An anime about high school kendo? What you're probably thinking is the stereotypes and cliches associated with sports animes, like hot blooded and gruesome training that no human--let alone high school girls--could possibly handle, epic showdowns between rivals, and long tournament arcs. These are still important aspects of Bamboo Blade, but not its focus. On the surface it operates like your typical sports anime, but deep within it's actually a slice of life. What happens when you give the Azumanga Daioh cast wooden swords? You get an anime that offers the best of both worlds in the sports and school life genres, adding up to one of the best overall animes to come out in years.
First thing that stands out about Bamboo Blade is how it's able to sow these two genres into one. Sleepovers? Forget about sleeping over each other's houses, we're having training camp! Lunch social functions? A daily routine before matches. Love triangles? A kendo match will let off the tension and steam. While the characters are often fighting in matches or busy refining their skills, they find a way to have fun at the same time and the result is that we get a very healthy chemical balance between having fun and being serious.
It helps that the comedy is actually funny. Perhaps I'm just different from everybody else that watches anime, because I don't find anime comedies funny at all. I'll get the odd laugh here and there, but that's it. Not the case with Bamboo Blade; it had me bursting out laughing at times and it never failed to make me laugh at least once an episode. Whereas most comedies are fueled by watching peeping toms get caught up and uppercutted into the sky, or characters being caught in embarrassing situations, Bamboo Blade relies on its witty dialogue and hilarious writing. It makes great use of irony and like cartoons South Park and Family Guy, does an equally amazing job at poking fun of Samurai movie epics. If I wasn't mistaken, the script was handled by a team of veteran American sitcom writers.
You know what's great about all of this? The comedy isn't even the best part. It is a forgotten art, but having great characters who we can relate with and enjoy watching their development is the pinnacle for making a successful anime. Our main character Tama is the young prodify girl that is super strong in kendo, but has been sheltered from a social life for so long she has a robotic and timid personality. Over time she starts opening up to her new friends and asserts herself as the anime goes along. Herlping her along the way are Kirino, the captain; Saya, the energetic dive in head first member; Miya Miya, the two faced alpha female; Satorin, the clumsy one vulnerable to being taken advantage of; Yuji, her friend even before high school; Eiga, an odd classmate with an acorn shaped head; and Ishida, the instructor for the club.
Tama has a lot of new friends she can count on and develops a strong relationship with each and every one of them. It helps that while Tama is a great character, her classmates are just as equally great. Simple character descriptions don't do them justice; they're as fleshed out as a cast as you'll get, and their chemistry is a prime example of how a group of friends in an anime should be executed. School life is only half of it though, right? What made the matches so fun to watch was that it was never too epic, but it was epic enough. The anime never made it bigger than it seemed. Destiny was absent in this episode; no storybook miracles are opportunities here, just straight up kendo. No dragged out matches, no extended tournament arcs, and most of all, no trash talking during the middle of matches--a trait that plagues the most popular of shounens. It's a crime that Bamboo Blade is so criminally underrated. It excels not only in its kendo aspects, but also in its slice of life. It fired on all four cylinders and never slowed down. Well polished, awesome characters, dramatic fights, and hilarious writing, you should do yourself a favour and watch Bamboo Blade.