After living in the mountains all his life with his father, seventeen year old Yoichi Karasuma is sent to the city to live with four sisters who run a dojo. There he will face far more dangerous situations than he ever did in the mountains, and his impact on the Ikaruga sisters will be much greater on them than they first think.
What happens when you place Ranma 1/2, Love Hina, and Rurouni Kenshin into a blender? You get an uninspired harem romantic comedy with a male lead who fights with a sword! It's as unoriginal as it sounds, and it's also the the biggest problem with Samurai Harem - it has no ideas of its own. It's more often than not a dull, unfunny, and predictable anime, with cookie-cutter characters and the same ol' types of fan service and slapstick seen in dozens of other shonen anime. Sure, the music, art, names, and voice acting are different, but I guarantee you'll get at least a small case of déjà vu as you watch Samurai Harem.
Any possible enjoyment one can obtain from this series will linger on one major obstacle - the eldest Ikaruga sister, the "motherly" Ibuki. She's more often than not a gigantic ass, especially when it comes to Yoichi: she jumps to conclusions at the drop of a hat, never listens to his side of the story, and beats him up for staring at her sisters, even when they're the ones taking the initiative! She also teaches boys at the family dojo, so don't be surprised if there are times when her humongous breasts are revealed to them, whether by herself or by Yoichi's mishaps. And expect her to punch and slap these kids (thankfully off screen) for no reason whatsoever. Oh joy, beating on children - that's a motherly thing to do! No wonder the other sisters were so depressed before Yoichi came, when they had a sister like her!
Despite all the abuse he receives from her, Yoichi is forced by the script to have the obligatory "couple" moments with Ibuki, such as a "date" with her about mid-way through the series. Only during these rare scenes does Ibuki show humility towards Yoichi, but they don't last long before she goes back to being a Naru Narusegawa clone. At least Naru let Keitaro defend himself before smacking him; Yoichi rarely even gets to do that. It's like watching those European-produced Tom and Jerry cartoons from the early 1960's where Tom always lost against Jerry, only replace "Tom" with "Yoichi" and "Jerry" with "Ibuki". That about sums it all up.
I know I'm bashing Ibuki a lot here, but she really is that big of a problem. In fact, if it wasn't for her, I would bump up this series to three stars with no hesitation. It takes a lot for me to lower my opinion of a show or drop it because of a single character, but Samurai Harem marked the first time since Karin's Winner Sinclair that I planned to do that. Thank goodness Stig and I watched this series together, because I doubt I'd make it to the end on my own.
The other Ikaruga sisters, thankfully, are much better people than their eldest sibling. The second oldest, sixteen year old Ayane, spends the majority of the series grappling with an inferiority complex, comparing herself to her "beautiful" older sister and how everyone treats her like garbage in comparison. Like Ibuki, she's prone to beating up Yoichi in awkward situations that are not his fault, but she also treats him with kindness in return for his, unlike Ibuki. Too bad she isn't the main focus of the series.
We also have the fifteen year old Chihaya, a first-year high school student who likes to draw manga for a publishing company. Compared to Ibuki and Ayane, Chihaya plays it somewhat cool and low-profile, and actually treats Yoichi like an actual person. She bases her manga on her sisters and (eventually) Yoichi, but sadly this isn't used for much effect in the actual series. It would have been neat if one part of an episode was drawn in the style of her manga with her own interpretations of her sisters and Yoichi, but no such segment was ever made. Why have something that could be potentially charming or cute when we can have Ibuki beating the hell out of Yoichi for no reason?
And finally we have Kagome, a ten year old who sure doesn't look like it. (How many ten years old girls do you know that say they need to go "potty"? Really, writers.) She spends most of the series either hovering around Chihaya or whimpering, crying, and/or sighing. And aside from a beach episode that reveals a kind of creepy aspect of her body, Kagome could just as well have been a dog without affecting a thing in this series. I wonder how long her actress (Kana Hanazawa) is going to continue playing little sister roles in anime (To Love Ru, Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens, Kyōran Kazoku Nikki).
