Hanna-Barbera Productions (April 7, 2009), Warner Home Video (April 7, 2009), single disc, 74 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 standard aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $19.98
Scooby-Doo and the rest of the Mystery, Inc. gang travel to Japan for their latest adventure. There, they explore the delicate relationship between modern Japanese culture and ancient Japan.
The Sweatbox Review:
There has been a longstanding debate about the effects of new technology on traditional culture. One can say that new technologies inevitably change the way we do things, thus changing culture itself. On the other hand, technology can also enhance and promote traditional culture by making them more relevant to new generations. This is the debate that is at the heart of the latest Scooby-Doo adventure, Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword. In the movie, the Mystery, Inc. gang arrives in Tokyo where Daphne will be participating in a martial arts tournament. Japan is the perfect location for this dilemma, as the country is both the origin of many modern technological advances, and the location of one of the most traditionally conservative cultures on Earth. In this movie, what is explored is the relationship between the cutting edge technology of modern Japan and the traditional samurai culture of ancient Japan. The events are set in motion when the curator at a Japanese culture museum in Tokyo is attacked by the apparent ghost of the Black Samurai.
It can be said that Scooby-Doo himself is at the heart of this age-old dilemma. When Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Premiered in 1969, the gang was still using flashlights and notepads to solve their mysteries. When the show was revamped in 1988 for A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Velma began using a computer and technology became an integral part of some episodes (such as when Velma’s robot is sabotaged). When Warner Brothers began releasing direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies in the late nineties, we even got Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, where a computerized virus terrorizes a college campus. In 2002, the gang used modern technology such as the internet and mobile phones to solve their mysteries in What’s New Scooby-Doo? Finally, the latest incarnation of the show, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!, features a robotic butler, nanotechnology, and a revamped Mystery Machine that can turn into different vehicles. Through all of this, however, the show remains at its core a mystery show with teenage detectives. The technology may have changed they way they solve their mysteries, but they still must rely on their intuition, deduction, and clues to solve each mystery.
The story begins in the Tokyo Museum of Ancient History where the museum’s curator, Mr. Takagawa, shows off his latest acquisition, the armor of the legendary Black Samurai, to Kenji, the museum’s teenage janitor. While believing the museum will attract new patrons, he is upset about the fact that Kenji, perhaps representative of his generation, does know the legend of the Black Samurai. Kenji is soon given a first-hand introduction when the armor comes to life before their eyes and flies out of the museum. