Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls Revisited
July 29, 2012 5 Comments
When I first watched Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls it was a curious experience, and having not read or even heard of the light novel series, which it was adapted from, I did not really know what to expect. As a series it suffered from similar problems to many other light novel adaptations, mainly the lack of time with 12 episodes being far too few to really get into the swing of things and develop not only the characters, but also the story. It is however a series that I am incredibly fond of, with interesting characters and excellent animation.
The series itself presents us with a curious world where the Tokugawa Shogunate never ended and the Meiji Restoration never happened. It remains firmly in the future, however, the customs and ways of the Shogunate still continue with great importance placed upon your families social standing, with samurai families getting preferential treatment. There are also elements of the Sengoku Era in this series, with many of the central characters named after historically famous generals and other figures from the end of the Sengoku Era (warring states period). Although in essence, the majority of the characters take their names of historically important figures that were alive during the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
One o the most fascinating things about the series was the whole concept of ‘Master Samurai’, as if these beings were almost superhuman, and in effect they were. But, rather than being superheroes who were completely good, these master samurai were instead more akin to normal human beings, albeit significantly more powerful. But, more than this was the whole story behind these master samurai, and also the entirely concept behind the idea of the Tokugawa Shogunate continuing to reign instead of a democratically elected government. That generals control all the master samurai, and because all generals are an integral part of the Shogunate, it can be viewed that all master samurai are in effect tools of the Shogunate, rather than people who help those in need. It is this aspect of what is effectively a harsh, but also honourable way of governance that gives the notion of an almost all-powerful master samurai an edge.
The series itself has a particularly interesting political sub-plot that centres on the use, and in this case, abuse, of the powers of master class samurai. It is clear that the ability to control and use such fearsome warriors providers the wielder with not only military might, but also political leverage. Within the world of Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls, we quickly learn that numerous people at the academy have been disappearing, and have all been classed as the victims of a ‘spirited away’ phenomenon. Now, we are shown early on, through the deductions of Muneakira that all the people who have disappeared are from families who produced a master class samurai at some point in history.
It is clear that these abductions are all linked, and are part of something far darker and more nefarious than we are at first made to think. What makes this whole sequence of events more striking is the appearance of Sanada Yukimura and Gotou Matabei, who are apparently charged with nothing, but there is still an order for their arrest given to Senhime from her brother Yoshihiko. Their presence, along with the apparently random, but also mysterious orders given by Yoshihiko further suggests that there is more to these abductions than at first meets the eye. It is this quite complex and tangled web of lies, deceit and mysteries that produces some fascinating scenes, along with what is effectively an ever-present mystery surrounding, not only the disappearances, but also Yagyuu Jubei.
The characters of Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls are particularly fascinating, and not just because they are named after historically important figures for Japan. In terms of character design, along with characterisations, every single one of them is unique and easily distinguishable from the others. The characters deigns are all fascinating and incredibly well done, with highly detailed clothes, ornaments and weapons that are also unique from every other main character. But this is only part of what makes these characters such fun to watch, and while the character deigns are al fascinating, each individual character have their own traits and abilities that make them interesting to watch regardless of what is happening on screen.
The central characters of Yagyuu Jubei and Yagyuu Muneakira are particularly interesting, partly because of their first meeting, but also because of their part in the overall story. Muneakira is or note largely because of his ability to create master class samurai, apparently with a simple kiss. If in the world of Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls the power of the nation and individual generals is measured around the master class samurai that they control, then Muneakira’s ability to freely create such fearsome weapons adds another dimension to an already quite complicated political sub-plot. He in effect has the power to turn himself into an important general, who may even gain enough power and influence to challenge, or even further, control the Tokugawa Shogunate.
This then raises further interesting questions about who ultimately has the power within this Shogunate, and in particular, what the appearance of someone who is seemingly capable of bypassing all official avenues in the creation of such powerful warriors, does to the power base and overall power structure, of what is a highly stratified system of governance. His power also suggests that such a system of governance is not eternal, and that, while the Tokugawa Shogunate has maintained control through strict regulation of the master class samurai, this may mark a turning point in their power base. It is the Machiavellian politics of Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls that can help to produce a fascinating, and quite deep (assuming you want to look for it) element to a plot than on the surface is about a samurai girl harem.
