Toyotomi Hideyoshi is on the verge of unifying the realm, and all that remains is the Odawara Castle protected by the "Lion of Sagami" Ujiyasu Houjou. Hideyoshi's personally trained generals—Ishida Mitsunari, Katou Kiyomasa, and Fukushima Masanori—as well as Ootani Yoshitsugu, Shima Sakon, and Naoe Kanetsugu are all on the frontline of the battle. Amidst the battle formation are the two young warriors of the Sanada household: older brother Nobuyuki and younger brother Yukimura. As the stalemate begins to break down, Sanada Yukimura rides on a lone horse into the fray. His brother follows him right after.
TL;DR: A dumb but fun dramatization of a period of history that pretty much writes itself.
The Warring States period is probably the first taste many of us outside of Japan have of Japanese history, & not just because of the Total War games. With it's long list of factions, battles, & heroic individuals; the period has been a rich vein for story tellers that has been tapped often, some might say to exhaustion, over the years. Samurai Warriors is hardly a contender for being one of the better works of fiction to come out of this tradition, but it turned out to be a
surprisingly enjoyable retelling of the final years of the period which combined an engaging tale of the dying days of the samurai era with lots of big men hitting each other with big weapons. (this review assumes you've seen the OVA/know a bit about the period being depicted)
The series starts pretty much where the OVA left off. The Saneda brothers, Yukimura & Noboyuki, now find themselves fighting on the side of shogun Hideyoshi at the siege of Odawara castle (1590), the last holdout of the Hojo clan & the last battle in Hideyoshi's campaign to unite Japan. Victory at Odawara is meant to symbolise the tantalizing realisation of a unified Japan, before Hideyoshi's sudden death plunges the realm back into uncertainty as Mitsunari & Ieyasu, named as regents, come into conflict with each other (as you might expect, Samurai Warriors deals with Hideyoshi's disastrous & bloody invasions of Korea by pretending they didn't happen).
As the sides in the new war are drawn, the Saneda's find themselves torn between their ideals & their familial bond. Yukimura, the more idealistic warrior, sides with Mitsunari, the man who is morally in the right but whose aloof & impersonal way of governing has alienated him from many of the daimyo of Japan. Noboyuki, who has a more grounded view of things, sides with Ieyasu, who while depicted in Samurai Warriors as a conniving power grabber (which he was) is also, Noboyuki feels, the only man who has both the vision & power to finally bring lasting peace to Japan & an end to the Warring States era.
This divide is the main theme of Samurai Warriors. Yukimura is the embodiment of an idealised warrior hero. He is immensely powerful & skilled in the arts of war, & is devoted to his ideas of justice & loyalty to those who are in the right. Noboyuki is, for lack of a better term, more of a realist. He has his honour but rejects heroic notions such as it being better to die heroically than live ignobly. For him, the ultimate ideal is a peaceful Japan, & if he has to sully his own honour somewhat to achieve that, it's a worthy sacrifice. Their conflict embodies that of Japan itself, between the heroic, ideal warrior whose convictions could can only be pursued in conflict & the more pragmatic, new type of warrior that Japan would need to become a nation at peace.
Their split also allows for an easy way to show both sides in the two main conflicts in Samurai Warriors: first between Ieyasu & Mitsunari, culminating in the battle of Battle of Sekigahara (1600); then the Siege of Osaka (1614-15) between Ieyasu & Hideyori, Hideyoshi's son & rightful heir of the shogunate Ieyasu had claimed after defeating Mitsunari. For those who have played the games or like people spotting, Samurai Warriors has a long roster of notable figures from the era. One might say there are too many, given that are a few occasions where characters just show up & if you don't know who they are, you'll be left scratching your head as to what they're doing. It doesn't help that some characters show up in historically inaccurate places. To it's credit, however, Samurai Warriors for the most part keeps the focus on a smaller ensemble cast, avoiding the problem of shows like Kancolle where the story keeps jumping between seemingly unconnected groups of characters.
