Jubei Chan 2, The Counter Attack of Siberia Yagyu
Otherwise known as the series with the impressively long name and the awesomely slender concept. I was really excited about the first series, since I like a lot of the directors others works, but the end result was more than a little disappointing. Thus I borrowed this with no great expectations.
Nanohara Jiyu is a normal girl living in a relatively backwater town somewhere in Japan. She's good natured, friendly, and regarded as being rather cute by many. If she has anything unusual about her it would be her nickname, Jubei, which is derived from her name but which is also shared with one of the most famous swordsmen of Japanese history. Her other prominent attributes are being rather well-endowed in the breast department. These are of course totally unconnected and not likely to lead to much in the way of story.
... or at least you would think so if the series took itself at all seriously. However in this series the historical Jubei has left his astounding powers, now contained in a "lovely eyepatch", to his apprentice with instructions to find a busty, good natured girl to inherit his powers. That was the first series, and things didn't go so well, but Jiyu has put all of that behind her. Sadly those still lured by the power of the eyepatch, or kept alive for hundreds of years solely to seek revenge for historical wrongs, aren't so easily dissuaded. It looks like once again Jubei-chan will have her life distorted by the awesome, yet terrible, power contained in the cute pink eyepatch. But will she be able to come to terms with her inner ninja before its too late?
Much of the synopsis relates to events that occurred in the first episode. That is somewhat inevitable though, you really need to know some of the foundation for this series to make much sense... and even then its touch and go at some points. Clearly this series has been designed as a true sequel, for those who liked the first and demanded more. I didn't, but then I watch anything. In any case the important elements are that the eyepatch is capable of transforming the cute young Jubei into the distinctly more deadly Jubei-chan the ninja girl. This gives her access to immense power, all the silliness associated with ninja multiplied by a factor of 10, but she doesn't actually want to be anything other than herself, nor does she want to get dragged into battles and feuds that really have nothing to do with her... she was basically quite happy (albeit a little fragile as a personality) being totally normal.
The first series was also really unsure whether it was a comedy, a drama piece or an action series. It probably intended to blend all these into a seamless whole, but it didn't quite work. The comedy was distinctly stupid, the drama overdone and the action didn't really connect with either. Admittedly I'm pretty picky about comedy, I greatly respect clever or whimsical humor, but the loud and aggressive visual jokes and slapstick this contained just started to annoy me. The comedy element is still here, and still not to my tastes, but it does get shunted off the main tracks of the story. It still consumes a decent amount of the running time, and as before some of it works and much of it doesn't, but you can take it or leave which is fine with me.
So what does fill up the majority of the time? In reality it is an odd kind of Ninja soap opera, extremely stylish and really rather overblown and stupid. It is also, like some of the better soap operas, surprisingly addictive. You can't help but get sucked into the flow of events and be interested in what twist will happen next. This occurs because the show deeply mixes the social and martial environments. The battles Jubei is fighting occur just as much on the emotional level. This requires some suspension of disbelief, that no one puts the pieces together and works out the "secret identity" of the main protagonist (something that is made extremely obvious to the audience), and that her machinations are so amazingly successful. It does work however, adding a character driven intensity that will have you hungry for the next episode. And the conclusion, combining both physical and emotional resolution, is given extra power through that.
The central element of the story is whether or not you can actually give up power, even if the environment constantly pushes you towards it. Jubei herself has the purest form of this, a certainly fragility of character that makes her both protective (and thus wanting to use the power) but horrified of losing her own personality within it. Other characters have their own takes, one who has lusted after power so strongly that she is dumbfounded at the idea of anyone not wanting it. Various other characters have become so tied to their destiny, which is another form of power, that they've lost any ability to imagine anything else (although half the cast has managed to live 300 years on sheer willpower alone, which isn't a bad achievement). It's not particularly deep, it's somewhat overacted, and those who just wanted a straight forward action flick are probably going to wish everyone would just accept as much power as they can get so the show can get on with the hot ninja action. It's not a bad watch though, the story quite capable of pulling you through the episodes and leaving you relatively satisfied at the other end.
The production is somewhat of a mixed bag. It has good character designs, inherited from the first series, and a fairly strong visual style that is quite appealing. Both the social and the combat aspects tend to be quite well designed in their visual flow and provide some strong images. It doesn't look quite that good when it moves though, there really wasn't enough money to do all the motion they wanted so it is both choppy and uses visual tricks to avoid close detail. Of course when it comes to the comedy it doesn't feel obligated to try and readily drops down to a much simpler style, especially for extras. The style, and progression, is enough to pull it off but it is not likely to impress purely on technical merits. Voices are decent, the use of Russian for emphasis at certain points was effective, and the fan-subbers (solar) did an excellent job of it. The ambient music and sound, unusually there is no opening track, is very strong. Much of it is re-used from the first series but it really is quite evocative.
Becoming a magical girl, and being granted amazing powers, sounds pretty good... but Jiyu-chan finds becoming a magical ninja girl isn't all its cracked up to be. Massive combat skills aren't really what an average, and relatively happy being average, schoolgirl needs. Especially because there only use is surviving the enemies determined to kill, defeat or steal the power from you. Its a bit of a soap opera, interlaced with moments of over the top comedy, but quite addictive once you accept its a bit of a guilty pleasure, and not in danger of being a classic.