Post Reply Samurai Jam - Bakumatsu Rock
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Posted 9/11/14
by Dingofist

Samurai Jam Bakumatsu Rock. Look at that title again, maybe a couple times. Really read it, and let the sequence of words sink in. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Done? OK, cool, because it’s important you grasp just how insane this entire concept really is early on. It was that title, and the psychotic potential that goes along with it, that caught my eye when assignments were first being requested for the very newsletter you’re reading. Samurai Jam Bakumatsu Rock. Damn. Even now, after watching ten plus episodes, it hardly seems like something that should exist. Only in Japan, right?



The premise of Bakumatsu Rock is somehow more bizarre and wonderful than I could have ever hoped for upon first reading the title. Ready? Here goes. In a bizarre, alternate universe version of pre-Meiji Japan, the government has outlawed all forms of music with the lone exception of state-sanctioned pop groups singing what is referred to only as HEAVEN’S SONG. Chief among these groups? The ever more ludicrously romanticized Shinsengumi themselves, led by none other than the impossibly gorgeous duo of Okita Souji and Hijikata Toshizo. Shinsengumi Big Boss Kondo is there as well, serving as some sort of manager/mentor to the rest of the pop-singing samurai idols.

Of course, this Bakumatsu wouldn’t have much Rock if it was all pop idols and government endorsements, right? Right! That’s where real-world historical revolutionaries Ryoma Sakamoto, Shinsaku Takasugi, and Kogoro Katsura come in...playing guitar, bass, and drums, respectively. Here, the big three of the Ishin Shishi are presented as young, passionate musicians with an affinity for rock’n’roll, a discipline they learned from the mostly mysterious “Shoin-sensei”, himself based upon another historical figure in Yoshida Shoin. The three plucky young rockers set out to wage a PASSIONATE musical revolution against the soulless, mind-controlling powers of Heaven’s Song.



That’s what we’re dealing with in Bakumatsu Rock, and it’s the well from which almost all of the show’s goodness springs. Imagine a show where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin ditched their muskets and declarations of independence, opting instead to overthrow British rule of the colonies with PASSIONATE ROCK MUSIC. That is what we’re dealing with.

The tragedy of Bakumatsu Rock, then, is that although the show seems to know and understand the sheer lunacy of its subject, it doesn’t utilize that power nearly enough. Mostly, early episodes are very lengthy plugs for the Jpop and Jrock songs that play before, throughout, and after. The first several episodes can feel confusing, drawn-out, and a touch boring. Thankfully, somewhere around episode 5, the production team seemed to remember they had a story to work with, and the show finally begins to find its footing, with the main trio at long last beginning to understand and fight against the evil pop music schemes of villainous daimyo Ii Naosuke. Characters actually die, things are shaken up, a new lineup is formed, and passionate rock is performed to save the day!

Speaking of the music, the actual songs performed throughout are something of a mixed bag comprised of pop and rock songs sung by the voice actors themselves. As a general personal rule, most of the repeated Shinsengumi songs (particularly Okita’s solo numbers) made me hurt a bit inside, while the heavier “rock” tracks really ramp up the excitement and set the tone for the more emotionally charged scenes that tend to accompany them. It’s a shame the same songs are recycled several times throughout the currently released episodes, though...what start as really exciting, fun songs quickly lose a bit of their luster when you’ve heard them start and stop so many times. For my money though, the far and away best song the show has is DAYBREAK, the ending theme.



One oddity of Rock, and one I never saw coming, is the surprising amount of male fanservice every episode. Whenever Ryoma and friends become excessively passionate while performing, they activate their “Peace Souls”, the shows resident macguffin power source, which causes their shirts to explode from their bodies as if they were Kenshiro himself, and predictably drives the mostly-female concert-goers crazy. There’s also an all-male bath-house episode, and the entire end credits of each episode is backed by still shots of the main cast in various states of undress. I continue to find it odd that during a season where Free! was the talk of manservice town, Bakumatsu Rock swims laps around it in terms of gratuitous manservice.

Rock certainly has its share of problems. A slow start with a muddled story combine with some bizarre animation choices (the CGI during concerts is...pretty painful) to make it a show that can feel a bit aggravating to get into. However, things only get better with each new episode, culminating at the time of this writing with last week’s installment: a shockingly thoughtful look into Ryoma’s psyche as he struggles with how righteous their cause really is. A bit silly in a show about historical figures battling magical pop musicians with rock music? Maybe so, but it does cast a small light on the backing history, and raises intriguing questions about the nature of violent revolution.

If you like samurai, if you like rock...hell, even if you like jam on your sandwiches(!!), you could find a much worse way to pass the time than going to see Samurai Jam Bakumatsu Rock (LIVE ON YOUR PC OR OTHER DEVICE!) Grab your guitar or your samurai sword and check it out. Just make sure you watch it with passion!

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Posted 9/17/14
It aired after I wrote this up, but I wanted to mention that episode 11 was everything I ever wanted this series to be. Silly and awesome and wonderful.
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