As to which side of history Samurai Warriors ultimately sides with, it's hard to say. Indeed, it strikes a fairly balanced view that is in keeping with how the period if viewed more generally in Japan. Yukimura is held up both by the show & by his contemporaries as the ideal warrior. Mitsunari & Hideyori also are seen as facing up against Ieyasu with the sense that they are morally in the right, which isn't really disputed. However, nor does Samurai Warriors go for a simple good vs evil portrayal of the sides either. Ieyasu might be a conniving power grabber, but he's also the only man with the authority to keep the daimyo of Japan in check. His son Hidetori may be a bit of a feckless wastrel (he was), but better for Japan a weak but peace loving shogun than a strong, warmongering one. While hardly a nuanced presentation of events, Samurai Warriors does a decent job of not being overly simplistic in it's handling of who the good guys & who the bad guys are.
For those spoiled by Unlimited Budget Works quality levels of animation, Samurai Warriors will disappoint. The ridiculous character & weapon designs, & earth shattering attacks that send foot soldiers flying are all here, but the fluid, dynamic, long shot action sequences you might want are not. Instead, Samurai Warriors opts for a more old fashioned way of depicting combat, with panned still shots, action lines, close ups of the combatants, quick edits between cuts & a lot of manly shouting. That said, while not the most technically impressive, the art & animation quality in Samurai Warriors remains consistent throughout the series; which in my opinion is more important & preferable to a series which achieves better individual results by being more inconsistent overall.
The writing is also pretty flat. While this period of history pretty much writes itself in terms of the characters & events, a lot of the script itself is quite labored & in-eloquent. While I certainly can't fault the meaning behind a lot of what's said, such as when Noboyuki implores the Uesuagi to accept Ieyasu's humiliating peace terms rather than destroy the clan in a final battle for the sake of honour; the actual dialogue itself is no Shakespeare, for lack of a better way of putting it. I also thought it was a shame they didn't have Yukimura's (alleged) real last words in the final episode, although perhaps they wouldn't have fit with how the show decided to depict the final battle that ends both the Warring States era & the show:
"I am Sanada Nobushige, no doubt an adversary quite worthy of you, but I am exhausted and can fight no longer. Go on, take my head as your trophy"
Despite good reasons not to expect anything out of Samurai Warriors, it being an adaptation of a game series with not the best of reputations, I ended up enjoying this series a lot more than I expected to. It's a lot of dumb fun, with big manly men (though there are some women too & they actually play some important, though ultimately quite minor, roles) with ridiculous character designs, beating each other up while extolling warrior virtues. It's not clever but at the same time it has a more nuanced view of the period being depicted than might be expected of it. You won't be missing anything by not watching Samurai Warriors, but you might well enjoy it if you do.
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
My younger brother is a pretty cool guy. Funny, too. But obviously not as awesome or hilarious as I am – it’s the “Law of Older Brothers” or something like that. Being brothers, we understand each other pretty well due to the unique relationship that we share. We agree on subjects, but we also bicker and quarrel whenever we see fit. Yet, at the end of the day, despite the arguments that we might have, I know that we are always looking out for one another. Because he’s not just my family but my baby
bro. Samurai Warriors sets its sights on a tale of two brothers that ultimately fails at nearly everything that it tries.
The setting is feudal Japan, where captains, soldiers, and legendary fighters have amassed to take part in the unification of the country. Yukimura Sanada and Nobuyuki Sanada, two brothers serving under Lord Hideyoshi, take part in the war. However, Hideyoshi passes away, creating a rift not just in his followers but in the Sanada duo, too.
A little outside context is necessary. Samurai Warriors is an anime adaptation of a video game series of the same name. It, like its Dynasty Warriors cousin, is similar to a hack-and-slash romp where you, the main player, select a character to annihilate every foe that surrounds you. The difference between yourself and the common soldier is almost unfair. And this is where the anime encounters its first problem. The show spends a lot of time on using clunky narration to describe the battles, the formations, and the reasoning behind certain actions. But none of it matters because, like the games, everything hinges on the major warriors. The soldiers are fodder to the warriors’ mighty weapons, rendering them useless in nearly all circumstances. And the only parts of the war that have a clear influence in any capacity are the duels that occur between the warriors themselves.
