Plot: The Moroe High Kendo Team is in seriously bad shape. They have very few members and their instructor seems more motivated by food and money than helping improve his team. However, after building up a decent team of both newbies and experienced kendo fighters for the club in order to fight another school on the basis of a bet between their instructor and his old senpai, both he and the team get rared up and ready to fight harder, get stronger, celebrate the victories and cope with the losses.
Breakdown: Bamboo Blade isn’t your typical sports anime, and I say that for two reasons. 1 – it’s about kendo and 2 – the team being given focus is mostly girls. Boys really have the market cornered when it comes to sports anime.
I have to say, this show got me really interested in wanting to learn kendo. Too bad there are no kendo lessons within a reasonable distance of me.
The story encompasses about one full year of the team’s various trials and tribulations. It’s a realistic look at what a team actually goes through instead of being one of those predictable sports anime, shows or movies where the underdog constantly wins because those are the rules of sports shows.
In fact, the team is in three different tournaments in the entirety of the series and they don’t really put that much emphasis on them. Yeah, they’re pumped about them, but they don’t showcase many matches, they don’t put a huge weight on the outcome and it’s clear that the entire tournament is really about one match or two. That’s both disappointing and refreshing at the same time.
I say disappointing because, in sports anime, it really is supposed to be a big event to have a tournament. Even Pokemon gives their tournaments a few episodes at least, but in Bamboo Blade, the tournaments are always over within one episode.
Let’s talk about the characters.
Tamaki or Tama is an extremely shy (and by that I mean I had to keep my computer’s volume on high just to understand her most of the time) tiny freshman girl who also happens to be a prodigy at kendo. She was taught kendo by her father, a well known and respected kendo instructor who runs his own dojo at their house, since the day she was old enough to properly hold a shinai.
After showcasing her skills with a sword…..well, okay, broom, Kirino itches to have Tama join their team. But Tama states that she views kendo as more of a chore instead of an enjoyable activity and declines.
Later, she finds out that the kendo club is being terrorized by two bullies who are the main reason why the kendo club has lost so many members. In defense of the members of the club, she beats the bullies in a match and officially joins the club.
Tama’s a very nice character and another welcome change from the loud and egotistical main characters that usually spawn up in sports anime. She’s also essentially our main focus in the show…..However, you may notice that I used a word that I really hate to use in sports and gaming anime…..’prodigy’.
Tama’s a kendo prodigy who can’t be touched by anyone on their team, not even their instructor. She easily takes down people twice her size and age, and everyone is always amazed by her skills and speed. It does get annoying after a certain point because it essentially devolves into the messiah trope. Everything always rides on Tama’s shoulders, and it really seems like, a lot of time, it’s up to the others to merely keep the team’s head above water while Tama ensures their win.
Tama’s not without weakness. Like I said, she’s incredibly shy to a fault. She’s quick to get flustered in situations that she doesn’t know how to deal with, as long as it’s not kendo. But when it does come to kendo, she’s nearly untouchable.
I say nearly untouchable because her biggest weakness in kendo is when anyone takes the high stance, an advanced stance that Tama’s deceased mother usually took when fighting. When people take this stance against her, she always tenses up and becomes extremely distracted. However, due to the fact that this stance is for advanced fighters, hardly anyone uses it against her.
Characters like that almost always have to succumb to the other trope of the ‘fallen hero’. Eventually Tama loses a match, and because she’s such a prodigy who has never once lost a match, she is utterly shattered by this revelation that she can indeed lose to the point where she resigns from the team.
It’s like Yugi’s first loss in Yu-Gi-Oh only without the catatonic state and having a loved one’s soul on the line.
I’ve never been nearly so good at something that I’ve never lost at it, so maybe I just can’t relate, but when you’re on a team of people who frequently lose and still manage to get back up every time and learn from it, what kind of message is that sending them to quit after your very first loss EVER? Hell, her first loss coincides exactly with another character, Miya-Miya, also quitting kendo because she also lost in the same tournament Tama did. However, the reason she quit was because she had never once WON in kendo even after training her ass off for months.
Tama is a really good character, and, despite the messiah-ism, she is very enjoyable to watch while fighting. To be fair, she actually had a pretty good reason for being as affected by that loss as she was.
She still viewed kendo as a chore with her ultimate goal being to do nothing but win. It didn’t help that her team was constantly shoving it in her face that she was a shoe-in and would definitely win no matter what. When she finally lost, she also lost that sense of purpose and had to decide whether she still viewed kendo as a chore or if she now truly enjoyed it.