Jubei adds another level to what is already quite a complicated situation for Muneakira, particularly when she is a master class samurai of fearsome power and destructive capability. The idea of having a character with a split personality, one innocent, and another quite strong willed and destructive is hardly new in anime, but it works very well for Jubei. The innocent, childlike qualities of Jubei are in stark contrast to the fearsome, sadistic personality of Jubei when she has ‘awakened’. What is so interesting about the character is that she is not evil, but at the same time it is clear that Jubei is not a righteous defender of justice. There is a brutal reality to Jubei’s attacks and attitude towards combat, with the implication that in her life, if she does not kill, she will die.
It is abundantly clear that Jubei has experienced significant loss and hardships, but her past remains a mystery right until the very end, and while this is frustrating, it does fit her character in a way. This ambiguity about what it means to be a good person is further demonstrated in the characterisation of Tokugawa Sen. While she may be the childhood friend of Muneakira, she is also someone of immense power and influence within the Shogunate. We see her use this influence on numerous occasions to get what she wants, and she is not afraid to play dirty. But at the same time, Senhime is essentially a good person who deeply loves Muneakira, despite her position as a Tokugawa.
This ambiguity is further enhanced with the apparent lack of a proper antagonist, and while we are provide with two, their particular roles and attitudes do nothing to dispel it. Yagyuu Gisen is the most obvious antagonist, someone who falls to earth in a similar fashion to Jubei, and who has unclear motives. She shows quite sadistic, but also almost masochistic tendencies, apparently believing that by contracting with a general, the Master Class Samurai effectively become a slave. While her master is clearly evil, there remain question marks about her own attitude towards destroying Japan, and we do see glimpses of a character that may not necessarily believe in her master’s goal.
The most interesting antagonist is however, Tokugawa Yoshihiko, someone who is incredibly devious. He seems to view master class samurai as mere tools, and is apparently attempting to create an army of ‘artificial’ master class samurai, this cementing his position as the strongest within the Shogunate. He may eventually reach a state of forgiveness and realisation that what he did was wrong, but that does not change what he did. Then again, it further demonstrates the ambiguity surrounding what is right and wrong within Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls, and how some characters can change from one to the other quite easily.
While Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls is very interesting, it nevertheless remains a flawed anime adaptation of a light novels series, suffering from all the major problems that such adaptations appear to bring with them. One of the major, if not the biggest problem is the length, at twelve episodes this series is simply too short. With such a limited number of episodes there is no time to truly explore and expand upon the various plot elements that give it such an interesting atmosphere and aesthetic. While a lot is made about the power to create Master Class Samurai that Muneakira possesses, nothing ever seems to come of it. It is obviously a challenge to the power and authority of the state, but it appears to be ignored, without any time given to fully explore the implications of such a power. Furthermore, all the major plot points, including the murky pasts of both Jubei and Gisen seems to be completely dismissed. Similarly, all the major political plot points, along with the problem of students disappearing from the academy are brushed to one side in favour of a big battle at the end.
There was the potentially, especially when you watch the introduction, of a series that had an epic feel, that matched the names and political system which the light novels appear to create. But, such a series needed to be significantly longer with more time exploring how all these elements interlinked and worked together. I truly enjoy watching this series, partly because of the brilliant animation style, which is both highly detailed, while also having a rough aesthetic. It is one of many light novel adaptations that had, and still has a lot of potential, but due to time constraints (probably imposed by the financiers behind the project) this potential was never really met. It is a shame, because that potential remains, and the story and characters remain enjoyable and entertaining. In essence this is another classic example of a light novel adaptation never quite going far enough, with the anime only really giving us an introduction to the characters and the story. It does remain a firm favourite despite its many inherent flaws, and while the length and the abrupt, and clunky ending are rather annoying, that does not take away from what is a stylish and sexy anime series.