First off, please know that I have given the first series of this show a re-watch prior to this review, and I have tried to sit through as much of the second season as possible, even with the circumstances surrounding the writing of this review. On this basis, please forgive my blunt initial opinion of Sengoku Basara...
Anyhow, for those of you joining Sengoku Basara without seeing the first season, I would advise that you watch that first, as season two is a direct continuation from the events concluding that first series. Chances are that if you don’t revisit the first clutch of episodes, you won’t have a clue what the hell is going on for the second season. Chances are, if you enjoyed the first season, you should keep going with the second as it is essentially more of the same, but with more manly grunting and Moses-style sea parting (I’ll get onto that in a minute).
The second series continues from the first and focuses on the emergence of Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the next warlord to attempt to unify feudal Japan, which he does by brutally thrashing the other warlords one by one. There isn’t a lot more to be said without spoiling things, and considering that the series is very loosely based on historical events the outcome can almost be predicted. The series focuses on the treachery and behind the scenes dealings between the warring states as their rulers ally, break allegiances and be thoroughly unpleasant to each other both on and off the battlefield.
This brings me to my first critical point. I, as a human being, am absolutely bloody terrible at remembering names. If I care about my relationship with you, I will make a point of remembering your name pretty quick (except for that one time when I was a bit nervous asking a colleague I had known for six months their name, and just avoided using names at all. It sort of worked, but I digress). I have sat through almost fifteen hours of Sengoku Basara over the last eight days. If you asked me what any of the names of the major characters in Sengoku Basara were, I wouldn’t be able to match a face with a name. I would be fine with the names themselves - I mean, they are quite major players in Japanese history - but the characters are just so damn obnoxious and unlikable, I found myself not actually giving a toss about them to help me associate the name with the face. I am not a stranger to this genre of anime, and in my earlier days I quite enjoyed it when fifteen hours of my life were spent watching people attack each other with pointed implements. Maybe not so much now... after fifteen hours, I found the characters blurring into each other too much, their convoluted plots to rule Japan and their treacheries blending to form a giant melange of “meh”.
This leads me to my second critical point regarding Sengoku Basara. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the PlayStation 3 game and for a while it kept me quite entertained. But it is rather good only as a bit of a hack and slash game - it is brainless, preposterous and totally ludicrous. However, for the anime adaptation they have chosen to retain this level of preposterousness for the fight scenes, which means that in addition to the quite cringeworthy dialogue you also have to endure such scenes as Hideyoshi’s parting of the sea with a single punch (which parted long enough to allow an army to cross and take out a floating fortress) with the waters only returning once the battle had finished. This is only slightly more preposterous than the same chap defeating several tens of thousands of arrows with a clap of his hands. This, combined with the fact that Hideyoshi changes height pretty regularly (I was sure he was about twelve foot tall compared to Masamune in the first episode...) has rather put me off. I mean, what is the point of having armies, if you have great brutes like this winning battles just by making a simple hand gesture. (Sounds like they need to make a Sengoku Basara video game for the Kinect - Ed) Come on! Actually, thinking about it more, I'm starting to believe that Hideyoshi is more preposterous than Ken from Fist of the North Star. His "hand clap of doom" is slightly more ludicrous than the head-exploding-poke-of-death!
As I can keep making critical points, I shall make this my last, and it is unfortunately my largest gripe. Whoever wrote the English dialogue for Sengoku Basara needs to be taken behind the sheds and flagellated repeatedly with barb wire for writing such complete drivel, and then feeding it to actors who play on every cliché possible to give what is quite frankly a very flat voice acting performance. The unfortunate thing is that the English subtitles and original Japanese dub aren’t much of an improvement, but at least in the latter case you have the comfort of not actually being able to understand the drivel coming out of their mouths.
All of this could have been forgiven if this was coming from a game cut scene, or overlaid in the background while introducing enemy forces to the concept of katana enemas. But no, this is an anime which demands your full attention, meaning that you can’t do something else while it is playing.
What Sengoku Basara does have in its favour, all the negatives above aside, is the fact that it is quite beautiful. Not as good as the first series admittedly, but there is a lot of detail in the environments, the characters and the battles. Although even here I have noticed that the fights aren’t as well animated as in the first series, with the producers using a lot of flashes and scene skipping to likely reduce the animation budget required. For a series that is essentially about fighting and the conquering of a country, this is a bit disappointing.
Sengoku Basara enjoys a good sized loyal fan base who love it for the exact reasons why I dislike it. Obviously, the gripes above are just an opinion, and if you want to discuss them, or voice your own opinions, then we welcome you to voice them on our forum, or in the comments section of the bottom of this article.
Finally, for those of you who haven't had your enthusiasm extinguished, Sengoku Basara Season 2 will be available on DVD on the 17th September 2012, is released by Manga Entertainment in a rather shiny slim box, or as a combined Series 1 and 2 collection for those who want to take in the whole thing.
English and Japanese audio with English subtitles, textless opening and ending credits.
I wish I could clap my hands and blow my enemies away...