Sunday, 11 May 2014
DVD review: Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage II - Kyouou Tanjou x Shinen No Utage
A lot has changed for this instalment of the Butai Sengoku Basara series. It's the first time that the play has been split into two different parts instead of telling a continuous story and there's also been a major change in the lineup. This is the first time that the series has had anyone other than Kubota Yuuki in the role of Date Masamune, and the first time since 2009 that anyone other than Hosogai Kei has played Sanada Yukimura. Kubota and Hosogai have earned a great deal of respect for their performances over the years and taking over from such perfectly cast actors must have been daunting. For some reason Hanbee was recast as well though as he's only appeared in the series once before this isn't as big a shock.
Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage II - Kyouou Tanjou x Shinen No Utage ('Birth Of The Dark King x Feast Of The Abyss') originally ran for 21 performances between 1st November 2013 and 24th November 2013 in Tokyo (Tokyo Dome City Hall), Nagoya (Chuunichi Theatre) and Osaka (Mielparque Osaka). The usual 'live viewing' events were held in 26 cinemas across Japan for those who hadn't been able to make it to one of the theatre performances.
The DVD release was released at the end of March 2014 as a ¥6,500 first press limited edition and a ¥6,000 regular edition; for once the limited edition is still available at the time I'm writing this review. Overseas fans who cannot use the official Dais shop can pick up their copy at Amazon Japan (limited edition) or Yesasia (limited edition). The limited edition is the version I bought and it comes with a slim photo book as well as a 60-minute bonus disc and the usual chipboard slipcase to hold the DVD case. The main show runs for a total of 172 minutes.
Since I couldn't find a picture of the limited edition slipcase, here's a photograph of mine:
The full cast list for this play is as follows.
Ishida Mitsunari (Nakamura Seijirou)
Katakura Kojuurou (Yoshida Tomokazu)
Sarutobi Sasuke (Murata Youjirou)
Date Masamune (Takigawa Eiji)
Sanada Yukimura (Yoshioka Yuu)
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Odai Ryouhei)
Takenaka Hanbee (Kawasumi Bishin)
Houjou Ujimasa (Yamamoto Kenji)
Itsuki (Sakai Ran)
Uesugi Kenshin (AKIRA)
Ootani Yoshitsugu (Nitta Kenta)
Mouri Motonari (Kotani Yoshikazu)
Saika Magoichi (Yashiro Minase)
Kasuga (Chinen Sayaka)
Fuuma Kotarou (Takahashi Hikaru)
Kuroda Kanbee (Shirakawa Yuujirou)
Miyoshi Sanninshuu eldest brother (Kaneda Shinichi)
Miyoshi Sanninshuu second brother (Endou Makoto)
Miyoshi Sanninshuu third brother (Shirasaki Seiya)
As well as the aforementioned cast changes for Masamune, Yukimura and Hanbee, this play marked the stage debuts for Ujimasa, Itsuki and the Miyoshi Sanninshuu (also known as the Miyoshi Death Squad). Everyone else has appeared in the series before.
Veteran Sengoku Basara singer Ishikawa Chiaki's Ao No Naka No Ao and Zenya were used as the play's main theme song and insert song respectively. Fans interested in the music can check the physical Zenya EP release which is available on CD or via outlets like iTunes (it's even on sale in the UK store!).
The decision to give star billing to Mitsunari, Kojuurou and Sasuke was obviously intended to allow fans to get used to the cast changes without the pressure of having them in the central roles this time. I was curious about how this would affect the 'Sengoku Basara feel' of the series.
Please be aware that my review will include spoilers for the content of the play from this point onwards together with spoilers for the original Sengoku Basara 3 games.
The first act on the DVD is actually the Shinen No Utage ('Feast Of The Abyss') story, which mostly focuses on what Kojuurou and Sasuke were doing during Sengoku Basara 3 and Sengoku Basara 3 Utage. The main villains are the Miyoshi Sanninshuu who fit the role well with their synchronised movements and fantastic outfits.
Since this act only runs for an hour (including the usual opening sequence), it's very incoherent. Every single character appears for at least a few minutes so there's no real sense of an ongoing story. Instead, it's more like an assortment of missing scenes which weren't included in previous plays to set the stage for the flashback arc which follows.
