Kojiro Ishida is the slacker kendo instructor at Muroe High Private School, living paycheck to paycheck and often accepting handouts from his students. The club he runs has dwindled down to one member, and he despairs that the kendo club will ever be competitive. Then his friend and former sempai Kenzaburo Ishibashi makes a bet with him- if Kojiro's all-female team can defeat his team in a practice tournament, he will treat Kojiro to free top-shelf sushi for an entire year at his father's restaurant.
Now Kojiro is fired up, and begins recruiting his team of five girls: Kirino, captain of the team, a girl with boundless energy and optimism; Saya, a random and spontaneous girl who is also Kirino's best friend; Miya-miya, a sweet bishoujo with a secret sadistic personality; Satorin, a clumsy and naive freshman, and finally Tama-chan, the daughter of a well-known kendo instructor who has never lost a match, even against opponents twice her size and age. Even though Kojiro's motives aren't pure, he is a good coach when motivated, and the Muroe High kendo club quickly becomes a competitive team. And by the end of the school year, the members and coach of the kendo club may even learn as much about life than they do about kendo.
I wonder when manga-ka will start running out of obscure sports, and start writing about some truly weird things like Korfball, cheese rolling, Pooh-Stick racing, chessboxing, and elephant polo. Personally, I can't wait for the manga about competitive Calvinball. Today, however, I write about Bamboo Blade, a recent television series based on an ongoing manga about kendo, a sport I only know about in bits and pieces that I've gathered from watching other anime. That's the sport where people whack each other with wicker sticks, right?
The thing about series like Bamboo Blade that are about an obscure sport is the series has to depend on something more than just its knowledge of the sport and creating exciting matches. There has to be something else to hook the viewer in. Akagi used an intriguing visual flair than drew inspiration from noir and gangster flicks, and Hikaru no Go used interesting characters and various stunts like playing two games of Go at once with the hero's eyes closed. Bamboo Blade depends on something that's harder to pull off, though: character based comedy. For being a sport anime with a lot of the drama focused on high school tournaments, a surprising amount of time is spent outside of the kendo ring. That is part of what makes it special. Bamboo Blade understands that to create suspense in the tournament, you have to make your audience care about the characters before they enter the tournament ring. And it excels at doing that. Here's how:
The first character we get to know is the physics teacher and coach of the Muroe High Private School kendo club, Kojiro. Like many other twentysomethings, he is stuck in a job that pays too little, but doesn't have the motivation to look for something better. After two renegade juniors bullied and scared away most of the club last year, he is left with just one student to coach, and as the anime opens he doesn't even doing that. Maybe that's why his friend and sempai Ishibashi invited him to dinner at a sushi-go-round, where he made a bet with him. If Kojiro's female kendo team can beat Ishibashi's in a practice tournament, Ishibashi will treat Kojiro to a full year of free sushi at his father's elite sushi restaurant.
Kojiro is ecstatic at the idea of a year of top-shelf sushi, and his enthusiasm carries over to the club where he begins training his sole student, the club captain Kirino, and starts scouting for new members. Kirino is also happy to see her coach's interest renewed in her club, though she is puzzled on where this sudden motivation comes from. The club has also gotten two new freshmen, but Coach Kojiro seems oddly uninterested in teaching the new boys. Maybe it's because he has become so focused on recruiting more girls to the club.
They find their first prospective recruit in Tama-chan, a short, quiet freshman who is the only child of a famous kendo instructor. Tama-chan is initially reluctant to join, since she has practiced kendo all of her life and views it more as a chore than a hobby. But after defeating one of the renegade, bullying juniors in a match, she vows to stay in the club and defend it from all injustice, like her childhood tokusatsu heroes, the Blade Bravers. The stoic look on her face as she makes this oath to Coach Kojiro would make a stone chuckle.
These two form the foundation for the rest of the team as Muroe High Private School gains more members one-by-one. Miya-Miya initially only joined because her boyfriend Eiga-kun had insisted on being in the club, but soon stays once she discovers it is a lot of fun to hit people. Saya joined the club after abandoning it last year to become a writer, then a guitarist, then a...oh, she changes her mind so quickly it's hard to keep up. Hopefully she'll stick to kendo this time, and her best friend Kirino will make sure of it. Satorin had enjoyed kendo throughout all three years of middle school, but didn't join when she got to high school to focus on her poor grades. But after some encouragement from her homeroom teacher (and some well-placed threats from Miya-Miya), she becomes the fifth and final member of the team.
One of the things that have always annoyed me about other sports anime is that the heroes of the series rarely lose, usually because they are inexplicably gifted. Victory doesn't feel very special if it happens all the time. But in Bamboo Blade, victory is something our intrepid heroes earn through practice and taking a few knocks over the head. They're talented, but talented is not the same as being good, and Bamboo Blade knows that. Even Tama-chan takes a few knocks before getting better. This made me like the characters even more, and made some of the matches very intense viewing.
By the time the anime winds down in the final five episodes, things get serious and story lines are resolved, some of them too hastily, and one or two of them suddenly and incoherently. This was an obvious case of the studio running out of material from the ongoing manga and needing to resolve storylines. And while I didn't care for the ending, it would do this show an injustice if I held that against it too strongly. The ride to that ending was too much fun.
A great show even for those who don't care for sports anime. Bravo. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Bamboo Blade breaks from the mold here and keeps it clean. And while I personally don't mind dirty jokes, this series' clean humor is another reason I enjoyed it so much.
Version(s) Viewed: Prelicense fansub
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Bamboo Blade © 2007 AIC / A.S.T.A. / AT-X / TV Tokyo
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