That last point, considering how much these people count in comparison to everyone around them, should happen quite a bit. But strangely, the show nearly refuses to have these men and women duke it out between each other, despite being a pivotal aspect of the show. Instead, the anime leans on its unimportant surroundings – namely, the soldiers and formations. Even when the anime has these behemoths clash, the duel goes on for so short a time that nothing of value is obtained from either side. Arguably the most important of the fights, theme and narrative-wise, is the Sanada brother’s final brawl, yet it lasts (generously) two minutes. To put it another way, the show does not utilize its literal and figurative strongest facets to its advantage.
Say you ignore the anime’s own ignoring. What’s left is a mess of situations that tend to go in strangely awkward directions. The show wants these scenarios to mean something, but again, the majority of the emphasis is placed on these supposed warriors and the fights that “ensue.” So they are ultimately poorly handled, involving strange outcomes or, once again, lost meaning. For instance, Masanori and his buddy Kiyomasa defect to the Tokugawa clan, but then become enlightened to the error of their ways, and defect back to their original Toyotomi clan without consequence. Another is Hideyori’s mindset. While he wants what is best for his people and the country, not only does he engage in war but then proceeds to continue said conflict after having gone through not just a truce but a debasement of Osaka, the city he was governing and protecting.
There are even specific characters that see this same, jumbled approach. Nene was Hideyoshi’s wife, but following his death, she becomes a wandering ninja that maintains minimal relevancy by showing up once in a while to say a few philosophical words. And Kotarou is an evil dude whose intentions are never made clear, but he aides Hidetada Tokugawa, the son of Ieyasu Tokugawa and the leader of the Tokugawa clan, to get some kind of revenge against Yukimura. Kotarou supposedly dies (it’s rather unclear) but worst still, he’s forgotten about and later on Hidetada becomes a pseudo-good guy for the nation despite using this assassin for his underhanded tactics and personal abrasiveness caused by naïveté. The separate events come off as not making much sense, with their combination concocting the sluggish narrative presented.
There isn’t too much to say about the art of Samurai Warriors. It’s pretty boring, with only a handful of nice backgrounds to look at. These mostly are scenic in depiction, with ancient castles and pleasant landscapes. Otherwise, the anime employs heavy use of “action” environments to plaster the characters onto, taking away from the “regular” portions of the war once more. The anime also chooses to use CG animated troops when the platoon sizes get too large, but the repetitive use of the same scene comes off as lazy at best.
One of the shows only saving graces are the character designs it contains. Each cast member is often provided a unique look or outfit to easily distinguish them from the rest of the warriors and especially the normal soldiers. Ina’s long ponytail, blue cloak, and plentiful accessories keep her beautiful despite taking part on the battlefield. Keiji’s lion-esque hair, white-and-purple cord, and regal red garb make him as large and opposing as he comes off as being. And Masamune’s eye-patch with his green, classic Japanese samurai attire with accompanying samurai sword demonstrates just how cool he is.
However, the actual animation for the anime is far below average. Forgetting that the main fights between the warriors are short, the amount of movement within them is inexcusable given the anime and its premise. The show often incorporates jump-cuts to signify something happening without actually showing it, all the while reiterating the same sword or pike swings ad nauseam. Even smaller nuances like facial expressions or flames of fire are low in animation, making the entire experience come off as a few frames instead of a few thousand.
Samurai Warriors has a pretty massive cast. Unfortunately (thankfully?) there is no need to remember nearly any of them due to how minimal of focus they receive. This isn’t even the anime’s entire fault; the structure of the show has about half of it focused on fighting rather than character exploration, so the other half needs to be divided as nicely as possible for the twenty plus characters. Some are entirely one-dimensional in their characterization, while others obtain zero-dimensional status with nothing other than their name to back up their person. A few manage to scrape by, but they cannot pull their own weight.
