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If you took a quick look at my anime collection it would soon become apparent that I have been neglecting a popular genre in the world of Japanese cartoons. My DVD library is devoid of sport shows, which is a crying shame as during my teens I did enjoy watching a number of sporting cartoons broadcast on Spanish TV. Magico Dan amazingly made dodge ball look exciting whilst the over the top Captain Tsubasa was a huge hit thanks to its teen drama and over the top action (I lost count how many nets got torn to shreds by soccer balls kicked with superhuman ferocity.) Sadly none of those shows have got a UK release, but I recently did manage to remedy my sport collection drought by purchasing part one of Bamboo Blade.
This two-disc set contains the first half of a twenty-six episode series, which revolves around a high school's female kendo team. It seems odd that Manga Entertainment would bring over an anime about an obscure samurai like fencing competitive event, especially when there are so many other cartoons featuring popular sports like boxing, football and tennis, but I'm glad that they did. It's got everything you could ask for with a story all about team work, likeable characters and most important of all some charming comedy.
Bamboo Blade's tale starts off with Kojiro Ishida, a part time schoolteacher who runs Muroe High's after school kendo club. Kojiro was an accomplished kendo fighter, back in his youth, but his passion for the sport seems to have waned in recent years. After a poor season the club's membership has shrunk to one with the senior girls quitting to concentrate on exams, whilst a bully has scared off the male club members. These days Kojiro spends more time worrying about his poor finances and empty belly than coaching the noble sport. Ishida's enthusiasm for kendo is rekindled however when one of his buddies, who runs his own kendo club, challenges Muroe High's squad to an exhibition match.
If Kojiro's team can come away the victor his pal has agreed to treat him to free sushi dinners, which will literally save his life. Due to his enormous debt Kojiro is on a permanent diet, unable to pay for meals and restricted to rations made up of snacks donated by concerned students. Thus the quest to rebuild the kendo club begins. Kojiro is aided by, the hyper energetic, Kirino Chiba (who is the club captain by default as she's the team's solitary member.) It isn't long though before they recruit Miyako Miyazaki, Tamaki Kawazoe and Sayako Kuwahara to the cause allowing the fun and games to begin.
What makes Bamboo Blade a joy to watch would have to be the characters. They all have their unique quirks that have to be overcome if they wish to bond into a championship winning kendo team. Of the new recruits the softly spoken Tamaki is the star player, given that her father runs a kendo dojo where she competes against adults. She's not interested in joining the club at first, but her strong sense of justice (nurtured by watching a superhero show reminiscent of Power Rangers) convinces her to stick around and protect the place from bullies. Although Bamboo Blade boasts an ensemble cast a good chunk of the story emphasizes how the reserved Tama opens up by spending time with her new friends.
One of the characters that made me laugh the most would have to be Miya, the seemingly sweet polite girl who only joins because her boyfriend asked her to help the club out with their low staffing levels. Secretly though she has a dark side which gets a kick out of kendo, as it gives her the opportunity to pummel people with wooden sticks. A recurring gag in the series is how she transforms from an innocent girl to the devil incarnate (complete with an evil aura) whenever someone rubs her the wrong way. The other new recruit is Saya who is one fickle girl. Her hobby of choice is in a constant state of flux. She used to be part of the kendo team, but left it briefly to pursue a career in writing. By the end of this DVD set she has already given up on that dream and decided to become a guitarist instead (even though she has no talent for it.)
I'm giving Bamboo Blade four stars and was tempted to give it full marks even if from a technical standpoint it is nothing out of this world. The animation is merely adequate and its not especially original, but like Muroe High's team the series is stronger than the sum of its parts. The show is abundant in feel good slice of life moments that will put a smile on your face. Even if you aren't a fan of kendo you'll be amused by the funny episode previews, watching the usually composed Tama stress out at her shop keeping part-time job and badass Miyo having to contend with a stalker.
From the above-mentioned synopsis you may be wondering if the sporting side of things goes anywhere and I can confirm that it does, even if at times it is not the focus of the series. Kojiro's practice match against his friend's team is dealt with early on and by the time the second disc ends the team is training for an upcoming tournament. Success in the competition is vital as Kojiro needs to prove his worth to the school board or else he may get made redundant. The problem is that the club is still lacking a fifth member for the squad. They've identified a potential candidate (a clumsy bespectacled girl named Satori) but when episode thirteen concludes its not clear if she will join, as she has to concentrate on improving her grades.
That's quite a cliffhanger to entice you into buying the second DVD set... but unnecessary as I've enjoyed the show immensely thus far and am keen to watch more of it. I can heartily recommend Bamboo Blade to anime fans and I would assume sword enthusiastic pandas would like it too.