Things seemed to be going so well for Muneakira Yagyu. On top of dealing with Jubei, the immortal samurai warrior who fell out of the sky and into his arms and lips, he used his ability to awaken the latent power of a female samurai with a kiss to successfully juggle a handful of very powerful, very female master samurai, AND led them all to victory against the minion of a great evil. So was it too much to ask for a little break in the routine of saving Japan? Apparently it was, as another great evil has appeared in the land, this one even stronger than the last. However, that's the least of Muneakira's problems, because with all the women he's kissed in order to awaken their latent samurai powers, the inevitable has finally happened. Someone's taking the long walk down the aisle with a samurai girl! It's going to be a really old fashioned wedding and any resistance by the groom will be totally feudal!
Oh, Samurai Bride. I have been searching for a show that could replace Ikki Tousen in terms of girls smashing into other girls though not in terms of sleaziness. Ikki Tousen fights for a crown in the latter category that no animated show would want to fight for. Samurai Bride however, builds on the previous season and naturally concludes that the best way of up the wow factor is to increase the on screen nudity, people flying Matrix style through the air and give us maids AND a beach episode. Both episodes have fighting in it, because why not?
After the events of the first season, the girls of the Dojo are recovering from the epic fight with Gisen Yagyu and the resurrection of Shiro Amakusa. Muneakira is returning to the school after retraining. Of course, Princess Sen's brother Tokugawa took credit for defeating Amakusa and so the school has near next to no funds and will have to close. Luckily, Sanada Yukimura has a plan to turn the dojo into a maid cafe and turn the place around. As a warrior with a pleasant disposition, Muneakira is horrified about the maid cafe but seeing the predicament they're in, caves and goes along with it. Soon, though, a new group of opponents in the form of resurrected samurai soon decimate the team, cripple Muneakira and give them a month to get ready for the rematch. Now, all this happens in the first two episodes so we're looking at a action show with some fan service, right? No, director KOBUN and writer Satoru Nishizono (also in charge of series composition) decide to up their game. This is a show that otaku would gobble up like tic tacs so to keep their interest, the show either dresses the girls in next to nothing or finds new and interesting ways for them to be completely nude. Think we've seen too many baths being taken by the girls? Tough, here's another episode with them taking a bath. That last fight was tough but we need to have the girls' clothing being ripped to pieces. Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking the show's creators for doing so, they're doing whatever it takes to sell the show. I'm just amazed that they took the time to write actual reasons for them to be nude all the time.
The animation is really very well put together and where it works is when the show just says "screw it, have them fly in the air or close to flying" and we get massive electrical surges, tornado gusts of wind and the ground being torn to pieces as one of the girls in their Master Samurai mode slams into the ground. The animators care as much about the girls calling out their attack names and being able to act like superhuman badasses as they do about animating them naked. When the show doesn't work for me is the backgrounds and background characters animations. They just sit there, not doing much and unless the camera is eye level with the cast, we never see any fine detail. If I saw one background shot of Mt. Fuji, I saw a dozen of them. I know the show is set in the Tokyo area but come on, other shows are too and don't feel the need to remind us every ten minutes. That being said, every "set" that we see is lovingly crafted to assist the cast in getting the story to us. Whether it's the dojo and its surrounding area with near impossible sheer steps up to it or the secret base that Tokugawa has to help repair a vital piece of spiritual defences where we get 1980's style wall sized screens and banks of girls typing into keyboards. Hey, I can tolerate it in GITS, why not here? One thing to note, the first season had a very stylised look, similar to a watercolour background and hard thick lines on all characters. Here, that has been toned down completely. Sorry to see it go, but it doesn't hinder the show in any way.
The show caught me off guard because for all its joking and visual gags, its ridiculous manners for the girls become Master Samurai (it involves kissing Muneakira) or it's amazing future retro setting, it's quiet moments where the girls reveal hidden worries or desires are very disarming. I know it's a show where the cast lose their clothes at the drop of a hand but as the date of the showdown with the Dark Samurai gets closer, they find themselves training harder and harder and still coming up short and are laughable unprepared whenever they cross paths with their antagonists. The way that Kangetsu is constantly worrying about being kicked out of the school and her attempts to prove her worth are funny and endearing. When the background cast of Hanzo and Matabei are practicing kissing to get ready for a chance to become Master Samurai, it's not really fan service-y, more sweet than anything else. Even though Muneakira is supposed to be the leader of the girls, he's really not and the show knows it. He's a skilled fighter and swordsman and the curse that he gets in the first episode stops him from helping the girls until the arrival of Keiji Maeda, a master swordswoman, when he learns to work around the curse. The show never tries to have him fall on someone's breasts or accidently walk into the bath, instead they just run with him having to see them naked. Though, I kind of draw a line when he's helping Jubei recover from the loss of her Ki energy by pouring his back into her. This is accomplished by he pressing his hands down on her breasts while she cries out in near orgiastic agony. Yeah, never let a golden opportunity pass you by, anime makers. Even when Keiji turns up and hits on the girls while savaging Muneakira and trains them to use a new, hidden Ki talent for amping up their skills, it's tinged with the knowledge that she has to leave them better or they will be killed in their next fight. Speaking of Keiji, for all her lecherousness, she proves herself a great ally and even better fighter, stopping the Dark Samurai to a standstill, even without superpowers of her own. The dark samurai themselves are quite tragic. They were master sword fighters and brawlers with their own code of honour and are being used to further the ambitions of an unseen foe who uses them like puppets against the Tokugawa government and the dojo. Of all of them, Musashi is the most tragic. The one with the most retained personality from her previous life, she embraces her life and gleefully awaits the fight between her and Jubei (even when she realises that Jubei has been crippled by the power used up in the last season). As the show moves on, she and Jubei have a friendly attitude toward each other and it rubs off on Icichan as she becomes friends with Jubei. You have to understand, when Jubei isn't in her Master Samurai mode and a total badass, she's a ditzy, well meaning girl. So Musashi comes looking for a fight to the death and meets another teenage girl who likes baths, walking, buying trinkets and hanging out with her friends. As the show reaches its end, Musashi becomes a true leader and stays true to her course, even when her resurrectors try to bend her to their ends.
The English dub prepared by Steven Foster (yeah, that Steven Foster) and Sentai Filmworks takes a few episodes to get used to but once you do, you find out its strengths and weaknesses. It is excellent in the comedy moments and the down time moments and can't save its own life during the fight scenes. The cast simply doesn't have the energy nor the reach to convince me they're in a life or death struggle against the forces of evil. The Japanese track is better but can get a bit stale unless there's a gag or explosive argument to break it up. All in all, the cast do their best even with some of the more risque moments.
Visually, the blu ray release by Manga UK is great with the format pushing the animation a bit higher and giving us a better reason to go for the hi-def upgrade. Included are the Japanese promos and trailers, an "also by Sentai" trailer (it's the trailer for Samurai Girls!) and a series of .5 episodes that take place in between the regular episodes. They are short, silly and frequently find the girls in a distressed clothing state.
Not as funny nor action packed as the similar Sengoku Basara, Samurai Bride works better as it builds the team back up for the show's finale. Even with the nudity, frequent kissing of our only male lead and sometimes illogical lines and gags, the show works because it believes in itself and hopes you do too. It had me hooked when I realised that all of the girls are named after famous Japanese swordsmen and kept me watching with its get up and go energy. If you've seen the first season, this is more of the same. If you haven't, it serves as an artificial reintroduction of the cast. Not for everyone, but a nice show to pass the time.