Bamboo Blade Season 1 Review Part 1

As its name suggests, the Japanese discipline of kendo shapes and defines Bamboo Blade in much the same way as most sports anime are shaped and defined by their particular sport, to the extent that the series can essentially be thought of as a sports anime. Familiarity with, or even interest in, kendo is hardly necessary for appreciating the series, however, and that may, in fact, be one of the series' greatest strengths: it makes its subject matter so approachable that even the most neophyte viewer is unlikely to be overwhelmed by its technicalities. Though it does also show off the negative side of kendo (it seems to delight in stressing kendo's odious reputation for odiferous equipment, for instance), the discipline could do far worse for free advertisement.

Of course, the presence of a passel of comely, quirky girls certainly does not hurt. How delightfully fun the girls can be once their particular idiosyncrasies start kicking in saves the series after a very shaky start, as through most of the first episode the series shapes up as a bland tale about a kendo teacher's selfish goals and the roster of girls he assembles to achieve them. It gives every indication early that it is going to be one of those shallow, dumb series whose humor is built on ridiculous overreactions - and then we get to the second episode, learn that quiet little Tamaki actually wants to be a champion of justice because she idolizes heroes in combat team anime, and start to realize that maybe, just maybe, this series has some promise after all. By the time Miyako discovers her (somewhat misguided) passion for kendo an episode and a half later, viewers will either be completely hooked or at the point where the series will simply not work for them. The former reaction is more likely, however, and additional treats come later on as Sayako formally enters the picture and the stalker character shows up, with Azuma's introduction and indoctrination rounding out the first half.

The painless and seamless way the writing examines the philosophies underlying kendo is another strength. Toraji and the kendo sensei of another school have a direct conversation at one point about how one's strict approach contrasts with the other's looser, more fun-focused approach, how the former developed, and the advantages of each, but even then the scene feels more like two men coming to an understanding about different approaches rather than some kind of info dump. Other scenes devote a lot of time to exploring what motivates individuals both to get into kendo in the first place, how they get enthusiastic about it, and what aspect of the practice gets them excited. For some, kendo is a means to exercise violence in an acceptable manner, while for others the attraction is the fulfillment of mastering a precision discipline or appreciating true talent in action; Kirino makes the comment at one point, without any masochistic overtones, that being struck by an impressive blow can actually be invigorating, which makes one great scene where members of an opposing team almost literally line up specifically to be struck by Tamaki only slightly less mind-blowing.

But really, the charm of the series comes from the girls themselves. Tomaki is the quiet and socially maladjusted one who is also an otaku, so seeing her gradually come out of her shell and start interacting with people is a treat; the way she blushes when complimented or appreciated also makes her irresistibly adorable. (Some would argue that she is a moe character, although this is hardly a girl who needs to be protected.) Kirino is the cheerfully catty one, which the producers make sure that viewers understand by giving a perpetual catlike curve to her mouth. Two-faced pretty girl Miyako may be the biggest delight, as both of her basic personas seem honest despite how completely they contrast. Sayako is the unstable drama queen, while Azuma offers a more serious-minded counterpoint as a girl whose circumstances forced her to abandon kendo but whose passion still lingers despite her attempts to ignore it. Toraji, despite coming across like a loser a lot of the time, occasionally shows some merit, Danjuro Dan Eiga provides comic support, and Reimi, the stalker girl, is just plain creepy. The only major supporting character who fails to make an impression is Yuji, a colorless nice guy who as often as not seems like an afterthought.

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