Anime Spotlight: Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman

Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is an anime series based on a pachinko game called CR Ginroku Gijinden Roman. The series was produced by TMS Entertainment and aired on Japanese television from January 7-March 26, 2013. As of this writing, Crunchyroll holds the North American license for Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman.

The character designs for the series were done my Monkey Punch, the mangaka behind Lupin III, and when you watch the series, you can tell that Monkey Punch had a hand in the character designs. The main character looks a lot like Lupin with spikier hair and a beard, and the female love interest for this character bears some resemblance to Fujiko Mine.

The series is set in Kyoto at the close of the Edo period, and both natural and man-made disasters have left chaos in their wake. The main character of the series is Manjiro, a man who makes a living as “the helper.” He helps the people of his village with various odd jobs, and he is paid for his services. But, Manjiro likes to gamble, and he loses his money every time. Manjiro lives with his sister, who makes designer chopsticks. Unfortunately for Manjiro, she is quick to anger and has no qualms with attacking her brother with her designer chopsticks.

At night, Manjiro secretly works at taking back the money and possessions that are stolen from the villagers by those with political power and by conspiratorial menaces. Since Manjiro is in disguise and doing this secretly, his alter ego has acquired the nickname of “Get-Backer Roman.”

Manjiro is aided by Koharu’s dog, Sakura, a shrine priestess named Kanade, the older and lecherous inventor Gennai, and Dr. Hans. He also has developed a crush on Okuni, the well- known courtesan in the area.

At first glance, it comes across that the series will follow Manjiro acting in a kind of “Robin Hood” role, but it becomes apparent that there’s more going on than what we first see on the surface. There’s a lot of political intrigue that Manjiro manages to stumble into, and he finds himself confronting truths that he thought he would never have to deal with.

I thought Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman started out with a lot of promise. While Manjiro was helping retrieve what the poor lost to the rich, there was some light humor mixed in. And the series stayed this way for the first three episodes. But when episode four came around, the humor level shot through the roof, and more obvious fanservice was being included. Episode four stood out too much from the previous three episodes, and it also stood out too much compared to most of the rest of the series.

Episode eight of the series also stood out, because it was the most serious one in the series. Manjiro learned something right at the end of the episode seven that shook him to the core, and episode eight focused on him wandering and feeling lost as to who he was and what his purpose is. Episodes nine and ten were also on the more serious side, and then the humor returned in episode eleven. Unfortunately, during the last two episodes, the comedy became very exaggerated and made me scratch my head. While there was some futuristic armor introduced earlier in the series, for example, I was willing to accept that. But when transforming robots and other more futuristic elements suddenly appeared and was done in a way to poke fun at some of the classic sci-fi anime, it really threw the series off for me. The series hadn’t been doing parodies before this point, so why was it doing it now? After watching the entire series, I was left with the impression that the writers really didn’t know what direction they wanted the show to go in. This would explain why the tone and feel kept changing so much.

My biggest disappointment in the series, though, came at the end. Outside of a couple of characters, it felt like the series had “reset to zero” and that most of the characters hadn’t progressed from where they were at the beginning. It almost made me wonder if following the “hero’s journey” of Manjiro had been worth my time.

I think that Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman had a lot of promise, but the series ultimately didn’t live up to it. Honestly, I can see why none of the North American anime distributors have tried to license this series.

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