Tama has a strong sense of righteousness and justice, which is part of what drives her to join the kendo team to begin with. This is due to the fact that Tama’s quite the big anime geek, most notably with a Power Rangers (or more to the point, Super Sentai) -type series called Blade Bravers. Tama’s soft-spoken and generally passive attitude can easily be felled when Blade Bravers or anime is involved. She’s especially inspired by the leader of the Blade Bravers, the Red Braver, whom she bases much of her personal philosophy on.
Her one true rival over the course of the series is actually someone who idolized a character named Shinaider, a villain and anti-hero in Blade Bravers.
Ishida is the team’s instructor and, at first, he really comes off as a lazy and somewhat flippant teacher. He leaves most of the team’s activities to the team captain, Kirino, in the beginning and really only becomes inspired to actually make something of his team after gathering more members for a match between his girls’ team and that of his old senpai, Ishibashi, on the basis of a bet.
Ishida lives paycheck to paycheck and is constantly scrounging together money, even from his students, to barely be able to eat. Thus, the bet is that Ishibashi will take him out to a sushi dinner if he wins and Ishibashi gets the trophy Ishida won from their last kendo tournament if he loses. Ishida doesn’t give a crap about the trophy, he just wants the sushi.
However, he eventually matures and grows to deeply care about his team and wishes nothing more for them than to grow and get stronger while also having as much fun as possible.
Kirino is the team captain and has been called the heart of the team by Ishida. Kirino is by far the most enthusiastic and optimistic of the team, and she basically stood as the team’s sole member before recruiting the others.
Kirino is always the first to cheer on her teammates, and she does it loudly and proudly. She is also not one to ever discount or look down upon fellow team members, no matter their skill level or attitude. She seems like a really great person to have as a friend.
Kirino’s biggest weakness is the fact that she overextends herself to please others and always puts on a smiling face no matter what she’s going through.
Yuji is one of very few male members of the team, and he’s a very handsome lawn ornament—I mean character! Yeah that…Look, as much as I like Yuji as a person, he’s very nice, well spoken, knowledgeable in kendo etc…..he doesn’t do much…He’s just kinda there. He gives pep talks to characters, usually Tama, but, as a team member, he doesn’t do much.
Since the focus is mostly on the girls’ team, this means that almost all of the male team’s activities are non-existent. Yuji usually spars with the only other active male member of the club, that he actually recruited, Danjuro or Donny. And that’s about the only person you see him fighting at all.
It’s a shame too because Yuji seems to be almost as passionate and knowledgeable at kendo as Tama. He was on his junior high team and was part of the dojo that Tama’s father runs. It’s also implied that Yuji and Tama have a bit of a thing going on, but the hints that are there are fairly subtle and they’re both clueless about the opposite sex.
It’s even worse considering that he doesn’t really grow or change at all over the series. Donny at least shows that he’s getting better and has clear weaknesses that need to be addressed (his height allowing for easy head strikes) while also showcasing his actual strengths. With Yuji, there’s nothing. Again, he’s just kinda there.
Danjuro or Donny, as he’s nicknamed in the English dub, is a very short and weird looking little guy who is full of enthusiasm and, on some occasions, himself. He’s recruited by Yuji after Ishida informs him that they need more members, though his membership is basically moot since, as I said, the boys’ team really does nothing.
Donny is Yuji’s best friend, and he’s a very laid back and kind individual, but he’s mostly preoccupied with his girlfriend, Miya-Miya, who most people can’t believe is dating him due to their stark contrast in physical appearance.
They’re usually being incredibly lovey-duvey with each other. It’s somewhat weird in the first few episodes, but their relationship actually grows and becomes very sweet over time……even if Miya-Miya initially liked Donny because he reminded her of her old pet pangolin….
Speaking of Miyako or Miya-Miya, she was arguably the most complex character and a really surprising one at that. When she first showed up, she seemed like she’d be an annoying ditz who only cared about her boyfriend and nothing else, but she evolves quite a bit and there is definitely more to her than meets the eye.
Miya-Miya is actually a very angry, dark and violent individual to the point where she’s almost a bully to some people, especially Azuma. When not talking to or being looked at by Donny, she presents a visible dark aura that freaks out nearly everyone.
She’s recruited by Donny and initially finds kendo boring, but the darker side of her loves the fact that she gets to fight. She is the greenest member of the team alongside Donny, but whereas Donny (supposedly) grows so much to the point that Yuji says he might surpass him by the time they graduate, Miya-Miya struggles quite a bit and never once wins a match over the course of the series until the very end.
She has two major weaknesses. 1 – The fact that her anger and her love of hitting people seriously gets in the way of her moves. She fights very aggressively, and, while this can sometimes work to intimidate fighters, it also results in very sloppy swings, attacks and footwork, allowing her opponents to easily find openings for attacks. Sometimes, this anger even causes her to make dangerous moves. For example, she’s the first to showcase a throat strike, which is considered the most dangerous legal move in kendo that only advanced fighters are supposed to employ.