As for Yoichi himself, he's not that actually too bad a character, as far as harem leads go. He actually knows how to fight, for one, and he isn't really all that clumsy or stupid. He's even considered *gasp* attractive to other girls in his school! Unfortunately, as the series goes on, he falls more and more into the bland harem formula of "comedy", usually by grabbing one of the sisters' breasts, embarrassing them, or going through their clothes. Most of the situations, of course, get him beaten up, even when it's not his fault!
Every unoriginal shonen series needs to have the main lead having a rival, and we have one in Samurai Harem in the form of Ryou Washiku, a mishmash of Kuno and Ryoga from Ranma 1/2. He's part Ryoga in that he wants to trump Yoichi even if it means training himself to the bone, and part Kuno in that he's an idiot when it comes to women (especially around Ibuki, who he constantly fantasizes of, as well as worries that she'll hate him for something inane that happens to him). He later develops as a character, though, and is actually one of the more likable characters in the series. I also like how his "henchman", Keita Torigaya, is actually good friends with him, and that they have an actual bond as friends, so at least he's not a complete outcast.
In addition to having a rival, Yoichi also is the target of several assassins for no particular reason. Seriously, they never explain why they want to kill him. Ever. For all I know, they could just be hating on his samurai attire. (Stig jokingly suggested that they wanted to spare him of the pain and hassle of a married life with Ibuki. That's pretty plausible, too.)
The first in this line of assassins is Tsubasa, a pink-haired loli with a surprisingly developed figure who just wants to live a normal life. Normally she's shy and clumsy...until someone strips her of her clothes, in which she goes berserk until someone clothes her again. She is joined in this regard by Angela, a tall girl with an even bigger chest who believes that Tsubasa is the next heir to her family's throne (her family being a line of assassins). They don't stay rivals with Yoichi for long, though, and eventually become friends with him and the other cast members.
Yeah, didn't see THAT coming, did ya? *rolls eyes*
Tsubasa and Angela are later succeeded by several more assassins. Most notable among them is the incredibly creepy Ukyou and his sister Sakon, who are the main focus of the last few episodes of the series. In general, though, none of the later assassins are particularly funny, memorable, or cool, and they almost always come off as bootlegged Rumiko Takahashi characters.
If you're hoping that the art and animation might salvage this show, think again. The art is average at best, with often drab, uncreative scenery, and the animation is only adequate save for a few fight sequences. The character designs are cute, but the Ikaruga sisters' hair and outfits (save Ayane's) look ridiculous. Ibuki has a huge purple ribbon in her hair which looks out of place for someone of her age and body, Chihaya's hair looks like it was sprayed on, and Kagome's cutesy head accessories make her look more like she's five than ten. The other girls dress far better, but if you're looking for interesting costumes/cosplay inspirations, Samurai Harem is the last series you'll get inspiration from. The background music is entirely forgettable, and the opening & closing songs won't be staying in your head anytime soon.
In fact, nothing in Samurai Harem will leave a solid print in your mind after you finish watching it. Yes the girls are cute, but that's about all the show has going for it. It's watchable but unremarkable, and with so many anime titles coming out this year, it's not difficult to find one that's better. Besides, would you rather watch an anime that's funny, unique, and interesting, or would you rather instead watch this mediocre, by-the-numbers harem comedy? If you lean towards the latter, then perhaps it's time to abandon the shonen harem genre for awhile, if not for good.
An unremarkable shonen harem anime in a sea of dozens of other unremarkable shonen harem anime. Why did Section23 Films even license it? — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: There's quite a bit of fan service from girls ten (!) to seventeen years old, as well as some sprinkles of innuendo here and there. There's also animated blood on the occasion, both slapstick and not. Fine for older teenage males (who would probably get the most mileage out of this series).
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-licensed fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Samurai Harem © 2009 Yuu Minamoto / Akita Shoten / Ikaruga Dojo Supporters
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