Sunday, 21 July 2013

DVD review: Sengoku Basara FES. 2010 (Ao No Jin/Aka No Jin)

Today is a very special day, making the eighth anniversary of the very first Sengoku Basara game's release back on 21st July 2005. It seems like a good excuse to post a new review!

Sengoku Basara FES. 2010 was held on 21st February 2010 at the Yokohama Pacifico convention centre. According to the official website, the venue has a maximum seating capacity of 5,002 and tickets for the event sold out in advance. Sengoku Basara FES was unusual in that it was based on the anime series rather than the original games; as a result, it was covered by a much wider variety of news outlets than the usual Basara Matsuri gatherings. I recommend the reports from ZakzakAnimeAnimeFamitsuGame Watch and Animate if you're looking for photographs.

A ¥6,800 double-disc DVD set was given a limited release on 28th May 2010 for the benefit of all of the fans who couldn't make it to the event in person. It's still available directly from Pony Canyon, though foreign buyers might find it easier to look for used copies at specialist retailers or through Amazon Japan marketplace sellers. The event was split across two separate performances: an afternoon show themed around Sanada Yukimura titled Aka No Jin "Tenha Zessou!" and an evening show for Date Masamune called Ao No Jin "'Let's Party!". The official trailer for the DVD can be watched at this link.

The DVD package is barebones for a Japanese release. There's no printed chapter guide, just some small pictures from the event on the back cover of the case and a tiny list of the guests. To make up for the lack of a proper insert the first press edition came with a pair of photographs showing all of the seiyuu who appeared at each performance. Although the packaging feels cheap, the amount of content on the discs makes this DVD set a bargain for its price.

The event itself had strange timing; Sengoku Basara 3 and the second season of the anime had both been announced the year before but neither was due for release until the summer, so fans were patiently waiting for these two huge projects to come to fruition. Basara Matsuri 2010 ~Haru No Jin~ would take place a few months later, so Sengoku Basara FES. 2010 mostly ignored the game series and side projects in favour of being a party for the fans of the anime adaptation. The result was a unique event which gave more attention to the seiyuu guests.

The full list of seiyuu at the event was as follows:

Nakai Kazuya (Date Masamune)
Hoshi Souichirou (Sanada Yukimura)
Morikawa Toshiyuki (Katakura Kojuurou)
Genda Tesshou (Takeda Shingen)
Ishino Ryuuzou (Chousokabe Motochika)
Nakahara Shigeru (Mouri Motonari)
Morita Masakazu (Maeda Keiji)
Hayami Shou (Akechi Mitsuhide)
Wakamoto Norio (Oda Nobunaga)
Okiayu Ryoutarou (Toyotomi Hideyoshi)

The names in red were only scheduled to appear at Aka No Jin, while the blue ones were only announced for Ao No Jin. Hoshi and Morikawa each turned up at the other event as a surprise. Nakai only performed at Ao No Jin but popped up right at the end of the first show for a few minutes to greet the audience. The names in green were the two secret guests.

Sengoku Basara's producer Kobayashi Hiroyuki (KobaP) was present throughout Sengoku Basara FES. 2010. The original event also hosted some musical guests whose contributions are missing from the home video edition due to rights issues. According to online sources, DUSTZ performed Break & Peace and Ishikawa Chiaki sung Rakurui, while surprise guests abingdon boys school added two more fan favourite songs in the form of JAP and BLADE CHORD. The music guests weren't included in the ending ceremonies or talk shows; without already knowing they were there it's possible you'd never notice their omission watching the DVD footage.

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Of the two discs in the DVD set, the first is the shortest at 105 minutes. It contains the Aka No Jin performance coupled with a pair of trailers for Sengoku Basara 3 and the anime's Blu-ray box set.

Aka No Jin kicked off with the traditional video to announce the venue's rules and regulations. Nagamasa took charge of this segment and with Oichi's help he managed to shout out the instructions in a typically energetic manner alongside clips of his brief appearances in the anime. A pre-recorded countdown video came next to introduce all of the characters who appear in the first series. And with that the opening act began: a group of costumed 'ASHIGARU DANCERZ' performed the Ashigaru Dance routine live on stage accompanied by JAP blaring through the speakers. Watching a mob of dancing soldiers wearing matching armour was certainly an attention-grabbing way to start the event!

