Been a while since I’ve done some of these… Let’s look for some more. Enough of the movies…we need to get back to a series. Let’s see… Enough of the space themes and science fiction. Time to get back to a series that personifies more about Japan… And what better way to do that than samurai?
How about samurai plus kawaii young schoolgirls in underage romance?
Ah…this’ll do nicely.
“Jubei-Chan: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch”
If you look deep enough into Japanese culture, you eventually find out it has its own set of folk heroes, similar to the United States or any other culture for that matter. Individuals who have basis in reality but have become such a symbol of modern myth and tall tales that they’ve become legendary. One of the greatest of those in Japanese culture was Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi, an infamous one-eyed samurai from Japan’s feudal era who served under the Tokugawa shogunate as the premiere samurai in the Yagyu clan. Aside from being a legendary swordsman, probably the most remarkable thing about Yagyu Jubei is the fact that there’s very little actually known about him, either in his upbringing, why he inexplicably left the Tokugawa court for 12 years and seemed to vanish entirely during that time period, or even how he lost his eye. The fact that his own clan had no records of either time period is even more shocking. As a result, he’s a subject of popular fiction in what happened during those gaps in history.
This short series (13 episodes again…although they actually manage to fill these ones up pretty well) doesn’t touch so much on the 12-year absence (that’s saved for the follow-up series to this one) as the end of his life. In this series, Yagyu Jubei was known as the greatest swordsman in the world…even in history…and had such legendary skill that every other samurai in the world became totally obsessed in mind, body, and even soul in trying to defeat him to prove themselves as the greatest. This obsession is so great that it dominated both them and generations after them, carrying on through the centuries even after Yagyu Jubei’s death, as the spirits who failed to cross blades with him now seek for him to become reincarnated so they can have their “shot at the title”. This series focuses on the Ryojoji clan in particular, which I’m not sure is purely fictional or not, and their undying leader who not only dominates the thoughts of the modern day clan into wanting to fight Yagyu Jubei’s descendant, but actually possesses the strongest warriors of the clan to try and do the deed himself.
So…who happens to be Yagyu Jubei’s descendant? Turns out its a little schoolgirl who is a complete pacifist named Jiyo Nanohana, the daughter of a single dad ghostwriter in modern day Japan. She’s small, weak, and hates violence so much that she practically won’t try to defend herself until a bad guy is stabbing her. And bad guys do try to stab her as the Ryojoji clan find out about who she is and pretty much send one samurai after another to kill her, each one disguised as a new teacher at her school. (Those Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers in “Harry Potter” got nothing on these guys in terms of turnover rate…)
Luckily for her, Yagyu Jubei’s wimpy, untalented samurai assistant from when he was alive, Koinosuke, who refused to die for over 400 years (Don’t ask…a lot of stuff like that in this series doesn’t make sense) until he found Yagyu Jubei’s descendant presents her with the “Lovely Eyepatch”, an eyepatch that, as the name implies, is shaped like a heart. For the purposes of this anime, however, it’s effectively “the Mask”, because whenever Jiyo puts it on she immediately morphs into an adult badass samurai so strong and skilled she can defeat opponents without ever crossing her blade with theirs and strike them with such force the mere “air” deflected by her blade hits them with the power of a cut.
Yet in spite of that fact, Jiyo is such a pacifist and so opposed to being a samurai that she hates this revelation and longs to be free of the “curse” of having to be Yagyu Jubei’s descendant, and continuously tries to shirk the eyepatch in spite of the fact the enemies won’t keep coming and she can beat them without killing them. She longs for her own life separate from this reincarnation and fate set for her, which confounds her ability to be able to fight off these ever-escalating foes. Yet at the same time, as the fights progress, it becomes clear every time Jiyo defeats a member of the Ryojoji clan, she also “frees them from the curse”…letting them forget their grudge and move on with their lives, making fighting the “morally right” thing to do in this situation, so it seems. Hence, if she wants to actually do the “right” thing, she has to keep fighting in order to “free” her own opponents. Things get even worse when it turns out the guy at school she’s falling for, a boy named Shiro, is actually the twin brother of the head of the Ryojoji clan and in spite of his rejection of their “philosophy”, feels himself compelled to battle her as he himself is a master with the sword and wants the “honor”.
Sounds pretty badass, right? We’re in for a lot of violence and action with some drama mixed in, right?
However, that’s only part of the series. The rest of it is…pretty much complete batsh’t crazy random wackiness.
Until now the series has seemed pretty serious from what I said, but it’s insane. The only other animes I’ve ever seen with more fourth wall humor is “Excel Saga” and “FLCL”, and that’s saying a lot. There’s these three guys at school named Boss, Oozaru, and Kozaru (and yes, the latter two look like monkeys) who form their own little gang who are constantly going on hare-brained and progressively-more-insane schemes that often intersect with Jiyo and the plot. They progressively defy more of reality, Boss’ own shirt keeps changing in literally every scene what it reads, and they even comment on the fact that when they’re not essential to the plot the animators draw them poorly. Speaking of which…most of the side characters in this story are so intentionally drawn bad that it almost looks like something out of a Lewis Carroll story. Both villains and heroes. And some of the reactions are so crazy and wild, as well as the things both sides do…at times this just turns into an off-the-wall comedy. Like one of the former bad guys just suddenly breaking into a random song about how he loves life while the rest of the cast angrily chases after him trying to get him to “focus”. Not once, mind you…but twice.
