A series for those who love girls that love girls who are sometimes guys in the midst of a life or death battle for reasons they don’t know by mysterious forces who only seem to communicate through very odd and unloved by the public stuffed animals that represent horrific animal deaths.
And no, the series really doesn’t ever make much more sense than that bother to really explain the set up in a satisfactory manner either.
What They Say:
Natsuru used to dream of being a lady killer. Instead, he got turned into a Kampfer – a lady who’s supposed to fight and kill other girls in mortal combat! That would cause enough problems all on its own, but it turns out that his best childhood friend swings the other way and she has a crush on her new body. Not to mention, his school has separate sections for boys and girls, and now he’s enrolled in BOTH of them. And the rumor-mill has it that he’s dating herself. Then there are those other pesky Kampfers who want to “take her out.” He’s just not sure which ones mean “on a date” and which ones mean “permanently”!
Things get even trickier when Natsuru allows himself to be convinced that it’s a good idea to move in with three other Kampfers for their “mutual defense.” Getting in touch with your feminine side’s a full-contact, no-holds-barred, Amazon action-fest as Natsuru must become a full-fledged wonder woman or die trying!
The episodes included here are present only in the original Japanese 2.0 track in DTS-HD, which honestly feels a bit odd as Kampfer kind of feels like the kind of show that companies usually bank on having an audience wide enough to justify the cost of an English dub (which perhaps in retrospect should have been a pretty large warning sign on the quality of the series as a whole). Given the lack of a second track the Japanese track has all the space it could want (and more) so it isn’t surprising that the track was found to be without dropouts or distortions while listening. Unfortunately the source material doesn’t always make full use of this space as many of the effects like gun shots seem to lack a stereo feel and often come across as almost mono and while they reflect what is on the screen the lack of depth doesn’t help create an even greater sum of the parts which actually kind of hurts the whole thing. It is really the sound track on the background music side that saves this and provides a sense of depth as some of the riffs in the music can help create somewhat rich atmosphere, though it doesn’t mask the effects lack of doing so. Despite feeling flat when it comes to the effects and even some of the dialogue portions of the show, the track does get its point across and the dialogue is delivered clear and it accomplishes a fair amount leaving it competent but not remarkable when the series really could have (or in my opinion, needed) had an element that could have really added an element to help make the presentation more memorable.
Originally airing in late 2009 (with two OVAs that later came out in 2011 also on the release), Kampfer is presented here its original 16×9 ratio in 1080p high definition complete with an AVEC codec. The encode for the discs is one that shows off the colors that are present well without any particular ones feeling too washed out while coming across as good throughout the presentation (when video issues don’t distract that is), though they tend to stay away from the more vivid end of the spectrum and there is a nice level of grain that helps to make the images look a bit balanced.
Noticeable in the presentation is a rather fair amount of ghosting which can be an issue in an action series and in addition some of the usual suspects also wander in as the presentation has a bit of dot crawl, some haloing, jaggies, as well as there being a bit of a banding issue that keeps some of the visuals from looking their best while the eye is drawn to the distractions, especially when these issues appear in darker scenes which keep colors often from being solid. Also annoyingly some of the rarer video elements also sneak in as there are at times some long bands of what looks like static occasionally making an appearance along with moments of random visual artifacts that crash the party and really hurt the overall presentation even in just minute doses.
And also of note for those who may have seen the series streaming- bathing scenes still have the steam overlays so if you were hoping for better shots of animated flesh here you largely are out of luck, though the two OVA episodes do show more freedom in this area.
There are some distortions that occur around subs but given what I’ve encountered that seems to be a product of trying to watch subbed anime on a 4K TV using a PS3 as a player.
The release of Kampfer comes packaged in a standard sized Blu-Ray case which has a disc hub on each side of the interior for each of the two discs the series is spread over to rest on. The cover of the release features five of the main characters with all but one in their transformed Kampfer look in a kind of “H” set up with two girls on each side and one in the middle who has a light blue sky color behind her while much of the rest of the cover minus series title is left white. Being a standard Blu-Ray case the spine has little room on it but the cover manages to squeeze both a blue male and pink female symbol as background for the series title on to it with two of the series stuffed animal ‘Bowl Familiars’ sneaking in as well, albeit very tiny representations of them.
