Bakumatsu Rock Review

This is review number four hundred and two. This anime is part of the Summer 2014 lineup, and it’s called Samurai Jam – Bakumatsu Rock. It’s a twelve episode anime about handsome dudes playing music, ripping off their shirts and rocking out loud, because why the hell not? It’s a pretty stupid anime, but we’ll explore that below. Let’s read on.

Story

The anime is set in the Bakumatsu Era, where the government has turned the Shinsengumi group into pop idols. Using their music to release the people from the government’s oppressive rule, Sakamoto Ryoma, Shinsaku Takasugi, and Katsura Kogoro would yield their instruments and rock out loud. Their rock music will free the people, and it’ll destroy the Tokugawa Shogunate’s evil rule. This anime is going to be f*cking nuts!

Taking the Pants Off

Oh gawd, this anime. It’s such a stupid show, but I can’t really bring myself to fully hate it. It’s not like other detestable shows where I know where I really stand. Some shows are just awful that you can rant tirelessly in your review of it. I like doing that, and that’ll be a fun day for me.  However, there are also some anime that are tolerable despite being absolutely awful. Bakumatsu Rock is one of those shows. What do you call that exactly? A guilty pleasure? Except I don’t really like this anime, I just kinda get why it exists. There are shows that has zero appealing quality to it, and it’s hard to watch those train wrecks. For Bakumatsu Rock, there were things I liked despite the overwhelming negative elements crushing my viewing experience. I guess, in a sense, I don’t really hate this anime because its heart is in the right place. It’s not doing anything grand or epic, and it knows what it is. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and the show is just upfront with its main goal: simple stupid fun. It’s just a bunch of historical people liking rock, and they’re thrown in an incomprehensible plot that kinda ruins the anime. Despite that though, the charm of its stupidity kinda makes it endearing. This will be a very negative review, but it won’t be a rant. For all the horrible things this anime subjected me to, I kinda appreciate it for what it is. I hate this feeling. I want the lines drawn in the sand clearly, so I hate having this mixed feelings as I try to review a show. The last anime that did this to me is UtaPri. I absolutely hate that anime, but I also appreciate its existence. It ran for three seasons, so people like it too (even though they shouldn’t, good gawd people, can we just….ok)

Speaking of UtaPri, this anime shares the same origin as that show. This anime first began as a video game, and it’s a rhythm game with very little story. I tried to search reviews of the game, but all they ever talked about is the gameplay. The story seems to be present in a comic style with texts just flashing, kinda like a visual novel. The emphasis, and the beauty of the game, lies in the actual gameplay though. If you search a gameplay of it, you’ll actually realize why Bakumatsu Rock is a fun game. The whacky music video, the stunning voices and the catchy song makes the gaming experience pretty enjoyable. I think to sum up the game, then it’s like Gitarooman’s plot presentation with Hatsune Miku Project Diva’s gameplay mechanics. These games are also a PSP game, so Bakumatsu Rock kinda blends the two games while also taking advantage of the hardware’s appeal. The game has a stellar cast of voice actors, and it’s headed by the vocalist of Granrodeo. I’m sure you’ve heard of one of their anime OPs. I don’t really like their songs, but Kishou Taniyama has an amazing voice. He is accompanied by Oldcodex’s vocalist, Tatsuhisa Suzuki, and Showtaro Morikubo, known for voicing Yosuke in Persona 4. This is a f*cking stacked lineup, and everyone has an amazing track record. They are pretty good rockers too, so it fits that they play characters in a game full of rock songs. I’m mostly surprised at how easy it is to search their work. Some people love their voice so much that they make compilations of the singer’s work. I don’t really follow VA works myself, and I don’t really include it my review that much, but I certainly have a good respect for the voices behind the shows I’m watching now. This stacked lineup of great voices is later completed by two more people. Kensha Ono, a well-known singer in his own right, and Toshiyuki Morikawa, the voice of Sephiroth in the later FF games. He even brings some of his antagonistic aura in his character for the game.

I can’t find an actual gameplay of the game though focusing on the story, but its lack of footage kinda gives you an idea that the game doesn’t really need it. Bakumatsu Rock is all about the gameplay, and this handicaps the anime from the get go. How exactly can you turn a video game, which relies little on its story, into a medium known for nothing but storytelling? Anime is a visual storytelling medium, and plot is like the cream filling that you want as you bite towards its center. Bakumatsu Rock, the anime, is doomed from the very start.