The second act was the Kyouou Tanjou ('Birth Of The Dark King') story. Disappointed by the first part, I was initially worried that this was going to be two hours of Mitsunari screaming about Ieyasu with everyone else having tiny cameo roles, but I was completely wrong! It was an amazing story which showed what happened at Odawara in the events leading up to the start of Sengoku Basara 3. Everyone other than the Miyoshi Sanninshuu returned and this time they all played important parts in the main story.
While the canon of the stage plays isn't exactly the same as that of the games the direct input of the Capcom staff tends to make them very close, and consequently the way that some of the gaps in the established chain of events were filled in was quite interesting. I'm going to summarise it in slightly more detail than usual.
The story opens with the Toyotomi army planning its ill-fated attack on Odawara Castle. Kanbee provokes Mitsunari by disrespecting Hanbee by demanding that his shackles be removed - needless to say, his wish isn't granted.
The scene then shifts to Sanada Yukimura confronting Uesugi Kenshin on behalf of his sick master. The Takeda forces want to ally themselves with the Uesugi, and Kenshin eventually agrees to the truce. This leads into one of the most memorable moments in the entire show when Kenshin interrupts Yukimura's attempt to fire everyone up with a song about Shingen - Kenshin replaces it with a stunning performance of Versailles no BaSAra (a direct parody of the Takarazuka Revue's most famous work). The Uesugi pair sing and dance together on stage, and even Yukimura and Sasuke eventually join in as backing dancers to seal the alliance.
Meanwhile, the Date army is preparing for battle as well. They encounter Itsuki and her team of pink-clad supporters who are on their way to to try to overthrow Hideyoshi, and end up joining forces. Kojuurou leads a cheering game to prepare everyone for the enemies they expect to face, except that it ends up with Itsuki getting confused about Imagawa Yoshimoto. She imitates his trademark 'oja' exclamations for the rest of the game.
Back in the Toyotomi camp, Mouri Motonari has joined up with the army and the group performs a series of comedy skits together. It will be the last lighthearted scene for a while.
In Odawara Castle, Houjou Ujimasa is about to be at the centre of a large battle with nobody at his side other than the silent Fuuma Kotarou, whose duties include supporting his master, listening to him boast, watching him dance (alone) and performing back massages. Ujimasa is thrilled when the Takeda-Uesugi alliance arrives and offers to team up with him to defend the castle against the approaching army. He eagerly accepts their offer.
At the same time, Hideyoshi approaches Saika Magoichi to secure her support against the ninja he knows he'll be facing. Magoichi agrees to the deal - then it's time for war.
The forces at Odawara now control all three of the ninja and they're tearing through the opposition as a team. Magoichi arrives in the nick of time to rescue Kanbee from the trio in one of the fiercest battles of the play. Shortly afterwards, she encounters Itsuki. Magoichi is moved by Itsuki's fearless words and and dissolves her contract with the Toyotomi army on the spot, reflecting that Ieyasu had been right about them after all.
Elsewhere, the Date army's intrusion hasn't been going so well. First Kojuurou is brought down by Mitsunari in a savage battle, then Masamune rushes to his Right Eye's side and is soundly beaten too.
Itsuki meets up with the Takeda-Uesugi army just as they enter battle with Hanbee and Yoshitsugu. Kenshin tells the others to retreat and buys them some time by fighting the pair alone before vanishing. Hanbee orders Yoshitsugu away as his coughing worsens - moments later, he's unexpectedly struck down from behind by none other than Mouri Motonari.
Kanbee has made it as far as the gate of Odawara Castle by this time and here he challenges Ujimasa to a fight. Ujimasa's pathetic attempts to beat him resonate with the downtrodden strategist, but Mitsunari arrives just in time to see Kanbee bonding with the enemy and immediately accuses him of being a traitor. At that moment, Motonari shows up and informs Mitsunari that Hanbee has been defeated - naturally, he doesn't mention that he was responsible.
The last battle of the play involves Magoichi confronting Hideyoshi. Just when it seems as though Hideyoshi will kill her, he hears the sound of horns from the battlefield and sees a sea of Tokugawa flags assembling in the distance...
Yoshitsugu can only watch in horror as Mitsunari experiences Hanbee dying in his arms. Immediately afterwards, they both hear a terrifying report from the battlefield.
Soldier: Mitsunari-sama! Ootani-sama!
Yoshitsugu: What is it?
Soldier: Tokugawa...Tokugawa-dono has...
Mitsunari: Hahahahaha...of course...Ieyasu has returned? You're late, Ieyasu!