The back cover contains a large ash-gray colored space for the copy to be placed on (and there is a considerable amount of it present) which all covers up a mix of white and blue that replicates the front cover that is backdrop. To help it stand out the copy uses some color with a bit of bold and short statements to catch the eye before printing the rest of the copy in somewhat small print in white in large text blocks that may cause the eye to just wander over it. The series doesn’t skimp on images though despite the small wall of text as a trio of the remaining Bowl Familiars gets a small spot of territory while two different character designs girls stand almost back to back in a fairly large use of space that is already kind of at a premium. Continuing the small print theme there are also nine screen shots included but at this point it is perilously close to having to breakout the magnifying glass to see them. The roughly 1/3 of the rest of the cover is dedicated to various credits, copyright info and disc specifications that have become common place with video material releases which all combine for a not very conscious presentation but rather feel like it was a contest to see how much could actually be squeezed onto a Blu Ray back cover and still have anyone find any worth sifting through.
The two discs themselves each have one of the series girls on them (well, the male lead in his female form on Disc one to be accurate) with the Bowl Familiar (kind of a Care Bear Cousin crossed with a Garbage Pail Kid theme for those who recall the 80s) associated with them present as well against a blue background with white being present on either side and a pink rim around the outside edge of the disc. The disc primarily uses a mix of white and blue for the various background stuff while the production company and Blu-Ray details are also present making for a very busy disc- and it isn’t helped that there is what looks like it would be a white shadow behind each of the girls that in another situation might have worked to give a bit of a sense of attempted image depth but here it just adds to what comes across as a very busy image bordering on one that is actively fighting against itself in making for coherent and ascetic design. For the discs themselves, the first disc has Episodes 1-9 on it while Disc 2 gets episodes 10-12, both OVA episodes and the Extras on it.
The menu is a pretty basic affair on both discs as it uses simple and singular static screens which have the episodes on the left and images of same characters from cover on right as portion of music plays. The episode titles and numbers all alternate pink/blue with gender symbols on the left side of the screen that gives the menu a nice touch which helps to make it a bit memorable despite the simplicity, especially as it helps highlight the dichotomy the main character faces in the series in a low key fashion. The selection highlight indicator is a pink bar that turns the episode title white and it also uses an additional gender symbol on the right so it is plainly visible what is highlighted.
While disc one uses five characters similar to the cover of the BD case the second disc goes a little more wild as it only includes four of the characters but it places them in swimsuits and also throws in a bit of a fetish nod as it gives each young woman a set of animal ears and tails. Having seemingly exhausted everything creative to be done with the menu though, the Special Features on disc 2 are just placed underneath the episode selection with no symbols, alternating colors or anything else that might really catch the eye. The selection method itself is quick to respond to changing the selection and the disc implements the desired function with a minimum of lag.
There are the (almost) standard extras of clean opens and closings here but the release also include an 11 minute radio show like program that has a couple of the series stuffed animal mascots (Bowel Familiars) talking about their lot in life in terms of popularity of their toy line and why it doesn’t sell. While this segment doesn’t quite go completely 4th wall braking and it is more static images with only the most basic of tiny animation used to indicate who is talking with a dialogue indicator unique to each character (often related to the ‘death’ the toy represents) it still comes close enough to be a fun romp that actually keeps closer to the series structure than the 12th and final episode of the TV series broadcast.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Natsuru Senou wakes from a strange dream where she’d been running from a red haired girl with a gun who had then cornered the blue haired young woman at the edge of a tall building before causing the pursued young woman to fall from over the railing. Just before walking she hears a strange voice tell her the bracelet she know wears is a sign she has been chosen by beings known as Moderators as a Kampfer and her role is to be a fighter in prophetic way.
Things don’t get any easier though when the young woman opens her eyes and discovers that she is still alive…especially since when Natsuru Senou went to bed he was a typical (ish) high school boy and she now has a new physic along with the bracelet from the dream to single trouble has chosen to find her in a really reality shattering fashion. As she tries to come to terms with all this a rather bizarre stuffed tiger she had been given by a friend starts to try to explain what is going on and Natsura proceeds to freak out and insists on going back to sleep in order to wake from this odd dream, a request the stuffed tiger attempts to help with by dropping an attack on Natsuru to help the trip to unconsciousness.