2 – She has a stalker from her old school named Reimi who freaks her out so much just at a glance that she quickly loses concentration and ends up losing.
She does eventually get much better both in attitude and skill, and I’m always up for an underdog story.
Saya is Kirino’s best friend and the only other lasting member of the kendo club besides Kirino and the bullies, Iwada and Toyama, before the others join. However, Saya’s initial participation in the club was very unreliable because of how consumed she gets by wanting to create a wonderful song or great story.
She always finds failures in these areas, which usually devastates her to the point where her friends treat her outbursts of depression and even suicidal remarks with flippant responses. Saya doesn’t really change much over the course of the series either, but she is a very close friend to Kirino and is always the first to realize when something is wrong with her.
Azuma is the final member of the team to join in order to make a full five member kendo team to be official in tournaments. It takes her half the series to actually become a character with only very brief appearances beforehand. There’s, sadly, not much to say about Azuma. Both the ED and the OP make her look pretty bad as I had assumed that she was going to be one of those incredibly annoying characters whose only shtick is constantly falling over, but she’s actually fairly bland.
She’s a talented kendo practitioner who ended up quitting kendo when she reached high school. Despite her hard work, constant studying and dedication to her schoolwork, her grades continuously falter because she’s so scatterbrained and makes little mistakes that end up costing her greatly.
Since her parents believed kendo was only distracting her more and making her worse, she promised to give up kendo to improve her grades. However, she is actually incredibly focused and calculating when she’s fighting, and she was convinced by the team to hone these skills to help her grades. Along the way, Kirino and Donny, who are some of the best students at the school, help improve her grades. However, this plotline is never brought up again after she joins so we just have to assume it worked.
Azuma is somewhat of a doormat, and she’s the target of some abuse by Miya-Miya. However, despite this, Azuma becomes Miya-Miya’s own personal kendo teacher, especially after Miya-Miya finds a drive to train much harder in order to beat an American opponent (who obviously has a bitchy attitude, snotty manner of speaking, red hair, huge lips and huge boobs) named Carrie who also has a crush on Donny because he reminds her of her pet armadillo.
Can I just say it’s insanely weird to want to pursue a relationship with someone on the basis that they remind you of an animal?
There are various side characters, mostly opposing kendo teams, who get varying degrees of spotlight. Most of these characters are funny and likable, but they didn’t get enough spotlight in my opinion. I would’ve liked to have seen a sequel to get a rematch against most of the people we saw them fight.
In terms of learning about the sport, you do learn a fair degree about the footwork, stances, terms, strikes and strategies involved in kendo. I really enjoyed learning about the sport as it’s always been one to intrigue me after seeing it displayed in several forms of media.
This show handles both the drama and the comedy extremely well. None of the drama was unbelievable or seemed like it was thrown in to hook audiences. Some of the situations seemed a bit hokey like the tournament involving a serious cheater (and by serious I mean she injures people before the match to either make them quit before the match even starts or to humiliate them and make them suffer during the match if they decide to fight anyway) but it’s nothing too drastic.
Art and Animation: The art was very sharp, bright and appealing. It mixed a shoujo-like style with one that is more realistic very well. The animation was also very fluid and clean with nary a hiccup or odd scene in sight.
Music: I really loved the OP, ED and BG for the series. It’s somewhat generic, but it adds its own flare to make it more unique. Although, I’d like to know what ‘I’m calling the star rise’ means. The only negative I can think of here is one of the sentimental pieces of BG music was starting to get irritating. Considering that there’s one to five tender moments in nearly every episode, it started to get grating, but only towards the very end.
Voice acting: English – Funimation provides superb quality yet again. The English dub was excellent, maybe one of their best works I’ve seen so far. Only thing I’d note is that Tama is just too quiet sometimes.
Bottom Line: This is a very enjoyable sports anime with plenty to enjoy in terms of characters, story, comedy, drama and of course kendo. Even if you don’t like sports anime or kendo, this is still a good watch just for the characters, comedy and the actually believable storyline.
Additional Information and Notes: Bamboo Blade was directed by Hisashi Saito, who also directed Fantasista Doll, and was written by Hideyuki Kurata, who also wrote Hellsing Ultimate, Read or Die and Excel Saga.
The anime was produced by AIC Asta, who also did work on Ga:Rei Zero, Blue Gender and Ah! My Goddess. It is currently licensed in the US by Funimation.
Recommended Audience: This show is basically as clean as you could possibly get. Even the episode that states ‘first public bath’ shows no nudity (in fact, I’d call foul on that title because they completely skip the bath scene entirely). There’s no real swearing, no sex, no blood, no gore. The absolute worse thing that happens is one of the characters injures their ankle, and even that’s just a bad sprain. E FOR EVERYONE!
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