The Elusive Samurai Episode 1: A Setting Sun

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There is a reason I was so excited about this anime, there was a reason I was so excited for The Elusive Samurai episode 1. Despite my unbridled excitement in regards to the staff behind this series, I don’t think I could fully grasp the quality of this first episode. Every niche and crevice of this debut is airtight (aside from one CG samurai), and the creative output is just beyond belief. Yuuta Yamazaki is poised to deliver a series to rival Wonder Egg Priority, to challenge their prior work and grow, to reach that next step in their journey as a creative force. And alongside them, they bring a tight knit group of Cloverworks staff.

I could honestly speak on color designer Kazuko Nakashima’s work for ages, but I think it’s pretty obvious, no? Their love for flatter and sharper shading coupled with vibrant and rich colors is just endlessly wonderful. In particular though, I love how well they work within similar color palettes in this debut episode. There’s a lot of effort to homogenize what’s on screen, as it allows for certain colors and scenes to provide incredible contrast. If there’s really a staff member to praise though, it has to be Yasushi Nishiya. Their character designs are incredible for a TV Anime, and move beautifully- another aspect that is likely owed to their effort as chief animation director and the only animation director to be credited on the episode. Yes, that’s what I thought as well- there’s just no way, right? It seems entirely impossible, but somehow, it’s happened. Truly a herculean effort from this designer to ensure the beauty of the designs aren’t lost in motion or at a distance.

Though, Nakashima’s colors and Nishiya’s characters are simply putty in the hands of Yamazaki and this key animation core. Yamazaki’s creative force permeates the entirety of this episode- all the way from action sequences to humor. A great example is how they construct the scenes above. Using a destroyed wall to separate father from daughter is a great example, and leaving the blood stain and other details to the left of a panning frame is great for drawing the viewer’s attention. Similarly, Yamazaki’s use of a crowd of Oni’s to stain Kamakura a detestable shade of red is an incredible decision. If I were to be honest, Yamazaki’s boards and approach make The Elusive Samurai episode 1 into an entirely different beast than the manga. Really, go take a look at what they’ve done to so much of this work- it’s more than faithfulness, it’s an evolution. If the entire season were to be adapted like this, you’d be left with no reason to read the manga.

That aside, The Elusive Samurai episode 1 really drives home the narrative importance of a main character that’s great at running away. Evidently a challenge to really express at a high level. Though it’s a trivial obstruction in the eyes of Yamazaki and Cloverworks. The studio showed off their ability to integrate CGI environments with Wind Breaker, and have only improved them since then. Using a mix of 2D environments being rotated, and genuine articles of 3-dimensional environments, the episode does a wonderful job of expressing that elusive nature of our titular samurai. They also appear to be showing off with the opening sequence of the episode, delivering some delightfully high fidelity CG reconstructions for the purpose of storytelling. An incredibly interesting idea that fits into the bottomless tool belt of Yamazaki in this episode.

And that tool belt really does seem bottomless. Despite the limitations of a 24 minute episode (even further shortened by both OP and ED appearing), Yamazaki crams an incredible amount of unique ideas into The Elusive Samurai episode 1. Be it unique framing, letter boxing, the mixing of theatric and realistic- you name it. There’s even a healthy amount of faceless characters in the episode. It’s a creative approach that makes it hard to really isolate Yamazaki’s intent with the work, aside from it being The Elusive Samurai.

Of course, the most interesting out of the bunch of creative ideas is the transition between reality and a sort of pseudo-fiction. In two separate cases, Yamazaki successfully nails meaningful transitions between the two modes of experience- though to varying degrees. In the first, we retreat into the mind of our elusive samurai Tokiyuki while he runs away from his encounter with a certain priest. Stuck on a treadmill running away from life, from expectations and reality, he’s forced to reconcile with all of his experiences when faced with someone that desires something from Takiyuki himself. The second, and far more action packed is the transition baked into Takiyuki’s fleeing sequence towards the end of the episode. Using the crowd of Oni as an interstitial aspect of Takiyuki’s experience, Yamazaki shifts from the more realistic and volumetric reds and oranges to a stark red and yellow-orange pairing to create intense fire as Takiyuki’s background, highlighting his transition towards the mythic hero of “definitely a priest” Yorishige’s dreams. It’s incredible work, and I simply can’t get enough of it.

If that wasn’t enough, The Elusive Samurai episode 1 has much more to give- so much more. Do you want 2D animated backgrounds? The incredible action sequence has them. Do you need solid visual humor? That appears here as well. It’s essentially a case of, “you name it, we have it” from a creative perspective. And really, a lot of that is owed to the source material. Being an anime only, I’ve found Yusei Matsui’s narrative work to be quite solid. It’s going to be far from a melodramatic supernatural samurai story, but it’s niche between the two extremes of levity and seriousness is executed on quite well. Within the limits of this first episode, the series does a solid job of ensuring that both sides are felt with equal weight and impact, but doesn’t attempt to force them together- yet. It’s a smart decision, allowing both to excel independently, and allowing them to develop before trying to really bring it all together.

It’s the sort of approach that doesn’t aim for any wild ideas or risks, but neither is it something that forces any sense of rigidity or routine onto the series at large. It’s a malleable story centered around a unique concept- something that plays wonderfully in the hands of Yamazaki and Cloverworks. The Elusive Samurai episode 1 isn’t necessarily a story that will get you up out of your seat, but the visuals certainly will. Producing an interesting dynamic where the narrative almost seems secondary to the creativity of the adaptation staff, The Elusive Samurai episode 1 is simply a must watch for this season- no if, and, or buts. Yamazaki is here, and they’ll be damned if they don’t make their directorial debut as incredible as Shin Wakabayashi’s.


One response to “The Elusive Samurai Episode 1: A Setting Sun”

  1. Milferd Avatar
    Milferd

    Good review thanks.

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