Anime Reporter warbles vaguely out of tune while bringing you the word on Samurai Jam- Bakumatsu Rock: the Complete Collection. This twelve episode series tells the tale of a group of rebels fighting against the harsh control of the Japanese government the only way they can, with the power of rock. If any UK anime fans are interested in getting their hands on this series, just click here before October 26th and follow the oh-so-simple instructions to enter the Samurai Jam Complete Collection Competition!
The entire collection is made up of twelve episodes but tells a well-paced story of a band of misfits fighting against conformity and the government’s propaganda. The lead singer (Yep, I did literally mean a band of misfits) is Ryoma Sakamato who, at the very beginning of our tale, doesn’t even know what “rock” means. He just knows that the music he plays makes him feel alive and is nothing like the “Heaven’s Songs”, the music that the government’s sanctioned bands play to lull the populace into obedience. Unlike these bands which tend to dress the same and sing the same list of approved songs, Ryoma insists on playing his own stuff, even if nobody knows what it is or even likes it. When he meets up with a drummer and a bass player, they teach him about the true power of rock and the three unlock a strange power within themselves; the power to change the hearts and minds of Japan (but, like, as an actualy power, with glowing lights and everything).
While the title suggests there should be some amount of swordfighting at play in this series, really of the conflicts seem to take the form of impromptu concerts and glowing tattoos which unlock a purer form of rock. The theme here is very much that rock music is a weapon of rebellion, freedom and individuality and that true artistry and creativity is much more meaningful than mass produced, interchangeable government (or corporate) music groups. That theme of rock as a weapon becomes a little bit on-the-nose as the series progresses, but the characters are likeable enough and, in twelve episodes, there isn’t quite enough time for it to become stale.
The characters are reasonably well fleshed-out given the small number of episodes and the animation is lovely and vibrant, taking on a more cell-shaded appearance during performances and keeping the whole thing feeling very fluid. If I had to draw comparisons between this and other works, I’d have to describe it as somewhere between Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music and the American animated series Stone Protectors, though it is perhaps quite less developed than the former and certainly a deal more developed than the latter. (No disrespect meant to Stone Protectors, but… it’s true.). There are even a couple of moderate links you could make with the film 20th Century Boys, though only up to a point.
All in all, Samurai Jam makes for enjoyable, simple viewing. The lack of violence sets it apart from other series of its kind, while its themes of standing up against tyranny and following your dreams are strong and universal enough to endear this series for most.
Samurai Jam is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from the fine folks at Manga Entertainment. Don’t forget about our Samurai Jam Collection competition here and also, our Nisekoi- False Love competition here to get your hands on some free DVDs/Blu-rays. Both competitions are running until October 26th, so act now!
Or don’t. I mean, it’s entirely your own choice.