Samurai Bride follows the format established by its first season (titled Samurai Girls because apparently they don’t like “season two” in Japan), relying on its animation’s stylistic diversity to excuse its otherwise entirely conventional blend of harem tropes, fan-service and oversized showdowns. Interestingly, I’d argue the two approaches work at cross-purposes; viewers looking for a light, unchallenging anime may be thrown off by the thick lines and sombre colour palette of the animation, while anyone looking for content to suit the aesthetic will come away disappointed. Then again, as a continuation of Samurai Girls, anyone picking up this season likely knows what they’re in for.
That aesthetic is probably the most interesting thing about Samurai Bride, so let’s start there. Directed by the mysteriously-named KOBUN, the series looks like traditional Japanese paintings, with thick lines and black ink dominating (often literally; about half the scene transitions are accompanied by a splatter of ink obscuring the screen). The series’ frothy fan-service-heavy counterparts tend to rely on bright, primary colours, but Samurai Bride has a darker, redder palette, dominated by earthy tones of red and umber. If I’m being honest, I prefer the – perhaps less interesting – bright palette of its competitors, but it might just be the disconnect between subject matter and style I’m thrown by.
You see, all these attempts at an old-fashioned painterly style seems antithetical to a show that features a dojo retrofitted into a “maid café” and a cast of buxom female samurai (with the exception of a character designed to suit those with a “Lolita complex” – the show’s words, not mine!) who find themselves frequently unclothed. Yes, this is another anime that twists its story into contortions to ensure there’s the appropriate quota of uncovered breasts and panty close-ups each episode (mostly by the old mainstay of ‘let’s have the characters deliver exposition while bathing.’).
Credit – I guess – where it’s due, though, the show tends to keep its nudity and violence separate to avoid the uncomfortable conflation of titillation and bloodshed that marred IkkiTousen: Xtreme Xecutor. Episode two, for example, stages a brief fight between Mataemon Araki – a so-called “Dark Samurai” who’s topless aside from an unbuttoned shirt – and Sasuke, a monkey-girl who’s only ‘clothing’ is a generous mane of hair and a twisting tail. Despite the implausibly revealing outfits, the fight ensues without a nipple to be seen.
It would be disingenuous to characterise the show as simply a vehicle for drawing pretty ladies with their clothes off, though (well, outside of the shorts included as Extras on the DVD release, which seem like they’d be better suited to a porn website with titles like “Project Big Boobs”). Rather than constructing the storylines as an elaborate join-the-dots between excuses for fan service, there’s a surprisingly dense storyline to follow (though there’s also tentacle monsters, a subplot revolving around a mysterious panty thief and an entire episode spent at a “maid café contest” at the beach so, you know, grain of salt and all that).
In fact, the story is perhaps too dense. There’s the overstuffed cast, a legacy of its first season, along with a confusing mythology (something about “Master Samurai” and ki and the power of a dude’s kiss – it’s all very Sekerei). This complexity, combined with high velocity storytelling, often obscures narrative coherency, though it settles down a bit in the second half of the twelve episode season.
The show juggles a handful of loose story threads and a dozen or so characters on its way to a pair of preordained climaxes. The first is a long-delayed showdown between Master Samurai Jubei and Dark Samurai Musashi; the second the decision of the “Samurai Bride” per the series title, a storyline that mostly serves to give the sole male character of the cast – Muneakira – something to do. There’s a weird undercurrent of Japanese nationalism coursing throughout, with characters crying out that they need to protect the ki of “Great Japan” alongside some World War II historical revisionism. Given the series opened with our Samurai heroines slicing B-52s to pieces, perhaps this shouldn’t come as surprise – and it’s hardly egregious, anyway.
Samurai Bride does what it needs to – it’s leagues away from Art, but it’s entertaining enough as a frivolous show to half-watch (though the English dub could be better). While I found the art style a tad murky, it’s interesting enough to set it apart from its competition, even if the same innovation can’t be found in its content.