Review: Bright: Samurai Soul Is Better Than The Original But Makes Some Odd Storytelling Choices
Bright: Samurai Soul is a new anime movie inspired by the live-action fantasy movie Bright. The Netflix original starred Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in a movie where fantasy creatures and humans co-existed in a world with an alternate history. Orcs, Goblins, Elves and fairies lived with Humans throughout history, along with magic and prophecies and all that good stuff. This review of Bright: Samurai Soul will try to veer away from comparisons to the live-action movie, but I’ll be honest, it’s going to be very difficult. Samurai Soul is in the same universe, in the past in an era of Japan’s history where Samurai existed. But after everything, the new anime movie repeats a lot of the mistakes of its inspiration while making some weird choices along the way.
Please note this review of Bright: Samurai Soul will feature heavy spoilers from the new movie, so read on at your discretion. Feel free to watch the movie on Netflix and return here to let me know your thoughts.
Bright: Samurai Soul Mirrors The Story of Bright
Yet another magic wielding Orc that needs protecting. | Image via Netflix.
As mentioned, Samurai Soul is in a tumultuous era in Japan where cultural and societal change is happening. Although, while movies like The Last Samurai took that into account in the larger story, Samurai Soul does nothing with it. The movie opens with a civil war, seemingly ended in an instant through the use of magic. The details of the war is never explained, relying on pre-existing knowledge of the period and the Meiji Restoration to understand those plot details. Magic stopping the war establishes the importance of the wand in this world.
When we cut to a few years later, a young elf girl is highly sought out by some for her ability to potentially wield a magic wand. This wand and the girl become the MacGuffin of the movie, as the bad guys want it for power purposes, while the good guys want to stop them. It’s a basic idea, similar to Bright, but falls short for many reasons. Beyond the basic motivations I mentioned above, there’s not a lot more at work when it comes to the major conflict or adventure in this story.
A defeated Ronin named Izo (Simu Liu) is working at a brothel where he comes across this Elf girl, Sonya (Yuzu Harada). The top courtesan named Chihaya (Victoria Grace) takes an interest in the girl. When some bad guys raid the brothel looking for her, the courtesan reveals herself to be an elf, the same one who ended the civil war in the opening. Killed by the leader of the gang that bursts in, she hands the wand to Sonya asking her to protect it. Izo then saves Sonya, along with an Orc who comes along, for some reason.
The Events Of Bright: Samurai Soul Feel Deferred And Obvious
Image via Netflix.
While Bright: Samurai Soul does a better job of explaining the significance of Elves and magic wands, it doesn’t really go anywhere beyond that. Izo and the former Orc mercenary turned protector of Sonya, Raiden (Fred Mancuso) promise to take her to the land of Elves where she will be safe. But obviously, she’s got the wand, which no one knows is the wand, but which is so obviously the wand from the get-go. So much of Samurai Soul looks like it’s meant to be a surprise or plot twist when it happens, which is confusing because the movie also seems to obviously be foreshadowing it all at the same time.
When Chihaya gives Sonya her hair pin, it looks like a wand and it’s pretty clear what it is. Especially because Chihaya literally uses it to ward off her attackers before she dies. But when the third act reveals it to be a wand, it’s a gasp-shock type of moment. Throughout the movie, Izo is also dealing with his own past demons. Izo was in the opening battle but later ends up in a brothel. How he got there is unknown, but flashbacks show that he was betrayed and left for dead by his master. And of course, his master is the big bad of the story, the man who is looking for Sonya and the wand, for evil reasons. Again, a moment meant to be a twist, but one that looks like it was foreshadowed, so the reveal feels counterproductive.
Bright: Samurai Soul’s Animation Is Clunky And Odd
The Orc that just– came along. | Image via Netflix.
The animation style of Bright: Samurai Soul is based on motion capture and old-school Japanese woodblock art. While it looks gorgeous in certain sequences like wide and establishing shots, it’s otherwise jarring. Especially in the action scenes. For a movie like Samurai Soul that’s based on an action-adventure film, the samurai and wand fighting scenes have to be pretty on point. And for the most part, the action choreography itself works. But it’s the direction style and the choices made during the framing of those shots that get weird and odd.
The camera movement is almost always like a non-linear 360-degree pan around the characters as they hack and slash at one another. It’s awkward enough to give me motion sickness. Also feels like cut-scenes from a Nintendo 64 game. The angles and tilts all seem disjointed from the overall visual flow of a scene. The characters are almost always in close-ups or wide shots. And for a very slow-moving story, the camera movement and jolty polyphonic soundtrack just don’t compliment the rest of the film. I don’t mean to be harsh, because at times the story is very engaging, but the camera movement really took me out of it at times.
The Review Of Bright: Samurai Soul Is Spoiler Filled For A Reason
This anime– falls short of its goals. | Image via Netflix.
Overall, Samurai Soul was a great idea about how to expand the universe of an existing franchise. Set the story in the same world with a rich and complicated history of fantasy, magic and other fun concepts. With a historical twist on the entire setting, changing it to a different culture, the story feels that much more rich and layered. Going back in time also frees the movie up from the baggage and criticisms of the original.
However, there are way too many similarities to the inspiration for it to totally separate itself from Bright. The premise and character dynamics are the same. A human and an orc team up to protect an elf while all other parties are on a chase to claim a magic wand. This mirroring makes it so difficult to review Bright: Samurai Soul independently. But the rich history of the world and the more substantial back story of the characters provide more depth than the original. The samurai elements are great as they enhance the situations and fight sequences that much more.
To Watch Or Not To Watch
The Ronin who faces with demons. Literally. | Image via Netflix.
Samurai Soul is a great attempt to expand the world of Bright but it still falls victim to the same issues as the first film. The added complications of a new animation style mucking things up even further. I’d love to see more stories in this world, but with more effort put into the character stories and world-building. One need not look further than many of the other anime adaptations to existing franchises like Pacific Rim: The Black or The Witcher: Nightmare Of The Wolf.
Bright: Samurai Soul is now streaming on Netflix.
What did you think of this new addition to the Bright universe? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured image via Netflix.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.