As I said though, this anime is pretty bad but it’s also very endearing. It has a simple charm that also comes off as retarded. It’s nothing grand, but it is enjoyable in its own stupid way. The anime draws you in by the strong visual design of the characters, and you get engaged once you hear the characters singing. These two aspects just have a wonderful vibe to them, and it really makes the show tolerable. There is very little of these things though, but it’s endearing enough to soften the anime’s awfulness. These are also the only parts of the video game that actually transitioned well into the anime, so they kinda came from the original source itself. It’s not something the anime truly owns, in terms of its identity. The music, the voices, the colorful costumes and the little things that make the anime look good is actually taken from the game. It doesn’t mean the anime lacks its own positive thing though.

I like one aspect of the show, and it nicely sums up the stupidity and simple-ness that I absolutely adore from it. In every episode, the characters would perform on the stage. The logic behind them going on stage is pretty stupid though, like crashing another group’s concert, so it’s not really worth over thinking about. Anyways, I just love the flashiness of the entire thing. The group goes on stage, and the storytelling shifts to a stage play like scene. Characters are all under the stage’s bright lights, there is a crowd below watching them, and the entire scene goes down like a stage performance. The characters would often confront each other with their songs, or they’ll be doing something dramatic. One of them died in the stage, and it looks really stupid. It comes off as a performance art though as if the entire thing looks scripted for the audience to enjoy. I wish they did more with the stage scenes though, but the animation is really crude so nothing is really presented properly. The stage scenes just have a fun absurdity to them, while also simply being about stage performers delivering a story on stage. Sometimes, the audience is even just out of the entire thing. They barely react to anything, and it kinda just puts the spotlight on the characters above them. It’s fun in a way, and I really admire it. It’s like a call to the anime’s origin where the gameplay outshines everything else. Well, the anime’s gameplay is the stage and everything else is like the crowd below it.

Unfortunately, that’s all the good things about this anime. Everything else is just awful stuff, and it starts with the premise. The show is about real historical figures being turned into rockers, and it’s set in the Bakumatsu era. The foreign invasion has started, and rock is leading the charge. To gain control of the citizens of Japan, the government has setup various idol groups to sing “Heaven’s Song”, the only government approved song allowed to be sung in public. The most popular Heaven’s Song singers are the f*cking Shinsengumi. They gave up their sword for some microphones, and they’re now singing the government’s oppressive music. Enter our main characters, which have the mark of the “Peace Soul”. These marks make them important, and I think their instruments manifest when they transform using the Peace Soul. Either way, this power granted to them by a meteor will help them liberate Japan. How? With Rock! As they perform their music, they eventually clash with the Shinsengumi. It’s the government’s lapdog against the anti-establishment, and the two groups soon learn they aren’t really that different.

The historical inaccuracy of the anime annoys me, but it’s mainly because I teach history to absent minded students. It’s a boring subject, but the details make it interesting. To see historical figures wielding guitars, ripping their shirts, eating pizza and just completely sh*tting on the time period really gives me a headache. By its premise though, you can see the anime is not meant to be taken seriously. It’s really just stupid things, and you just suspend disbelief for everything you see in the show. That’s a lot to ask from the audience though, and you don’t really get that much pay off in return. Watching the entire anime is honestly not worth it. I even spaced out during the second half, because this show is just gawd awful. The main reason for that is because the story itself is an original screenplay. Sure, the anime’s premise might be a video game adaptation but the story isn’t. The show had more characters, useless fillers, and a different narrative than the game. I’m not sure if it’s the same for the manga based off the game though, but the show just displayed some awful O. Screenplay traits like a directionless storytelling and a retarded ending. Yeah, the show is stupid fun, but the ending is just garbage.

The anime did have a story structure though, and the first half followed it nicely. The show isn’t really plot heavy, but it had a direction going forward. It focuses on the three main characters meeting the Shinsengumi idol group, and every episode features the anti-establishment rock group clashing with the idol group. They soon find common ground though, and they mostly realize the idol group does have good intentions. Their manager even realizes the talents of the three main characters, and he urges them to join the idol group. While the Shinsengumi group isn’t really all that bad, the songs are meant to brainwash the masses. The shogunate and its representative, Naosuke Ii, do want to keep ruling Japan using the songs. Naosuke have some kind of black magic or something, and this serves as a catalyst for the rockers and the idol group to come together and defeat a greater villain. The plot structure is easy enough to follow, but the show is still pretty insufferable. There is little logic and cohesion to the storytelling, so the “wanted by the government” rockers would often still find a way to perform on stage despite being criminals. An episode would end with the government cracking down on rockers, but the main characters are never in danger. There are no stakes, and they never really hide to save their lives. Their down time often just involves eating pizza in the place where they work. Sometimes, the Shinsengumi would even visit the place to talk to them, and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. They see each other as enemy, and the government is painted as oppressive, but nothing is really happening. No bitter clash of ideals, no government raids to prompt motivation to rock, and no real conflict to the story. There are other rockers being arrested sometimes, but the main characters would even walk in public as if they aren’t in danger.