The main FES itinerary was arranged around four chapters of scripted live dialogue performances. Rather than the short excerpts from the game scripts which appear at Basara Matsuri events, these were live readings of entire scenes from the anime set against big screens showing the corresponding footage. The actors had to keep up with the video and react to one another live on stage with gasps and grunts in between their actual lines. Whenever they had to interact with a character whose voice actor wasn't at the event, audio from the original anime was used to fill in the gaps.

The very first of the live seiyuu performances involved Hoshi and Genda rushing through the events of the anime from the perspective of Yukimura and Shingen. The pair of them were magnificently spirited! Whether they were shouting at one another or re-enacting scenes from the story word for word, there wasn't a single dull moment during their act.

Of course, the whole thing was scripted in advance to fit with the scenes on the screen. There were a few lines which differed from the anime script; the most obvious were the introduction scenes where the characters yelled special greetings to the people watching in Yokohama.

Once the first chapter was over Morita started the second act alone, soon being joined by Ishino and Nakahara to cover Keiji's attempts to convince Motochika and Motonari to join the fight against Nobunaga. Morita put his vocal chords to good use for a loud, emotionally-charged performance.

Next came a segment titled 'BASARA TAAALK!', a parody of famous Japanese variety show 'Ametalk!'. Morita returned to the stage as MC to formally introduce the other four seiyuu who had appeared earlier and give them a proper chance to greet the audience.

The purpose of BASARA TAAALK! was to make everyone perform silly 'new' versions of famous catchphrases made up by the other guests; the seiyuu didn't know the lines they'd be given in advance so there were some great reactions as they read them from the cards. Hoshi started off by proudly telling Shingen about his sailor uniform. Genda teased Hoshi and made him perform the line a second time (it was as though he was really Oyakata-sama!). Nakahara confessed to being the person who wrote the joke.

Genda's turn came next and had to ask Yukimura whether he'd separated the trash - Morita was proud that he'd come up with that one. Ishino had to declare that he found dolphins soothing, while Nakahara had to command his soldiers to work hard... politely!

When it was time for Morita to declare the game over, Ishino challenged him for not having performed a line himself. Although Morita protested as he didn't have a card for Keiji the others were more than happy to help with that. First Genda provided a terrible pun, then Ishino gave him the real one where Keiji laments unifying the land in order to become a celebrity. Hoshi forced him to repeat the line in an imitation of Masamune's voice for good measure.

The lengthy live dialogues then resumed with the first appearance of Mitsuhide. Hayami went through a number of scenes all by himself before being joined by a secret guest: Wakamoto Norio! The crowd screamed in delight as Nobunaga's atmospheric theme music blasted out (and laughed when he rumbled excessively at the climax of the scene).

I said that this event was mostly for the anime version of Sengoku Basara but it wouldn't be right to completely ignore the games, and sure enough a special 'information corner' about Sengoku Basara 3 followed. Keiji took to the microphone and welcomed a casually-dressed KobaP on stage for the first time, escorted by all of the seiyuu guests except for Wakamoto. Unlike the formal presentations at Basara Matsuri where KobaP simply talks to the audience, here the guests discussed the upcoming game with him on stage. You can tell that KobaP really loves the series when you see him heatedly debating with the cheeky seiyuu during an unscripted discussion.

The final chapter of the live dialogue performance started off with secret guest Morikawa Toshiyuki, eventually switching to the battle at the end of the first season of the anime. Everyone else came on stage to yell their lines at the climax. It was tremendously exciting.

The ending ceremony was next, where they managed to slip in a trailer and broadcast date for the second season of the anime. Right as Aka No Jin wrapped up, Nakai suddenly came onto the stage draped in merchandise from the event and shouting that it wasn't the end, much to Morita's consternation (he'd been trying to get all of the visitors ready to leave). And on that note, the first performance drew to a close.

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The second disc contains the evening Ao No Jin show and an hour of extras for a total runtime of 174 minutes.

Ao No Jin's introduction was the same as the earlier show: the rules were read out by Nagamasa and Oichi, leading into the same countdown video and performance by the ASHIGARU DANCERZ. At least the live dance was shown from some different angles to make the experience a little different the second time.

Fortunately, the first chapter of the live dialogues was all new material, recapping the anime from the perspective of Masamune and Kojuurou. The second chapter was the same as the one from Aka No Jin with Keiji, Motonari and Motochika. This time we got a better look at the moment Morita dynamically jumped onto the stage to emulate Keiji's heroic leap between the other two during the anime; very funny.

Morita was straight back on stage after the dialogue finished for the evening edition of 'BASARA TAAALK!'. The seiyuu guests for this segment were limited to those who had appeared in the first two chapters of dialogues once again, so Ishino and Nakahara got to participate in BASARA TAAALK! for a second time. Morikawa was bursting with enthusiasm; I don't think I've ever seen him quite so openly fired up before.

