On the cusp of unifying Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi falls ill and dies, leaving his supporters divided between forces supporting his son, Hideyori Toyotomi, and those following his erstwhile comrade-in-arms, Ieyasu Tokugawa. Caught in the middle is the Sanada family of Ueda, and two brothers embark upon separate paths that will ultimately pit brother against brother in the ultimate showdown for the fate of not just their family, but all of Japan.
So, hey, did you ever play the Samurai Warriors franchise by Koei? Or the second one? Or the fourth one? (Yes, as of this writing - 2015 - there have been four, not counting the Xtreme Legends and Chronicles spinoffs.) If so, then prepare to be...royally disappointed, as you will not be seeing well-animated sequences of Sanada Yukimura and Sanada Nobuyuki plowing through thousands of mooks as their completely ahistorical chick-ninja sidekicks cheer them on and tell them they are the greatest warriors of the Three King- I mean, the Warring States of Japan.
(Note: Hilariously, Nobuyuki's "sidekick" is his wife Ina-hime and was historically about as combat-capable as you'd expect from someone whose primary form of transportation is being carried by servants on a palanquin. This is still somehow less ridiculous that Yukimura's personal ninja, who is garbed completely in pink and has a sentient flying squirrel dropping smoke bombs for her.)
Prepare instead for shockingly cheap animation, character designs so simplified and divergent from the original art that they make Hojo Ujimasa (the episode one final boss) into an embarrassingly low rent Chuck Norris, lots of speed lines and light flashes straight from the 1980s school of "cheap action animation tricks", and, worst of all, lots and lots of boring exposition.
Considering that the anime showrunners have cut out the entirety of the whole Oda Nobunaga storyline from this very condensed retelling of the franchise (which, while understandable given the surfeit of bad Nobunaga shows we've been getting lately, still feels like it would make a better story than the one we actually get), we get instead a really oversimplified retelling of the Sanada brothers story, which largely cuts out the important role of their father (the guy whose idea it was to begin with to hedge the clan's bets on both sides of this war!) and instead just makes this a story about HONOR! and BRAVERY! and MANLY TEARS! and good gravy it gets so old so fast.
It's telling that, despite being only 12 episodes, I felt like, unlike the eerily perpetually youthful characters in this show (Hideyoshi looking to be only in his mid-30s when he dies at the tender age of 62!), this series felt like it took the actual real-life time interval between the fall of the Hojo clan and the final siege of Osaka Castle (25 years) to get on with its story. For something called Samurai Warriors, it is dismaying how little "samurai-ing" or "warrior-ing" we actually get to see: instead, it's a lot of Sanada Yukimura writing poetry while exiled, or his pet ninja whats-her-face talking to her squirrel, or Sanada Nobuyuki talking about his brother while Ina looks vaguely annoyed that she isn't talking about her. And I'm still not sure why Masanori Fukushima has a pompadour, and then the series plays everything so damn serious as if these character designs aren't goofy as hell, or the history they're retelling hasn't already been hacked into bits for the sake of manufactured drama that is less than a quarter as compelling as the real deal, and less interesting than whatever the hell acid trip Sengoku Basara had to offer.
What's really, really disappointing is that, honestly, the Sanada brothers are two of the least interesting characters in the Samurai Warriors franchise. Their story arc is overly conventional, and even if you are a fan of the Sanada clan history, if you're looking for a good, earnest retelling of this story, well, there still isn't one out there yet, given the sad trail of lackluster samurai anime featuring them, from Brave 10 to Samurai Deeper Kyo to Samurai Girls. If we wanted off-the-wall, we could've gone with "Rock Star" Chosokabe Motochika and his electric shamisen (yes, actually a thing in the game). If we wanted badass, we could've gone with a pretty straight retelling of Oda Nobunaga's rise to power and done it right. Hell, Date Masamune would've been cool to follow. There's enough coulda-woulda-shouldas in Samurai Warriors to create a novel's worth of regrets, but instead, all we get are twelve regrettable episodes that are pale shadows of stories that were better told while I was hitting the X button seven gazillion times in a row.
About the only thing that amused me about this entire series was the portrayal of Tokugawa Hidetada (Ieyasu's son) as a chubby, untalented slob whose primary purpose is to serve as a rightfully maligned butt-monkey - at one point in time, albeit far too late in the series, getting slapped by one of the girls!. Unfortunately, in real life, he was actually the second shogun of the Tokugawa, which makes his victory (and the death of the Sanada brother facing him) a wee bit of a foregone conclusion. LET THOSE MANLY TEARS FLOW and all that.
I should have known from the get-go that this was not going to be good. Even in the opening sequence, the animation looks cheap and shoddy for a 2010s release. Incredibly annoyingly, the battles look awful, and are often narrated over in a blatant case of "tell-not-show" that makes this feel less like badass samurai fighting and more soporific history lecture.
PROTIP: If you want to piss me off really really quickly, make history or geography boring.
I still can't justify giving Samurai Warriors my lowest rating, because it does make a few attempts to earnestly retell what is, at its core, a solid tale of filial devotion and bravery, but unfortunately, it's just about wrecked by poor animation, ham-fisted screenwriting, and extremely poor directorial choices. It's pretty far from the worst thing I've seen, but it's about twenty-five years away from even making it to watchable, and frankly, none of us have that sort of time to waste.
A throwback to a time when the best that video game anime could hope for was mediocrity, Samurai Warriors is of questionable use to casual anime fans, and even less use to diehard Koei fans. Even Chuck Norris couldn't save it. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Deaths are oddly bloodless. No nudity, just a few skimpy outfits on the girls. Teens and up are okay, provided they're willing to sit through all the TALKING.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Samurai Warriors © 2015 Koei Tecmo Games / Samurai Warriors Anime Production Committee
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