Yet remarkably, it gets rather serious at some points too. Turns out Jiyo’s father is haunted by a rather bad event in his past. He used to be far more devoted to his work when his wife was still alive, but that changed one night when he was working late and his daughter called him, saying her mom (his wife) was sick and to come home. He ignored it, because the doctor she went to said it wasn’t serious and that she’d be better shortly. When he finally got home…he found his daughter had been lying next to his dead wife for an indeterminate length of time.
I mean…damn. That’s pretty powerful for any anime I’ve ever seen, especially a 13 episode one. But wait…there’s more! Naturally, he becomes a stay-at-home dad after this and it takes him months to rebuild his relationship with his daughter, and after that he distrusts doctors worse than Mel Gibson’s character distrusts vets in “Signs”. Yet at one point, it just so happens one of Jiyo’s opponents that she defeats is a woman who looks identical to his dead wife and Jiyo’s dead mother. And eventually, Jiyo’s dad meets her and begins to fall for her. But at one point, when she jumps in to try and help Jiyo out, she gets badly wounded…possibly mortally…and Jiyo’s father has no choice but to swallow his fear and get the courage to take her to a doctor to get treated in spite of what happened in his past when he finds there’s no way he can bind up her injury himself. That’s also pretty deep.
So, in a series that has lots of wacky humor as well as action and genuine drama, it has to be good…right?
Er…well, for the most part, yeah. Yet amazingly, for all the stuff going for it, it’s not as great as it could be.
This series seems a bit “unfocused”. It has parts that are wacky, parts that are dramatic, parts that are full of action, and parts that are a little sad…but they never seem to “work together” well. While it doesn’t seem nearly as “padded” as other 13 episode series I’ve looked at, it does seem to waste time a bit. It doesn’t seem to know when’s a good time to focus on action and when’s a good time to focus on comedy or inner drama. It does to an extent…but not a great one.
A lot of the episodes seem to be the same thing repeated, especially the fights with the bad guys. Similar to “Final Fantasy Unlimited”, we wait and wait for Jiyo to put on the eyepatch…and then the fight is over in an instant. The only fight she really has any trouble with is the last one, and even that’s kind of bad. They do have the “added threat” that if Jiyo doesn’t defeat an enemy quickly, she’s in danger because her soul can only take being in the body of Yagyu Jubei’s descendant for so long before she risks losing it to him completely, so that added element was at the end, but…still, it didn’t seem too great.
Yet the greatest drawback of the series is in the main character: Jiyo. This girl is such a whiner. In spite of the fact she’s constantly attacked by people out to kill her, in spite of the fact she finds out she’s doing these people a favor by beating them, and in spite of the fact that when push comes to shove if she decides to wear the eyepatch she can beat them all with ease and put an end to this…she keeps moping, whining, and complaining about wearing the eyepatch. I mean…good gravy…I expected this for an episode or two early on, but every single episode she does it. She has to be the most obnoxious, clueless, and daydreaming twit I’ve ever seen in my life. When a bunch of guys pull their damn swords on you and you know full well that you’ll beat them without doing any lasting damage to them…that you’ll actually be setting them free…and you still not only hold out putting the eyepatch on but actually let them beat you once or twice, nearly killing you in the process, because “Waa-waa-waa! I don’t wanna be a samurai! I wanna be a schoolgirl!”…you’re a moron! You think she’d keep the eyepatch around just for self-defense at least, but no! She doesn’t even want to do that! Not even when she knows full well people will be out to kill her! How childish can you be? Does she think if she ignores this problem they’ll “go away”?
Other letdowns include the fact that Koinosuke is a wimp. You’d think a feudal samurai alive for 400 years would have something going for him…but no, he pretty much just screams and hides and gets Jiyo the eyepatch from time to time. I know he’s partially there just for comic relief…but it doesn’t work out a lot. Plus his dub is just awful.
To me, these things really bring down the series. Is it good enough to watch once? Yes. Is it good enough to pop in more than once? Eh…if only Jiyo was a more likable character, I’d say yes. But having to sit through her rather nonsensical angst more then one time is a stretch for anyone. But if you got the time and money to spare…I’d check it out at least once, because it’ll be fun the first time.
Rating: 3 out of 5
It may not be Yagyu Jubei’s descendant, but it’s got one or two moves you won’t find anywhere else in 400 years.
What You Should Do With This DVD: Witness the great Yagyu Jubei reborn one last time, then commit it to the great beyond with fond memories.