The comedic 'new' catchphrases continued. Nakai was first with "This is a pen, you see?". Morita imitated him in the uproar which ensued, which got even louder when Nakahara claimed to have been the one who wrote the line. Morikawa's line was a dreadful pun on Kojuurou's surname: Katakura was changed to Katakori ('shoulder stiffness'). Everyone agreed it was awful, and when they heard it was written by Genda they teased that it must be another 'oyakata gag' (a play on the unflattering oyaji gag style of jokes favoured by old men).

Ishino had to call out to Chousokabe's crew to inform them that he couldn't swim (Morikawa owned up to writing this one). The crowd kept shouting encouragement to Nakahara, whose line was Motonari asking whether the listener wanted some hot onion rings. Morita was delighted by the picture the staff had chosen to accompany it showing Motonari wielding his ringblade.

Finally it was Keiji's turn to perform a silly line, according to Ishino who introduced him before Morita could sneakily bring the segment to a close. Keiji demanded to know how anyone could make a country where there was no charge to use the motorways - the original line was about making a country where people could be happy, so it was another bad joke.

Chapter three of the live dialogues came next with Mitsuhide taking the starring role as he had before. I kept expecting Wakamoto to appear as a secret guest this time but Hayami remained alone on stage during Nobunaga's first few scenes - until right at the end, where he came on stage and closed the chapter in the most dramatic way possible. The DVD staff superimposed flames over the video to make the scene even more intense.

The Sengoku Basara 3 'information corner' brought everyone except Wakamoto back on stage with KobaP to chat about the two leads in the next game. The seiyuu seemed very amused at the idea that Ieyasu had thrown away his weapons, agreeing that punching was a truly manly form of attack.

And with that it was time for the final dialogue performance, with everyone appearing one more time (including surprise guest Hoshi). Hayami slipped some funny ad-libs into Mitsuhide's gasps of pleasure during his last scene. The atmosphere as Nobunaga was brought down by the warriors working together was electric; even though I've seen the anime ending several times, I felt the live performance gave me a whole new appreciation of how well it had been put together.

All that was left was the ending ceremony. In the closing minutes, as Morita was telling everyone to look forward to seeing the Toyotomi forces in the new anime, Hideyoshi's distinctive voice suddenly boomed out from nowhere, demanding to know whether Keiji had spoken his name. Okiayu then joined the other actors on stage as the final surprise guest, intensifying the excitement over the upcoming anime and bringing the show to an end on a high note.

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The extra feature on the second DVD is humbly described as 'exclusive backstage footage and cast interviews'. Rather than the brief selection of clips I was expecting, this was actually a full one-hour documentary! The usual shots from all around the venue were followed by a fascinating time-lapse video of the stage being set up and the screens being tested, then gruelling rehearsal footage which continued right up until the show opened its doors.

A huge queue of young women had formed outside the venue five hours before the doors were scheduled to open, wrapped up in coats and scarves to protect them against the winter cold. We got to see them buying merchandise and excitedly thumbing through the pamphlets in their seats as Sengoku Basara 3 trailers played in the background. Later on, cameras placed near the audience members showed the furious reactions from the crowd each time a new guest came on stage.

One backstage segment even gave viewers a glimpse of the special themed menu that the backstage staff got to enjoy at FES: Kimagure Chef No Let's Party Curry, Ten! Ha! Zessou Hamburg Steak, Ashigaru Fries and Maou Salad. 

This is a side of events that the majority of the attendees rarely have a chance to see, let alone the people watching the DVD versions.

Short interviews with Morita, Hoshi, Nakai, Genda, Ishino, Nakahara, Hayami, Wakamoto, Morikawa, and KobaP were also incorporated in the documentary, covering topics such as how it felt now that Sengoku Basara had been around for five years, how different it is performing live on stage compared to in a recording studio, and whether each actor felt they had any rivals within the cast. Ishino and Nakahara both chuckled at that question. The funniest part of the interviews came when Morita tried to show off his nunchaku technique using coat hangers in the dressing room.

The Sengoku Basara FES. 2010 DVD provides a snapshot of the series riding high at the pinnacle of its popularity, and for seiyuu fans it's no exaggeration to call it one of the best of all of the events to date with relatively little repetition between the two performances. The audio quality is superb, providing a good representation of how seriously professional seiyuu take their work. I'm pleased to have this DVD as part of my collection.

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