When he wakes in the morning Natsuru finds he is back to normal as a guy with all of his parts intact but still in possession of the bracelet that denys him the ability to dismiss everything as a dream. Natsuru starts the day like most as he greets Kaede Sakura, a former schoolmate and his current crush with whom he talks to in the morning before the pair head for school but his new reality steps in as his bracelet flashes blue, alerting him that ‘he’ is about to be ‘she’. Natsuru manages to step away just in time to protect his secret from Sakura as the red haired young woman from his dream appears and she let’s Natsuru know that Natsuru is the gun wielder’s target. Natsuru fortunately finds that after transforming she has some amazing powers in terms of leaping as well as wielding fire magic, both skills that allow Natsuru to first avoid the gun wielder’s attack but then also put to use to save Kaede when she stumbles into the fight by coincidence. Natsuru also then also are used to save the red haired gunwoman Akane Mishima when the fire arm user is nearly caught in falling debris from the battle the pair just had leading to a truce between the pair.
Natsuru’s life doesn’t get any easier when he gets to school either after transforming back to his male form as he discovers that the wild and acerbic gun wielder is actually a quiet librarian type who has a bracelet like Natsuru and her personality changes as much as her appearance leaving Natsuru talking with the polar opposite personality he faced just a short time ago. As the two try to figure out what is going on they discover that they are far from the only Kampfer’s on campus and that while the two got off to a bad start they are actually on the same side as Kampfer fights are usually blue bracelet fighters versus red (the two of them are both blue) but that there is a mysterious red bracelet fighter who takes to striking at the pair from the shadows. Will the revelation of this mysterious figure bring clarity or more confusion… OK, yeah it will be more confusion as the alliance will cause Natsuru more trouble and not bring a whole lot more explanation to events.
Even worse, a result of the fights on campus female Natsuru was glimpsed by students and now suddenly Natsuru finds that he is going to go where no boy gets to go as this co-ed school is actually divided into a boys and girls side and the female Natsuru is pressed into joining that side of the student body. Trouble will abound as Natsuru’s good looks get exploited by members of his class for their own purposes as many of the various female students are taken with this cool blue haired new student. While Natsuru can take all this in stride, it is the revelation that Kaede is in love with the female Natsuru that just may send this youth over the edge of despair and when she is told the blue haired beauty is already dating the male Natsuru she talks with it seems that Natsurus crush may start a contest to win the heart of female Natsuru.
But if his love life situation and its bizarre twists don’t crush him his role as a Kampfer just might as Natsuru’s more reserved behavior and habit of turning opponents to allies as a Kampfer seems to have gotten the attention of whoever is behind everything and they are incredibly unhappy that Natsuru isn’t just going along with the program. As more Kampfer start to appear are Natsuru and his/her allies going to find out just what is going on behind everything before it is too late or is it going to be the love life battle he is (usually unwittingly) the center of going to cause of his demise first?
I know that in certain circles the premise of “Based on the light novel [series]” is one that fosters more than a small amount of derision but I am not in that camp as I have a few series I absolutely love that were based off of light novels so I largely just kind of smile and keep walking (metaphorically) when the conversation of light novel series being so bad is broached. But Kampfer had me rethinking my position and gravitating toward the ‘worthless’ ideal during a large portion of the series. My problem with Kampfer didn’t start initially as the first two episodes were mostly alright if rather bland outside of a compelling pace but the series’ wild abandon in experiencing pretty close to every modern gimmick and threadbare paths that have been so traveled while abandoning much of the ideas it could have used to climb a less worn path just left me cold so often throughout the series.
In the series Comic Party there is a moment when the main character decides he wants to finally make his own doujin (fan published work) and he does so not out of any desire to tell a story or even to explore some loved characters in a new setting as is often typical but instead he looks to see what is popular and he then throws a collection of these items into a mental blender to create what he thinks is a sure fire hit. And while the results are different in reality for Kampfer than that in Comic Party given that this series ran for 15 volumes I can’t help feeling that reality let me down by having this series succeed when in fiction the attempt failed but a lesson was learned and a much better product resulted while reality simply leaves us with Kampfer.
The biggest problem I had with Kampfer is that I have no idea what it was the story was trying to be or go -and I am not positive it did either, at least in this adaptation- in large part because the characters feel more like thin structures to go through the motions of the plot than characters designed to actually be cared about and have things happen that they have to deal with (which in fiction admittedly can appear the same thing from a distance or if not done properly).