I do get the inspiration for the retarded premise though, because rock is anti-everything. I especially remember the Sex Pistols being marked as public enemy number one for their songs. It was so anti-establishment that the older generations are easily riled up. They even crashed Queen Elizabeth’s boat parade or something, by having a boat party of their own with loud music and everything lasting till night. That sh*t is in history books now, and I once had to teach it to students. This world is insane sometimes. Rock culture’s roots has always been about battling for something you believe in, with the speakers amped to the max and as much chaos as you can gather. They tried to do it in this anime, and it just doesn’t work. There is no real repercussion with the group’s rocking, and it doesn’t really feel genuine. Yeah, they want to play rock music but they don’t really embody it. It’s more of a hollow gimmick than anything else, and it’s really hard to watch something soulless like that. Despite the show using rock as only a gimmick though, the main characters can’t shut up about it though. They’re always going “rock this” or “rock that” or “I want to play rock because that’s my music” and stupid sh*t like that. During the first half, I didn’t really complain that much. The story structure is decent, the stupidity is endearing and the stage performances are OK, but the main characters ruin the balance. They don’t really have a personality, and their default thing is “rock”. Even the Shinsengumi characters have a little backstory that motivates them, but the main characters are just incredibly dull. The show didn’t even explore why they like rock, how it affected their lives or why they want to change the world with it. It’s really just their thing, and it’s a missed opportunity to make us root for these characters. It makes it hard to really follow a show when the characters aren’t that interesting to begin with.

The rest of the show eventually catches up to the main characters in terms of being dull and awful. In the second half, the plot structure is gone. We reached kinda a climax towards episode five, so the rest of the show is just meant for the real showdown between the combined group and the government. We still have seven more episodes to go though, so a lot of stupid things must still happen. There’s an episode about an assassin idol group trying to kill them, one about the rockers actually being granted approval by the government only to never be mentioned in later episodes, and there’s a shoe horned one about their “moja moja” master just suddenly dying. Did their beloved master’s death affect the story in any way? Nope. It just happened, and more stupid things happened. This anime is just dumb, and I tuned out for most of the second half. I mercifully reached the ending, and more of the O. Screenplay trait appears. We got a forced villain, and we got a really bad ending. The show already had an established villain, but a new one appeared and it led to one of the most stupid endings I’ve seen in anime. Seriously, I was laughing at how beyond retarded it is. Let’s just say it involves the characters turning into angels while giant snakes attack them. Oh boy, that was something else.

This anime is so offensively forgettable, but it’s a product of its time. UtaPri gained momentum at this time, and that PSP game led other studios to adapt more like it. Free was also roaming around this time, so this show features half naked characters too. 2014 was a dark year, and I’m glad I am only seeing the horrors now. Unsurprisingly, this anime is presented by Studio DEEN. This is really their M.O. They like featuring awful shows full of hot guys. If you see a show with little plot and just spammed with hot guys, then it’s probably a Studio DEEN show. Stupid anime is kinda their bread and butter. I still remember how bad Meganebu is, and it just really takes a toll on you. The studio does still give decent hits from time to time, but majority of their work is just awful shows with hot guys. Their works have an established audience though, so you can expect more of this from them. Yeah, this is just Studio DEEN quality, so f*ck me. This anime is directed by Itsuko Kawasaki, and he doesn’t direct a lot of shows. After Bakumatsu Rock, he just directed one show back in 2016. He wasn’t hired to do stuff for two years, so that’s something. He storyboarded before being a director, and I guess that makes sense. The episodes have a nice storyboard to them, but the overall presentation is just bad. He also directed the Shining Hearts anime, and I don’t know if the guy is just unlucky or the industry just doesn’t believe in him. Nothing in his work stands out though, so I feel for the guy.

Sight and Sound

tbggcii

I can’t find the real character designer of the game, but it’s not unusual to see them uncredited for video games. In a sense, the developer owns the characters now so they don’t need to credit the people they hired. The manga, with two volumes, is drawn by Shinshu Ueda, and the anime credits Akiharu Iishi as the character designer. They clearly took the template of the video game design, so I would just like to say that I did like the video game design. It’s one of the more tolerable parts of the anime. The tacky bright outfits they have just compliment their handsome design. The game is marketed to a female demographic, and the character design does make that point clear. I love their bright kimono, and it pairs nicely with their outrageous hair design. It just screams over the top, and it does look great in the aesthetic of the game. For the anime, they look good on stage but clearly funny when mixed with the era appropriate characters, a.k.a background characters. They just stand out in a bad way when they aren’t performing their songs. The design is still pretty great though, because the characters even look good when they’re shirtless. With their fixed handsome expression and well-toned body, yeah, I can guess a lot of the target demographic liked the game. Some may have even trickled in to see the anime too.

