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Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls - Anime Series Review
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls is an anime series that was released Fall 2010. It is foremost a comedy harem series. Secondarily, it contains elements of action, and makes an attempt (if a misguided one) at also stitching aspects of science fiction and fantasy into the plot. It is perhaps most recognized for its unique art-style. And, of course, its frequent display of topless women.
Plot / Story
At the beginning, Hyakka Ryouran almost seems to know where it's going in terms of plot. Almost. A fascinating introduction informs us that this show will combine historical elements with fantasy and science fiction elements. Somehow, in this world of Zeppelins, DragonBall-style scouters, and biogenetic mutations, the Tokugawan Shogunate is in charge. And this re-imaged version of the Tokugawan Shogunate maintains its grip of power by utilizing attractive female super-warriors that it calls Samurai. Now, this is all pretty far out there, but its also kind of cool, and after the first episode I was eager to see where they were going with it.
They didn't go anywhere with it.
The show becomes more and more complex, with naked Samurai-girls mysteriously descending from the sky, and angles relating to a government conspiracy unfolding. I don't shy away from complex stories, but its clear that they bit off more than they could chew with this one. With only twelve episodes to work with, not only does the show end abruptly, there are a number of completely unexplored threads of plot left dangling. Ultimately, we are left even more confused at the end than we were at the beginning -- and it's not even the good kind of confusion that we might experience by watching Ghost in the Shell for the first time. It's confusion mixed with frustration due to wasted potential.
As far as the romance goes, its your standard dump of nonsense. This isn't meant to be a sweeping love drama. It's a harem anime; you get your typical haphazard concoction of sexual tension with jealousy at first, before it all seems to funnel into a great big commercial for polygamy. It certainly never takes itself too seriously in this aspect, but as a result it's never particularly moving either.
Characters in Hyakka Ryouran are, as a rule of thumb, flat. Occasionally we'll get a flashback that attempts to inform us more of that characters resolve, but these flashbacks usually aren't very exciting or interesting. Most of the characters don't even receive this treatment, and we are instead left with stock characters pasted into the story to fulfill their purpose. Amongst these are the hotheaded, pampered princess, Sen Tokugawa, the supergenius-tsundere Yukimura Sanada, and the male character who does absolutely nothing but act as plot-glue for the girls, Muneakira.
Now, the characters aren't very dynamic. Whenever a characters motivation does change or evolve, it happens so jeeringly, that it seems weird. I swear, one of the characters actually seemed to change her sexuality between episodes for no reason. So there's definitely some issues here. They are not, however, without their positive qualities. Aesthetically, almost all of the characters have an interesting design (at least the female ones.) And despite being generic, the characters aren't unlikable. Characters such as Yukimura fulfill an archetype that works; and it would take a person without a heart to hate the adorable Jyuubei.
Another of my favorites is Kanetsugu Naoe, who singlehandedly raises the show's comedic value three or four levels.
Art and Sound
This show's artistic style boiled down to one word: ink. This was never meant to be a series that looks "normal". Character outlines here are strikingly bold, but the thickness of the lines vary, as if it were done with a brush. Backgrounds appear to have been painted in a similar way, although they generally radiate more of a minimalist-vibe. It never looks bad, but it's also strange to see this application of style in an anime. It appears more to be a style used in visual novels or video games. Still, it looks great when animated; screen captures do it little justice.
Hyakka Ryouran's love affair with ink doesn't end with the character and background lines though. During battles, the ink blots actually splash off of the characters weapons onto the "camera." During transitional screens, the ink blots are again prevalent. In fact, even the rain is drawn boldly in black, as if it were meant to be ink. Not even the opening and ending videos are spared the splatter. This effect is really incredible in episode one, but by episode twelve, it begins to feel really stale. They did something great, but they went back to the well too often with it.
Sound-wise, all of the characters in this show are voiced competently. There are few standout roles, but oppositely, there are no exceedingly bad ones. Jyuubei should have a cutely-innocent voice, and she does. Yukimura should have a condescending-arrogant voice befitting of a young girl, and she does. This pattern continues to apply for the other cast members, and that's fine. Sound editing in the episodes, equally so. It fits, and that's that. I will say that the opening and ending songs are more catchy than they have any right to be. The opening, Last Vision for Last by Faylan is a J-pop song with a tinge of rock to it. The ending, Koi ni Sesse Tooryanse is sung by the female characters themselves. Approach me publicly and I'll deny it, but the song is too cheerful not to like.
The action in the show isn't bad, but it's not as good as it should have been. The animation quality is high, and the visual effects look quite good. Unfortunately, none of the battles in the show have any punch to them. They look okay, but they are short, and they fail to tell a story. Instead, it tends to follow the formula of having two girls lock up their weapons, and then inexplicably, one or both of them will have their shirt torn to shreds. There will also be a lot of -- you guessed it! -- ink blots.
I do want to say that one thing I found appealing was that the girls each have their own unique attacks which appear on the screen (written in ink of course.) This reminded me of certain classic shounen series, such as Yu Yu Hakusho, and I thought it was a nice homage.
Honestly, if you've read this far you've probably already decided whether or not you're going to watch this show. It's an ecchi. If you're planning to watch it, it's for the blend of comedy and the fan service. So I will say, yes, it has both of those. You're going to get all of the boobs, and all of the humor. There were so many screenshots I had that would have really gotten to the core of the show, that I just couldn't post because this is a family-friendly website. If moments like that are what you're after, you won't be disappointed.
Aside from that, Hyakka Ryouran doesn't have much going for it, though. Everyone should watch at least one episode just to get a sense of the unique style, since it is something different, and it's something kind of cool. As a series though, I'm going to say... pass.
Final Rating: 5.75 out of 10.0