by Timothy Georgi
The 1900s were a dangerous and exciting time in Japan. It was a time when the reign of the Shogun was being challenged from many directions. This time frame in history provides the world with a look at extremes, from the bloody world that had been thrust upon the Japanese landscape to the myriad of historical figures that inspire the story creators of today to delve into a time when Japan changed forever. It's at this time that the story of a small group of freedom fighters takes place.
Corruption is running rampant through the Japanese countryside. The power of the Shogun has long been left unchecked, but the time has come for opposition. An elite group of mercenaries known as Samurai Gun have appeared to challenge the evil and corrupt members of the Shogunate government. The Samurai Gun are appropriately named due to the use of the high-tech revolvers and firearms that they employ in their missions to stop the growing plague that the Shogun have become.
The Dragon Palace Tavern is the hot gathering spot in a small village that is the center of the story. It's there that we first find our main character, Ichimatsu, a seemingly quiet man that does odd jobs at the Tavern during the day. In the evenings, he can be found in the brothels of the town to be with his friend, confidant and possible lover, the brothel girl Ohana. However, in the darkness of the night, he reluctantly takes to the shadows and becomes the feared and mysterious Samurai Gun. Ichimatsu openly despises killing anyone, but the traumatic life he's led compels him to continue his battle. When he was younger, he was forced to watch the rape of his sister and the killing of both her and his parents at the hands of the Shogun.
Joining him in his fight against the Shogun are his compatriots, Kurenai and Daimon. Kurenai is the proprietor of the Dragon Palace Tavern and when she's not helping the rest of her staff run the tavern, she can be found on stage with her guitar, serenading the crowd. Daimon is a bit harder to nail down. He can be found around town, running various errands, but nothing that you could pinpoint as an actual job. Like Ichimatsu, both Daimon and Kurenai are members of the Samurai Gun and they all end up on some rather action packed missions to help slowly free the oppressed people in the town and the surrounding area from the iron grip of the Shogun.
A good portion of the missions could be left as standalone episodes, but there's something sinister happening in the background as Ichimatsu and Co. take on the Shogun that have been abusing the people. A secret group known as the Shogun's Preservation Bureau has been formed to find ways to combat the Samurai Gun members. Newer pieces of technology for the time are beginning to be used by the Bureau to ensure the continuing reign of the Shogun. In several of the first episodes, a wide variety of things, from steam locomotives to machine guns, have been adopted for use by the Shogun in order to remove the threat of the Samurai Gun. (Though, as is pointed out by the liner notes for the first DVD, many of the high-tech gadgets that are used in the series are a bit before their time for the period that Samurai Gun takes place.)
The actions of the Shogun begin to take their toll on the poor oppressed people. Women and children that have been taken and imprisoned, samurai informants and all manner of people have been taken captive, tortured or killed by the minions of the Shogun's Preservation Bureau. Eventually things get personal and a little bit of romance gets into the mix as well when Ohana is taken advantage of by a spy from the Bureau, trying to get information on the whereabouts of the Samurai Gun. Ichimatsu arrives just in time to stop the spy, creating a way to free Ohana from her life as a girl working in the brothels in the process.
From the get go, the audience is taken into fictionalized stylings of some of the historical pieces of the end of the Shogun Era. Overlap that with the complexities of the main characters and the pieces of their pasts that make up the reason for why they do what they do, and you have the makings for a series that will keep you guessing at every turn.
Very little back story is revealed to the audience as the series starts. We're shown small glimpses of the past as the series goes along, but very little beyond Ichimatsu's motives is explained in the first DVD. The creators and the ultimate reasons for the existence of the Samurai Guns is vague at best. The Bureau's behind-the-scenes plans are even more mysterious. But even with all this mystery and vagueness, the result is a somber yet action-filled drama that you must see unfold for yourself.
Despite the overly serious nature of Samurai Gun, there is a bit of humor to be found on the DVD. One of the best parts is found in the Extras for the disc. There you'll find the "Fun with Audio" section where some of the voice actors get to have a bit of fun taking key scenes from the first episodes and recording alternate lines for their characters. What we're treated with is some of the best dead-pan humor that I've seen in a long time. Several of the lines from the series have been cleverly rewritten and are masterfully delivered by the crew in a fast paced barrage of wit and down-right silliness. The way the voice actors were able to keep the serious tone of the series while doing the alternate lines just makes this extra that much more funny. It's something that definitely has to be experienced.
A word of caution here though. Samurai Gun is definitely not something for the younger set. It's got a TV MA rating for the liberal use of violence and blood as well as for some extreme language and sexual situations. Fans of the Japanese Shogun era as well as action aficionados that like a more adult oriented story line will love Samurai Gun. It's the right mix of action, suspense and mystery that will keep you chomping at the bit and begging for more.