Mitsunari: We'll join up with Ieyasu and strike down all of the traitors, putting an end to this darkness!
Soldier: ...Tokugawa Ieyasu has rebelled!
Mitsunari: What are you talking about? Ieyasu isn't that kind of guy.
Nakamura's exemplary acting coupled with the beautiful soundtrack makes the next few scenes brutal viewing, with Mitsunari tearing through the remaining soldiers and finding Hideyoshi's body surrounded by scraps of Tokugawa flags. I've seen this story played out dozens of times across the various Sengoku Basara adaptations and this was one of the hardest to watch. Nakamura has even learnt to imitate some aspects of seiyuu Seki Tomokazu's vocal performance.
As Ishikawa Chiaki's beautiful songs close the show, Mitsunari has been set on his path towards his role as the 'Dark King' we see in Sengoku Basara 3.
The last few minutes were dedicated to the usual farewell messages from the cast. It was then time to explore the bonus DVD.
The bonus disc contains just two features this time. The first is a lengthy 'making of' documentary showing the actors reading their scripts as a group and being silly backstage. Series producer Kobayashi Hiroyuki (KobaP), director Yamamoto Makoto (YamamotoD) and stage play organiser Nishida Daisuke all seem very involved with the backstage preparations. Fans are treated to two sides of the actors - they're relatively serious as they answer questions about the series, then they're shown practicing and laughing at one another with big grins on their faces.
The second extra feature is the full curtain call footage from the final day of the play's run. Each of the cast members gave longer messages than usual (Kotarou used an oversized scroll to present his, though he broke character right at the end to thank the crowd with a shout). There was a lot of fooling around from the more experienced cast members.
KobaP and YamamotoD joined the actors on stage, then Nishida Daisuke arrived to present the usual 'Air' Basara show. The supporting cast leapt around on stage fighting imaginary warriors while the actors sat amongst the audience. Disappointingly the video quality wasn't great for this segment.
Before I close this post I'll add my usual impressions of the new actors.
Takigawa's Date Masamune was interesting to see. It's impossible for him to approach Kubota Yuuki's level in his first play, not least because Masamune isn't really very cool in this storyline where he loses to Mitsunari without having a chance to redeem himself. On the positive side, Takigawa bears a closer physical resemblance to the game version of Masamune than Kubota did. Although I will always miss Kubota's flawless attitude, I hope that Takigawa will stick with the Butai Sengoku Basara series for long enough to charm me with his version of the character too.
It was difficult to judge Yoshioka's interpretation of Yukimura at first because he was supposed to be depressed and pathetic throughout the first act. Things picked up in the second part and it was there that Yoshioka began to shine (in fact, I even forgot that I wasn't watching Hosogai Kei at times). It's a shame that he's not playing Yukimura full-time in the current stage play since he has a lot of potential in the role.
As for the other newcomers, I was completely satisfied with Kawasumi's Hanbee; he has an appropriately beautiful voice and physically resembles the previous actor. Sakai's Itsuki was an incredible bundle of cuteness; it was exactly like watching a real-life version of the game character. I loved the little touches like having everyone on the stage jump into the air whenever she dropped her hammer to make it seem impossibly heavy.
Houjou Ujimasa provided much of the comic relief in a surprisingly physical role; Yamamoto had to fall to the floor each time the old man ran out of energy. The Miyoshi Sanninshuu were great too. I understand that they're back in the current play; hopefully they'll have a bigger role next time to make them stand out better.
Last of all, it's good to see some old favourites again too. My favourite part was hearing AKIRA's beautiful Kenshin speak in more masculine language during the Takarazuka-themed scene. Everyone else was fantastic and exactly as I've described them in previous performances - I don't have a single bad thing to say about the acting quality.
Several risks were taken with this play, from breaking up established character pairings (Magoichi without Tsuruhime, Motonari without Motochika, Mitsunari without Ieyasu) to splitting the show into two parts. The first hour was weak, but the second more than made up with it with a balanced plot where every single character seemed equally important, even though it focused on Mitsunari's backstory. The blend of comedy, acrobatics and serious drama was pitched perfectly.
The next play continues the theme of betrayal by bringing back Ieyasu and returning to the roots of Butai Sengoku Basara 3. I'm looking forward to it!
Professional pictures taken at the open dress rehearsal can be seen on the Dengeki, Gpara and Famitsu websites. The pictures I used in this review were taken from the Dais Shop.