Over the Top Samurai Action!
“Basara” is one of those hard-to-translate Japanese words. It is thought to have its roots in the Sanscrit word for diamond, but the word has changed meaning over the years to something entirely different. Historically, it refers to a period of time in Medieval Japan, called the Namboku-cho period, when the Imperial court was split between the North and South courts each struggling for legitimacy. With Imperial control weakened, the common populace of Japan went topsy-turvy, rapidly developing an outrageous fashion sense full of bright fabrics and make-up and extravagant costumes normally forbidden by law. Think of the Roaring 20s with flappers or the Zoot Suits of the 1930s and 40s.
The Basara fashion was officially outlawed during the Sengoku period when the lords began to re-exercise military control over the populace. But the word has survived to the modern day for any over-the-top extravagant display of excess, like in the Basara Matsuri of Nara city.
Which brings us to “Sengoku Basara.” The anime perfectly captures the feel of basara, that over-the-top extravagant display of excess, but this time imprinted over the main warlords of the Sengoku warring states period. (The irony here is that it was those same warlords who put an end to basara…).
Based on the Sengoku Basara video game series, the anime brings to the battle the opposing armies of Takeda Shingen, Uesugi Kenshin, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Oda Nobunaga, each of them vying for control of Japan. The names are about the only thing these characters have in common with the historical figures. Takeda Shingen is the “Tiger of Kai,” with a fierce red headdress and the ability to leap high into the air and come crashing down with his massive spear. He rides his horse standing on the back of the saddle. His right-hand man, Sanada Yukimura, is also a red-clad leaper with two spears capable of tossing soldiers aside like a leaf-blower plowing through dry autumn foliage.
Even with all the superpowers flying around, you might think that “Sengoku Basara” is going to stay somewhat historical. You are wrong. When Tokugawa Ieyasu brings forth his greatest general, Honda Tadakatsu, he doesn’t come riding in on a horse, but flying through a plasma-fueled jetpack and with a massive drill for an arm. At that point you know; all bets are off.
I loved “Segoku Basara.” It is that great kind of shut-off-your-brain anime that delivers action and intrigue and comedy and pathos and some really great characters. Basing the series on historical events got me huffing at first, but I realized historical accuracy is far away from the point of the series and I just told my thinking brain to shut up and had a great time.
The first few episodes are rapid-fire action, but things eventually calm down to get to some deeper personal conflict and characterization. The series has a nice balance between the quite episodes and the loud ones. And with “Samurai Basara,” the loud episodes are really, really loud.
This release from Funimation has the complete First Season, with thirteen episodes on two DVDs. Season Two brings in the one person obviously missing from “Sengoku Basara,” Toyotomi Hideyoshi. I will definitely be there for the fireworks to start.