"Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings": Taking Outrageous to a New Level
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings is oddly addictive. I say “oddly,” because in order to enjoy it you basically have to turn off your brain, sit back, and absorb the absurdity. While Sengoku Basara suffers from a large cast, obnoxious screaming and even a predictable plot, it also has great music, beautiful animation, and a bone-chilling villain. Naturally, the fights are pretty intense, even if they are ridiculous. The show is based off a fighting game so it should be expected that it isn’t the most intellectually rewarding, but at the end of the day Sengoku works because it recognizes how silly it can be and repeatedly tries to outdo itself.
Set during the feudal period of Japan, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings starts off telling the story of war generals fighting in an attempt to seize land and gain territory. This preliminary plot establishes not only the alliances and rivalries in place between the various factions but also two of the key characters in the story, Yukimura Sanada (The Tiger’s Cub) and Masamune Dante (The One-eyed Dragon) and their subsequent rivalry. At first it seems to be going the route of episodic fighting between armies, but it is quickly derailed after the introduction of the Demon King Nobunaga Oda. With the use of western guns his army has begun decimating people and their lands, even after surrendering. In an effort to stop his movement the war generals decide to ban together and create an alliance to oppose him. Of course, some generals refuse and side with Oda, causing war to breakout.
My main issue with Sengoku stems from the huge cast of characters. There are several war generals, their direct subordinates and then even a third named character in some of the armies. It becomes difficult to remember who belongs with which alliance and even the names of most characters. This in turn leads to poor development for majority of the characters. Even the generals that get most of the spotlight—Masamune Dante, Takeda Shingen, and Uesugi Kenshin—make little impression. Instead, they are all shown to be strong, elegant and stubborn. Yukimura (Shingen’s second in command) is nearly the same, though in his case elegance gives way to cluelessness. Most of the characters (aside from the villains) have the same mindset when it comes to battle and honor, making them stale (but somewhat hilarious to watch with their dramatic antics). Having a large slate of characters wouldn’t be a problem for a fifty episode series, but Sengoku is only twelve episodes long. In a game the hefty number is a positive, giving the player more options, but in show form it leaves the viewer confused and overwhelmed. There are a few moments between certain characters that give the show a bit of depth. Most notably these belong between Sasuke Sarutobi and Kasuga as she rejects his love and care in an attempt to keep her pride as a ninja, as well as Maeda Keiji, who believes in striving for a life without fighting.
But one good thing about having so many characters is all of the various fighting styles and techniques, which make each battle fresh. It doesn’t hurt that they seem to get more over the top each and every time. You have characters creating tornadoes from the swing of their ax, electricity flowing through swords, spears that spew fire and even a giant robot with a drill. The show also uses clashing colors to give the fights a little extra flash, blue and red being the most notable between Masamune and Yukimura. The animation during these sequences is superb, really making each fight that much more enjoyable to the eye. In general the animation rarely let’s down during Sengoku Basara, and does well in creating a beautiful setting (normally through making the sun or moon the main focus). The character designs and their outfits are also well done, giving each individual character a unique and sleek style (Yukimura especially looking awesome). In addition to those items, the music also nicely supplements the action sequences. It isn’t your typical war music, being a bit more upbeat, but it does a great job in getting the viewer pumped and on the edge of their seat for the fight to start. All of these elements combined help Sengoku flaunt it’s over the top attitude in a positive way.
As I mentioned in the plot summary, the majority of the story features various armies coming together in order to put an end to Nobunaga Oda’s terror. It isn’t the most original and is pretty predictable; in fact the ending is clear the moment you see Oda. Still, the journey to get the end is pretty fun and whenever Oda is involved the plot moves at a great pace. Unfortunately he isn’t always on screen, and the story lags in the middle episodes as the allied warriors are forced to retreat. When they recover and move out the plot picks up and becomes interesting again. This is solely due to Oda and his direct subordinates (consisting of his wife, a deranged scythe-wielding killer and a young boy). Oda is ruthless and demonic. Typically a villain has some feelings or secondary motivations, but this one really just wants to destroy everything. I mean the guy drinks out of skulls; you don’t get much more badass than that, and it is nice to have a purely evil villain. Likewise, his three subordinates draw the viewer in and (ironically) bring life to the story.
The dub is top-notch, with Jonny Yong Bosch (Yukimura) and Robert McCollum (Masamune) giving their best as the protagonists. The rest of the cast do a fine job and will leave any viewer satisfied. The yelling, however, is atrocious and is somewhat hard to get over at times. For some reason the characters in Sengoku Basara feel the need to yell in an attempt to assert their battle abilities over each other. This of course isn’t the dub’s fault, but doesn’t change the fact that the yelling will eventually make your ears bleed.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings definitely delivers in the action, animation, villain and music departments. It falls short with its characters and plot, but not enough for me to turn against the show. After the first episode the series takes off and gets addictive, leaving the viewer wanting to know how a certain fight will be resolved or if a certain character will survive. Well done fight choreography and animation sometimes is often enough to please a viewer, as Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings proves despite its lack of depth.