Monkey Punch's stock seems to be on the rise of late, which brings us to this new addition for the winter 2013 season, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman. The bad news? It's also based on a pachinko machine.
The star of the series is, of course, a fellow named Roman - by day a kind of "odd job man" in our Edo-era Japan setting who wanders the town helping anyone who requests his assistance for some coin; coin which he invariably gambles away, much to the chagrin of his decorative chopstick shop-owning sister. By night however, Roman is something else entirely - with the help of his friends, he's somewhat akin to Robin Hood meets Lupin III, a master thief who steals the ill gotten gains from those who have earned them in immoral ways before restoring justice and fairness however he can.
This first episode of the series dips us into this setting not only by watching Roman going about his everyday life, but also by seeing a successful mission to part a wealthy and powerful crook named Yanagisawa from his ill-gotten money backfire thanks to the appearance of a couple of ne'er-do-wells who take to assaulting the townsfolk with weapons, to which Yanagisawa can then offer a protection racket from. Needless to say, it's up to Roman to right this wrong too, which he does with gusto, unaware that it is only a small part in a far bigger conspiracy.
Despite its origins, I was rather drawn to the concept of Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman - admittedly, it's "Robin Hood" angle is nothing new, but it seemed like a concept with some promise. What a shame then that this opener was so hopelessly ordinary - although it tries to have fun with its setting by throwing elements of the ridiculous into it, the episode seemed to have absolutely no idea about pacing or good story-telling, and instead let its tale spew forth almost uncontrollably, and without anything to make its developments or ultimate resolution feel satisfying. In fairness, this first instalment had a lot to fit in to set the scene, so maybe it'll find more time to build its world and the things going on with it in future, but I have a horrible feeling that this might just be the opening gambit in a shoddy, cheaply made show that is little more than a pachinko game advert without any other merit.