going to be rankled by how familiar it all is.
Now, if you've never seen any sports anime before, then that's a different story. Have at it. You're going to have fun, and you're going to love it. And I suppose that's what my recommendation should be: If you're new to sports anime, then this is a fantastic genre piece that shows you what it's all about, but if you're a sports anime veteran, then the only real reason to check out Bamboo Blade is if you're just looking for something new yet familiar to get lost in. There may not be much originality to be found here, but, like Escaflowne, if you're willing to put that aside and just go with it, then I've got no reason to tell you not to. Even if it is just a genre piece, a great show is still a great show.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. It may be all-too-familiar to veteran fans of sports anime, but with its appealing aesthetics and memorable characters, Bamboo Blade is an excellent example of a genre often overlooked by many.