Anime, Film, Netflix

“Bright: Samurai Soul” is better than the original but that’s not saying much

So, we’re all aware of how much of a mess the movie Bright was, right? How it was full of piss-poor world-building, had unlikeable protagonists, and was extremely racist? We’ve all seen that Lindsay Ellis video, right?

And let me be clear: I haven’t seen the original and have no intention to. All my knowledge about the live-action version comes from Lindsay Ellis and Wikipedia.

Now, Bright: Samurai Soul is basically a re-telling of the live-action version that happens to be set during the Meiji Restoration and is animated. Now, this is actually…exactly what I mean when I say more live-action movies should be animated. 

Aside from being significantly less racist (which I mean, isn’t that difficult), the medium makes the world its presenting more believable. It’s easier to suspend my disbelief. And while it does little to improve upon the world-building of the original – it’s still the better movie of the two.

(Which again isn’t really that much of an accomplishment.)

Samurai Soul focuses on Izou, a ronin samurai who agrees to transport a young elf named Sonya to Hakodate – the land of elves along with orc Raiden. Along the way, they must avoid the evil Inferni who are seeking to kidnap Sonya, to see if she a Bright, capable of wielding a magic wand so that they can resurrect the Dark Lord.

Not all that different from the original but lots of it is heavily improved by the writing and personalities of the characters.

Well – if the characters did have actual personalities…They’re pretty one-dimensional. Izou is cold and stoic. Raiden has a not-so-hidden heart of gold underneath his scary demeanor. Sonya is a child and acts accordingly. That’s about it.

At least I can tolerate these guys even if they’re as bland as a bowl of white rice.

The art was the best part of the movie, hands down. The film is animated using 3-D computer graphics in the style of ancient Japanese woodblock art. It reminds me a lot of Batman Ninja for some reason.

The fight scenes look and feel very dynamic. The movements are fluid and they’re cut very well. The music doesn’t fit in with the time period, but it actually works very well. But that’s the only real highlight I can think of.

LACK OF SOCIAL COMMENTARY

The original movie was chock-full of attempted social commentary (done horribly) – whereas this movie is nearly devoid of it. Having it take place during the Meiji Restoration could have meant the movie focused on orcs and other creatures as foreigners in Japan who faced discrimination. But it seems like the mythical creatures already lived there for a long time and don’t face that much discrimination.

It’s fine that one race of beings isn’t a stand-in for a real-life group. In fact, it’s probably a better movie for that. But at the same time – it’s kind of pointless that this remake has the same basic plot, but shares none of its themes.

It kind of dilutes the premise.

Samurai Soul barely even has a goddamn theme, which hurts the film. It’s not problematic because it doesn’t try to critique anything. It’s boring.

They don’t even criticize the use of concubines or child-kidnapping – which I guess is fine. Those were totally normal things in the Meiji Era and they wouldn’t think to critique them. They’re just something that exists.

But the film doesn’t critique power structures or examine why people hold prejudices. It doesn’t explain why certain races are more hated – which doesn’t work when Izou’s character arc, if you could call it that, is becoming more accepting and tolerant of other races.

At the end of the day, nothing about the world or status quo changes.

Sure, Izou throws away the wand – but it’s a pointless, meaningless gesture. Most people don’t even know about the wands. It means nothing to his character development. Just some shit about – “Now humans will have to work through their problems without magic” BS.

Like what do you think they were doing before, Izou?

You didn’t use magic during this whole film. You benefited from magic but now everyone else has to deal without it?

Okay…whatever.

ADAPTATION WOES

There are several significant changes from the live-action version to the animated version, beyond the obvious. In Samurai Soul, Sonya is clearly a child; she is talkative and a bit wild but she has a personality. She is also NOT originally a member of the Inferni.

The issue with the Orcs being connected to the Dark Lord, like in the original, is never bought up or mentioned. Orcs are just discriminated against – they’re thought of as violent and thuggish. Which, is actually fine…I guess.

There’s not always a clear reason for discrimination. And since the movie isn’t trying to be an allegory about racism, there’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty of it. 

Elves are also discriminated against – though in a different way. They’re exoticized by humans, but otherwise, humans and elves seem to be able to get along. The other races, like goblins, go mainly unmentioned – though they clearly still have a lower place in society than humans do.

There’s Lady Chiyaya; the courtesan at the brothel who gifts Sonya the wand. She ends up being a vital motivator for all three of our heroes. And her twin sister, spoiler, plays another vital role in helping rescue Sonya from the Inferni, which is mostly made up of humans.

(It’s nice that it’s not all elves are evil is a thing either. The elves in the original were really poorly portrayed. Who were they supposed to represent? Why were they all basically evil?)

Overall, Samurai Soul does a better job of connecting these ideas than the original and making them into a more coherent narrative even though it does rely mainly on coincidence.

Look. The movie isn’t excellent by any means. Most of it is pretty generic – though with some pretty good fight scenes and animation. But considering its inspiration – the movie could have been a lot worse.

It was an enjoyable enough experience. I managed to watch the whole thing in one sitting and only looked at my phone a few times. If you’re interested in seeing how a live-action film can be animated – this could be a really good case study.

And that’s all I really have to say.

Sorry for not posting last week, I had to do some other things that took priority.

That’s the scoop.

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Grade: C+

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Year of release: 2021

Length: 80 minutes

Director: Kyōhei Ishiguro

Writer: Michiko Yokote

Voice Actors: Yūki Nomura, Daisuke Hirakawa, Shion Wakayama, Miyavi, Maaya Sakamoto, Kenjiro Tsuda, Chafurin, Mamoru Miyano, Kenichi Suzumura

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