Now the thin protagonist character isn’t exactly rare in fiction as it can often help the audience self insert into the role but it is taken to a pretty extreme level here as there is almost nothing ever revealed about whom Natsuru is or what he/she cares about leaving him/her a frustrating blank slate with little other than the obsession with Kaede making any sort of an impression at all. OK, so basic harem show so far but many to most of those shows then work to build up each of the girls in such a way as to get the audience to get behind a particular pairing (often to sell figures of each girl as fans fight over who is the ‘best girl’) but part of doing that usually involves filling out these characters in a way the audience can fell connected to them. Instead of doing this work Kampfer feels like it is content to slap some popular elements together in terms of personality types and design and deem that good enough for to move forward. Perhaps there are titles that I like and enjoy that do this same thing and I don’t notice or overlook it there but here it sticks out as a glaring sore thumb as there rarely seems to be any reason given why any of these characters would be interested in the lead, or frankly why other than because of how they look and him being a teenaged guy why the lead would show interest back.
Of course I use ‘show interest back’ in a very loose way as Natsuru generally displays a level of density that makes lead look porous when it comes to recognizing the attention that he is getting, including one episode that is a date that he persists to think of as simply trying to trap the enemy, partially because he sees the girl he is with as completely out of his league and partially because of his fixation on another but mostly because little penetrates his skull. Another series might hint that the character is always stupid, or that he is really smart in some areas but not in others, but Kamfer pretty much decides that filling out the main character distracts from whatever shiny object it wants to pursue now is and in that respect at least it treats all of its characters pretty equally regardless of gender or position in the show.
Unfortunately for me the show doesn’t really do subtle well and isn’t content to just throw little things in while going about the plot and so it gets distracted by playing out all the kinds of things that are popular in certain circles these days. From the fellow students basically selling Natsuru (female) off after a fashion to the other girls in the school who are all drooling over her to doing the kind of simple “New girl who is interested in Natsuru appears” kind of mechanism that makes Ranma ½ seem sophisticated in its approach Kampfer never really seems to be interested in any way of controlling its impulses to go wherever despite what these diversions do to the shows pace or hobbling its ability to ever get on a track to move forward coherently.
I wish I could just write this series off as ‘train wreck’ and be done with it as that would be simple (and a much shorter review) but it isn’t quite the case as some of the things the series chooses to pursue are funny or interesting to me. For me these included the moments where it breaks through the fourth wall with complete dismissal that it exists when it starts throwing around references to the voice actors playing the roles of these characters, general (or specific in case of Gundam) anime series jokes or even parodying other series (such as one shot of a particular series that takes place in an all girls school with Maria in the title) that just had me wanting the series to succeed.
There is also an energy to many of the episodes that feels infectious as it pulled me along for the ride on many occasions and kept me coming back when all part of me wanted to do was write the series off and walk away. In final measure I can’t say it was necessarily for the best that I did return but there were some interesting and fun moments buried throughout that kept the experience from just being a complete slog, but there is certainly not nearly enough here that I enjoyed to leave me in a position where I’d recommend- or even necessarily not actively try to persuade against- anyone else giving it a go. Perhaps if you enjoy some often up tempo high school hijinks, a bit of gender bending and have a fancy for girls who love girls (even if they are sometimes boys) stuffed familiar modern anime character types Kampfer will be a treat for you. But for me it is going on a shelf and I don’t imagine it will ever move off it again this side of a reorganization of the shelf or an earthquake.
Kampfer is a series that uses the idea of a guy who is a part time girl who suddenly finds himself fighting for his/her life in a interstellar war that no one he/she interacts with seems to be completely clear as to why while also finding that his orbit to some of the others caught in this war not of their making has lead to some potential romantic interests who may not exactly be overly picky as to which gender the lead is currently assuming the form of (which is a messy run on for a series that is rather messy in idea and execution frankly). With an often very high tempo pace, some voice acting veterans, bits of meta humor (including places where those voice actors are mentioned by name related to the characters they are playing and the stereotypes the actors can have and these characters portray), some parodying of popular Japanese series and enough sexual energy to light Los Vegas up, the show should seem like it could something amazing (in success or failure) and yet somehow the series never pulls it all together.
With its cast of barely defined characters, poorly (to be kind) defined set up and a lack of a consistent approach Kampfer manages to wind up being far more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ for me and I honestly am in a rare position of not caring at all about finding out how the original novel series or even manga ended in order to bring closure to a series that couldn’t be bothered to do it in animated form and I’m not sure how large its target audience is with its constant changing of momentum throughout the show. In final measure this is probably a show curious individuals should stream a few episodes of or borrow the set from someone before jumping in and possibly winding up with enough regret for two genders afterward.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014
Running Time: 350 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Samsung 50” LED 4K Ultra HD TV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.