Take Hideyori for example. As the son of Hideyoshi, the former lord to unify the kingdom, he champions his father’s cause. He doesn’t just take after his father in looks, but also in demeanor and behavior. In short, he is a true leader. And he appears pretty intelligent for his age, yet everything he does or says seems counterproductive to his overall goals. He refuses to comply with others, he fights losing battles, and believes that his martyrdom will bring about a new era. It does, but none of what he did directly had this affect. He could have just as easily not done these things – abide by the rules set for him, agree to cooperate, and not kill himself – and everything would have ended up exactly the same.
Nobuyuki, Yukimura’s brother, is equally strange. He chooses to fight for the Tokugawa clan, believing that by conquering the land through more violence will eventually bring an end to said violence. It’s an interesting idea, with him never wavering in the path he’s chosen. He even guides his younger sibling to make choices befitting his (Yukimura’s) ideals. Rather touching, except that he literally has no qualms with killing him. The explanation behind it is shady – that Yukimura’s “kind” cannot “exist” in the time following the end of the “Warring States Era” – but worse than this is they’re brothers. Brothers don’t do this to each other. No matter how much honor has to be upheld, what rules are set, or who stands in their way, you’re bound by blood. The show acknowledges this; Nobuyuki mourns for his brother when the war concludes. But not only was he trying to kill him in the first place but it also goes against the very ideals he holds and enlightened to Yukimura. Namely, the notion of sticking true to your path. So watching him cry over the brother he rivaled with over the entire series not only comes off as silly but also undermines his very character.
There is one character that manages to make his mark. This is none other than Yukimura. One of the show’s themes is this idea of finding your “own way in life,” but something a bit more profound is the anime’s showcasing of conflicting ideologies. This idea can be seen in the problems that manifested between both the clans and the brothers. For Yukimura, he very early on seemed to be going with the flow; following his older brother, his lord, and his friends, he didn’t seem to have a personal set of convictions to follow. Nobuyuki points this out, forcing Yukimura to ponder the road he should take. And he comes to the answer: he is, at his core, a samurai warrior. After deciding on the course to take, he goes through with it, believing in both his previous alliances and his newfound will. He goes all-out to the point of death, showcasing as great as he could how stalwart his passion had become and the extent to which differing mindsets can (given the context) ultimately lead.
The opening actually has a pretty nice beginning and end; it’s fast and filled with adrenaline. But the middle section is more a flurry of sound than a well-composed piece, making the majority of the track hard to listen to. The ending theme definitely has the feudal Japan vibe about it, with the shamisen and slow, female vocalist. It trails off weirdly as it concludes, and sounds more or less the same from start to finish, making it a boring piece overall.
Listening to the original soundtrack, while many of the pieces may be culturally based, none of the tracks in particular hold much power despite the warriors doing the opposite. Many of them sound identical, even when they are adjusted for melancholic or fight-oriented situations. It’s a forgettable OST, falling in line with the rest of the anime’s offerings.
Voice acting is somewhere slightly below average. Yuuko Nagashima as Kunoichi provides an underwhelming performance, with the rest of the cast doing nothing more than screaming now and again.
I had grown up playing Dynasty Warriors with my friends, so when I first started this one, I thought it would have that same feeling of fun. Because that’s what those kinds of games were about. It wasn’t the “story” that they had (there really wasn’t one), it wasn’t the “combat” that took place (you really only pressed the X button over and over), and it wasn’t even the world, the stuff to unlock, or the characters (I only remember Lu Bu and how ridiculously difficult he was to beat). Their staple was hacking and slashing your way to victory, sometimes with a friend by your side.
To that end, the show never had that same fun because it doesn’t translate from the game to the anime. Taking away the control, making it so that the part that you want to participate in is only available to be watched, removes any sense of satisfaction because it now becomes a part of those facets that weren’t fulfilling in the first place. Watching the narrative, skills, and characters unfold, like it was with the game, isn’t entertaining, no matter how much they tried to make it seem. At the minimum, watching as Yukimura laid waste to everyone and everything was pretty funny. His devotion to being a warrior and his unfair strength was a little over-the-top, even compared to the others, but that at least made the latter half of the anime not unbearable to witness.
