We don’t always get to cover the things we want. Hell, sometimes we don’t even get to cover things we don’t want but will still do because it’s what hot right now. You know, like a certain failed attempt at a vampire anti-hero superhero flick from Sony.
“Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles” wasn’t even on my list of things to watch when I run out of things to watch. I’m not familiar with the source material, the creator and their work, or even the fact that the Netflix show existed outside of the assignment. Luckily, “Samurai Rabbit” packs a lot of charm, humor, and reverence to make it worth the watch. It feels strange that this would be a Netflix show, as the entirety of the show- from the voice cast to the animation- fits more at home in a Saturday Morning Cartoon lineup on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon.
I mean that as a compliment!
Netflix has recently found themselves embroiled in some very public backlash to some of their more egregious choices and the rise of better, more robust streaming services. So “Samurai Rabbit” being the new animated tentpole feels mis-marketed and misplaced. I highly doubt many people even know the show exists, let alone the knowledge that they can stream it. My point is, “Samurai Rabbit” could thrive in a different line up. The show is not only tailor made for a Saturday morning cartoon show block, but could have far more episodes and a stronger guarantee of a second season. I’ll say it: Netflix has become the new Fox. I said what I said.
Rant against the platform the show is on aside, “Samurai Rabbit” is loosely based on the “Usagi Yojimbo” comic book series by Stan Sakai. It was developed for television by long time animation writer Doug Langdale and animation by Gaumont and Netflix animation. The show takes place far in the future from the comic book series, where we follow a young teenage rabbit named Yuichi (Darren Barnett) a descendant of the great Samurai Miyamoto Usagi (the source material protagonist). Wanting to honor his ancestors and full of overconfidence, Yuichi travels to the city Neo Edo in search of adventure. He inadvertently befriends a ragtag group of friends while also releasing ancient spirits known as Yokai. Yuichi must learn how to trust his friends and hone his skills before the worst of the Yokai destroy the city, as well as discover the true meaning of being a Samurai.
“Samurai Rabbit” does a lot of things well, quickly bringing newcomers up to speed without the need for exhausting exposition. Tonally, the series relies on its humor and slick animation style to be perfect for children and enjoyable for adults. Make no mistake, “Samurai Rabbit” has a target audience, but its awareness allows for it to remain charming and interesting throughout. It never gets away from itself by striking a balance of stylized action and animation with predominantly childish humor. It sprinkles some adult quips and sharp wit asides to make “Samurai Rabbit” a well rounded, animated outing. It is an extremely consumable show, and don’t mean that in the pejorative sense. Shows can be both a good watch and an easy one, and “Samurai Rabbit” manages to be both.
The voice cast all seem to be on board fully, and bought into the tone and purpose of the show. Barnett’s Yuichi is a likable protagonist, channelling the annoying misplaced confidence of a teenager while also finding moments of charm and character growth. The rest of the voice cast take on numerous roles throughout the series, with many if not all of the characters in the show being voiced by Shelby Rabara, SunWon Cho, Eric Bauza, Mela Lee, Keone Young and Yuki Matsuzaki. The cast is good and versatile enough that unless someone told you (like I’m doing now) that most characters have the same voice actor, you wouldn’t know it.
“Samurai Rabbit” has all the makings of a pretty intriguing open world RPG, with many of the episodes featuring macguffins and side quests Yuichi and friends embark on while the main quest of stopping the worst of the worst Yokai always looms. Honestly, why isn’t this a video game? The narrative is there, the playable characters with unique powers and weapons are there, the humor is there, and yes I would very much like to fight spirits with a Samurai sword and a magical YoYo. You read that right; Yuichi’s teenage knack for acting on impulse causes him to grab the first thing he sees when he’s given the opportunity to wield an ancient weapon, which happens to be a YoYo. Maybe I’ve been playing too much “Yakuza: Like a Dragon” and “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands,” but “Samurai Rabbit” feels like the next logical step in gameplay as it is tonally similar to both games. Toned down for children, obviously. But tonally similar nonetheless.
As far as a functioning as a television series, “Samurai Rabbit” is good enough to give you a break and let Netflix do some babysitting for you, or throw something on as semi-white noise while you try to adult on the weekend. Because of its simplicity and young audience target, it doesn’t really require your full attention even if you fully enjoy it. It makes good use of its charm and humor, delivers solid animation style throughout, and uses its cliches and adventure tropes with purpose instead of eye rolling ham fisted messaging. Yes, “Samurai Rabbit” is packed with the power of friendship and treat people with respect and listen to your elders. But it never assaults you with the lessons, and is just playful and self aware enough to stop it from feeling forced. It also packs most episodes with colorful characters and whacky narratives, enough to make even the most cynical critic crack a smile every time Chikabuma snaps says, “ChikaBOOMA!” in a too cool for school greaser voice.
Overall, “Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles” is a decent entry into the Netflix animation lineup. Is it better suited elsewhere in a different line of programming? Sure. Would it make one helluva fun video game? Absolutely. It is clearly made for children? Without a doubt. But is it good enough to have a little something for all ages? I’d say so.
There’s probably plenty of things on your list that take precedent over “Samurai Rabbit.” It’s not a must see or stop everything and binge immediately. But it is worth checking out when you get around to it, and worth watching with your kids if they decide it’s all they want to watch. And worth watching you’re a fan of the source material, as I think (I don’t know for sure though) it does a good job keeping much of what makes the comic book series enjoyable in tact.
Trust me, between “CocoMelon” and “Samurai Rabbit,” you’ll be glad your kids chose the latter.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles” Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix. You can watch the trailer below.