I remember back in the good old days (circa 2007-2009 ish) when I held a subscription with Anime Insider (RIP) and first saw Bamboo Blade being featured. I really was not into traditional sports in Japan, so I initially overlooked the series. Then I flipped through the magazine again, and again until Bamboo Blade was slipped into the back of my mind and somewhat forgotten.
I remembered it years later (2017) and figured the manga must be done, and the anime long over. So I started requesting the manga as I was able. I thought the manga was pretty great to be honest. It was fairly original, focused on women’s sports verses men’s, even taught me a little and did not go on endlessly. The anime wraps up the whole series but with some pretty major adjustments to make it happen.
Story: The story focuses on the lackluster Sensei, Ishida Toraji whose a part time teacher and Kendo instructor. His interest in the sport is rejuvenated by his Sempai challenging their teams to a standard kendo match. Ishida manages to scrape together a team with the help of the kendo genius Kawazoe Tamaki. Shenanigans ensue, while friendships are created and kendo is pursued.
Honestly, the plot would have done better if the focus was less on Ishida and more on the girls’ initially. There’s really not a lot to like about him and his motivations so getting into it, despite knowing for sure it shifts focus, still took a bit. I had to take a break from it at episode 13 since the pacing, while it matched the manga was almost too close for me.
The Characters: Overall, they’re all a bit generic looking at it critically. Ishida is the usual trope of broke and motivated by food, but really has a good heart. Yuuji is the typical good guy, good grades, knows some stuff about kendo, Tamaki’s childhood friend, and shoved to the back with Eiga so the girl’s shine. I like Saya and Kirino but again, generic. Saya (Sayako) throws herself into something thinking she’ll be great and isn’t. She constantly has a hot and cold relationship with kendo, but doesn’t show tons of improvement as a practitioner or a person (at least in the anime). Kirino is upbeat and cheerful, but not much more then that. Aside from a brief arc (two episodes) she really doesn’t have the depth of her character explored. Satori was almost a throw away character; she’s klutzy and not smart and only a little bit better then average at kendo. She has her moment(s), but really does not shine.
I have to talk about Eiga-kun only because his voice actor is so. damn. Annoying. I didn’t hate his character in the manga. When it first serialized, those weird chibi characters were actually pretty popular (though the trend has died down). He’s likable in the sense he’s a good student, is really good to his girlfriend Miyako, and acts as a comedic relief.
His voice actor took all of that, and ruined it. His voice is just the wrong tone it’s not as annoying as a high pitched voice, but it’s so monotone and grating on the ear. Anything normal his character would do is pretty much a joke, save until the last two episodes where he’s more serious about kendo. I just had to roll my eyes so hard whenever he spoke.
Now about Tamaki, Miyako, and Rin the redeeming characters in this series. First is Miyako, because she’s about the only character that develops significantly throughout the anime, has her background explored within the anime. I really actually did not care for her character in the manga, she and Dan were pretty boring and the only couple in the series. However, she is serious about Eiga and joins kendo originally so she can spend more time with him. She has both her typical shoujo-esque moments, but also a significant ‘dark’ side to her. Originally she hides this ‘black’ personality, but later comes to exploit it in kendo. She helps both Tamaki and Satori develop as characters and as people. Eventually, she even comes to her first victory after struggling for the majority of the series to even get a hit on her opponents.
I found myself cheering for her, especially in the later part of the series where she finally gets a rival. A weird, anime-only insert rival, but a rival nonetheless which is something every sports manga/anime needs.
Suzuki Rin, admittedly she does not come in until the later half of the story. Additionally, they made some serious changes to her character in order to fit this. Notable, she goes from being obsessed with the actor that plays Shinaider, to just being obsessed with Shinaider. How she and Tamaki meet is altered, as well as the majority of their interactions. I was pleased that they included her in the anime but the alternations were a little much, although understandable. She herself does not develop much beyond and understanding with Tamaki about their rival opinions about Brave Bladers. I found her inclusion really good and well executed despite all my remarks before.
Now about our main character, Kawazoe Tamaki. I have a bit soft spot for her, since she is capable but also somewhat innocent in a lot of ways. She starts out pretty focused on just Brave Bladers, going to school, and helping out at her family’s dojo. Also she is incredibly quiet and somewhat easy to manipulate. Through the help of her teachers, friend’s and rivals, especially Miyako and Rin she actually becomes an almost normal high school girl. She learns a lot about herself, especially what it means to lose and be serious about kendo.
There is the important factor about her mother, and real relationship with Rin that is not properly fleshed out in the anime. A lot of the critical details were changed in my opinion to suit the 26 episode limit, but otherwise while much slower then Miyako, we do see Tamaki develop a lot.
Comparison to the Manga; A lot of details were kept until about episode 13. There’s a drastic change in storyline for the sake of the anime. I understood most of the decisions but disagreed with some of the execution. For as weird as Carrie’s character is, I thought it was a good way for Miyako to develop and help with the tournaments. Rin’s character maintained the core traits, but was a watered down version. There simply was not enough time per episode for the original to come into play. There is notable exclusion of the last arch in the manga, which is sort of brought up in the final episodes but not perfectly.
I did not hate this adaptation, it was pretty solid. If you are looking for the manga exactly in motion this is not for you.
Other Thoughts/Overall: I really didn’t care for the ending since it implied a second season that we never got. Which I understand (it didn’t do that well overall) but is still disappointing. I hashed out most of my complaints elsewhere so I’ll leave those alone. Aside from the weird fan service shots. It was around the episode where Miyako is finishing convincing Satori to join. There’s shots focusing on their breasts then moving to their faces. And a weird shot of Satori from between Miyako’s legs. That’s about the weirdest insert of fan service in the series you’ll get, otherwise there’s not much there. If you’re looking for a sports anime that’s a little a-typical of a sport, and actually focuses on the women in sports give Bamboo Blade.