The soundtrack is also pretty great. They are all nicely composed, and they’re insanely catchy. I hate this style of pop/rock they perform, but the amazing voices just draw me in. It’s captivating, because you know the singers are skilled. Even before I looked up who they are, I already liked their voices. The anime recycles a lot of the songs though, and they don’t introduce the songs properly. The characters just randomly sing it. The songs lost their appeal when the anime just keeps using it over and over. It would’ve been cool to see the show actually write some new songs just to set it apart from the game. Instead, they just lazily recycled them, and it feels really cheap. I do think they did make new songs, like that random “Over Mirage” song, but nothing from the main characters themselves. It would’ve been cool to see each and every one get their own MV, with their own unique song, just letting loose on the stage. The anime also lazily featured clashes. When two groups are on-stage, they never really battle. One stops, while the other sings. Sometimes, the other group just watches and it looks really stupid. It would’ve been awesome to actually see the two group battle, and their music would mash up. I kept thinking that whenever the stage scenes happen. This show had some great potential, but the overall presentation is just lazy so nothing can really be done.

The laziness also spreads in the animation. During the stage scenes, the animation does look decent. The way the main characters hold their instrument is pretty great, with some intense detail to them, and their transformation scene is hilariously cool. This is really the only part of the anime that looked polished though. Sometimes, the show would use stiff CG for the characters and it looks awful. The CG even had a loop motion, so it just looks cheap and badly put together. The crowd animation is also horrible, since we often just see floating glow sticks to represent them. When we do focus on the crowd, they are just stuck in a pose while the anime quickly transitions back to the stage. The atmosphere of a concert is still presented in the stage scenes, but the crowd is never really part of the moment. We never see reaction shots from them, no focus on them enjoying rock and I still remember no one giving a f*ck when someone died on the stage. Like, really? No one in the crowd cared? The animation is badly low budget too. The show would often just feature characters in stiff poses, certain scenes only have their mouth moving, and their eyes never blink. The anime even recycle some animation, and the transformation scene is done over and over. Certain side view, wide shots and close ups are recycled as well though, and it’s awful to see it happen constantly. I don’t expect much from the anime though, but it stings when the director would recycle things. What is this? 1990s Sailormoon? C’mon.

The anime’s OP is “Jack” by vistlip. It’s a really loud song, and it’s pretty standard OP song. The lyrics are weird though, because it’s about an optimistic monologue about grasping change, and it’s kinda not the rock ideal the main characters are spouting. The song grows on you though, but the rest of the soundtrack in the anime really topples it. The OP sequence is pretty good though. It features all the characters, a nice animation and some conflict that is missing from the actual show. I love how it opened too. The characters are running on stage, and then they jumped and exploded to reveal the title. Yeah, that’s stupid and awesome. It’s really the anime summed up in one scene.

The anime’s ED is Zecchou DAYBREAK” by ULTRA-SOULS [Ryouma Sakamoto (Kishou Taniyama), Shinsaku Takasugi (Tatsuhisa Suzuki), Kogorou Katsura (Showtaro Morikubo), Toshizou Hijikata (Toshiyuki Morikawa), Souji Okita (Kensho Ono)]. It’s the entire cast singing in their awesome voices. Everyone had a line in the song too, so I like that touch. The ED sequence is also full on fan service as it features all the characters shirtless. They were in some nice poses, and their handsome face is just all up in your screen. It’s brought together by the entire gang singing “rock you” right in to your ears, and hell yeah, rock you too, you awful anime. The lyrics are generic and uninteresting, because it doesn’t matter. Just enjoy the fan service of it all, and you should check it out on youtube. You owe yourself that.

Overall Score

3/10  “The show is stupid fun, but it’s not really worth watching. Go play the game instead.”

I still admire and understand this anime, but it’s not really something I’d recommend to people. The animation, music, and story are lazy. The directionless storytelling is offensively stupid, and the characters are just dull. There’s little to like about the show and it over stays its welcome. The show had some absurdly stupid moments that looked fun to me, but it’s dispersed over a lot of boring moments. The game looks fun, but this anime is just dull. I do not recommend it.

6 thoughts on “Bakumatsu Rock Review

  1. Wow, That’s a lot of shirtlessness. I can’t help but think, this anime was made for creeping reasons.
    Too bad they made all those guys, look half starved. I’m kidding about the least thing, of course. I’m not that creepy. But I do have to say, the characters do look very boney. 🙂

Thoughts~

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