Samurai Jam: Bakumatsu Rock is the 2014 anime adaptation of the Japanese only PlayStation Portable title Bakumatsu Rock. It has been made available on home video in the UK byAnimatsu Entertainment.
“Right around the middle of the 19th century, the dark overlords of the Late Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan with an iron fist. Because of this, the top idols in Shinsengumi are ordered to sing only Heaven’s Songs to brainwash and subjugate the masses, making writing or singing any songs besides Heaven’s Songs a capital offense. Enter: Sakamoto Ryouma and his Masters of the martial art OF ROCK! They must take charge as they change the old ways of a grumpy old guard while singing for what is just!” – Animatsu Entertainment
Anime based around the Bakumatsu era, in Japanese history, are a dime a dozen and very few bring anything noteworthy or ground-breaking to this fascinating period in history. It’s clear from the outset that Samurai Jam is not intent on bucking this trend, but rather taking it down a new path.
The main focus of the series is music, and by using the Bakumatsu era and its famous historical figures of that time, they have created an interesting storyline revolving around the illegal use of Rock music and the approved music of Heavenly Song. As odd a concept as it sounds, it actually works rather well; with a simple swap, they have taken out the conflict of war and replaced it with music battles. Personally, I find this an acceptable use of the period, as it brings about an interesting twist to the events that took place. The constant barrage of series that insist on replacing these historical figures with busty babes is not something I’m a fan of.
The series itself is geared towards the Josei demographic, meaning it’s aimed at women in their late-teens through early adulthood, and by extension, there is zero fan-service geared towards a male audience. This is a huge breath of fresh air. Fan-service aimed at the female audience is minimal with the majority taking place during the closing animation segment and during the series itself consists of the cast losing their tops during a concert. It’s not excessive or in your face as some series, and it allows you to sit back and just enjoy the show.
Character designs are brilliant; they really embody the Bakumatsu era while managing to maintain a modern rock look, impressive hair and all. CGI is used throughout the series, mainly for concert scenes; firstly for the large crowds which I can understand to an extent but it does look odd and out of place. Second is for the main characters during a performance; close-ups revert to 2D animations, but the rest is CGI and it’s not a good look. The characters appear like lifeless dolls being controller by a puppeteer; think Thunderbirds, but without the magic. Overall the animation quality is to a very high standard, character designs really stand out and the use of vibrant colour is great.
The screen can get quite cluttered with subtitles at times when you have multiple characters talking, song lyrics, and translations to those song lyrics all trying to occupy the bottom of the screen. It would have made more sense to place the song lyrics and translation in another position of the screen such as the top like other series have done. However, they are still easily distinguished from each other, white and yellow subtitles alternate, and so shouldn’t impede your ability to follow the story.
This release comes with Japanese audio only – a trend that is becoming more common as of late. Given the nature of the series, I can only say that the decision to not include an English dub is a wise one. With the number of songs involved, it would be a lot of work, plus I doubt an English voice cast could do it justice. The opening song “Jack” is handled by vistlip and the two closing songs, “Zecchou DAYBREAK” and “What’s this?”, are performed by ULTRA-SOULS which is the on-screen group formed of the characters from Samurai Jam and, of course, their voice actors.
Extras on disc include clean opening and closing animations, as well as trailers from Sentai Filmworks for Nobunaga the Fool, Kamigami no Asobi, The Comic Artist & His Assistants and Uta no Prince-sama.
Samurai Jam: Bakumatsu Rock is not a show that I would be drawn to, based solely on the synopsis, but it certainly fared a lot better than I expected. I have nothing but praise for the visual aspects of the series, character designs are awesome as is the use of vibrant colours. I’m not generally a fan of series that use famous historical periods as a base without giving a factually accurate interpretation but Samurai Jam is certainly an interesting take on it.