Samurai Warriors is certainly an anime about such people. But its haphazard story, sub-par animation, weak characters, and lame music craft a show that is almost entirely atrocious to behold. The best it can do now is commit “seppuku,” for that’s the only sense of worth it has left.
Story: Terrible, nothing else matters but the warriors, and even then they don’t do much of anything one would consider important
Animation: Bad, boring art style, nice character designs, below average actual animation
Characters: Bad, everyone either receives no attention or is nonsensical, with the exception of Yukimura
Sound: Bad, okay OP, bad ED, bad soundtrack, below average VA work
Enjoyment: Bad, the elements of the game don’t transition well into the anime format, but Yukimura’s over-the-top attitude makes it marginally tolerable
Sengoku Musou is a historical fiction of japanese time period, Sengoku Jidai. This anime is based on a fighting game, and those animes have a negative stigma attached to them. This series shows that there is a very good reason.
When I watched this, I got a strange feeling that it was terrible. For some time, I was unable to really point out what was the reason, but then I realized. Remember that war sequence you saw in that action series you watched?
By war sequence, I mean that episode where someone narrates long-panning shots with still people with war sounds, strategic screens that show the army
views and occassional hero fight. Though they at points are entairning, it is mostly because you have got to know some of the characters and you care about what they are going through, and that makes the war somewhat meaningful.
Now get the characters that you care about and remove them. The war sequence can still be pretty good, since it at least is used for meaningful world building. It is pretty easy to sit through a while of battles if it means you in the end understand more about the world of the series.
Now imagine 12 episodes of war sequence with no time to get to know any of the characters. Sounds fun?
There are some shows that are pretty monothonic, like Dragon Ball with all that saiyan fighting, Bleach with the sword stuff or Death Note with crime/mysery. This means that it is possible for a show to be about a single thing, so why doesn't Sengoku Musou work?
First of all, the characters are extremely flat. There's the gayish pacifist guy, the brutal strong guy, the calm glasses-guy, the elegant girl and the cute ninja girl with a freaking flying squirrel. The only times I got really interested for few moments about the characters were the 11th and last episode.
I haven't played the game this is based on, so I really can't tell if it's better or worse. What I can say is that this is bad.
It is highly unlikely that this will be completely spoiler free so if you really want to watch this don't read on after this.
Having been able to play one of the earlier games for a bit while at a relatives house a few years ago I have occasionally looked back but often found the games to expensive. So when an anime came out for them whoo I might actually be able to enjoy this without paying a ridiculous amount. I was also interested because rather recently my interest had been sparked by this period of history.
The first episode didn't really grab me, there was
a few moments that made me laugh. I only stuck around due to the knowledge that everything was going to go very wrong within about five minutes of the next one. So second episode impressed me and I liked the third as well, all about friendship and that and everything going wrong. It was the fourth where I started to lose interest. The story moved too fast and completely ignored the ties between many characters, such as the one between Hideyoushi and Mitsunari which is at least mentioned in the game as far as my knowledge goes. They then completed the "what the hell are you doing, stop this now" feeling by killing off what felt like half the characters.
I carried on watching simply because I went into a stage of "something interesting might happen, keep going" and there was just dreary politics for a good few episodes before anything happened. Even after it was pretty dull up until the final three. I also had a particular hate for the person that I was supposed to consider the good guy, personally I sided with the western army while I was researching before watching this and the anime did not alter that.
It was the final episode that gave any merit to this anime. I was well aware the budget was quite low for this and immediately it was clear they put everything into the last episode. Even though my two favourites died in the fourth episode and I am the biggest wuss when it comes to character death their deaths didn't really get me. All the emotion that should have been felt when the other half of the cast died was put into the final few moments. I bawled like a baby but reflecting on that if there had been the same kind of quality for the other deaths I would have liked it more because it played about with your emotions more, what character death is supposed to do.
Even with that however the only truly amazing thing about this anime (and this is exaggerating) was the art style. The character development and connections between the characters was badly done and would only make any sense if you watched the special set before hand which I only found when I was half way through the anime. My advice: stay away unless you like politics and the art style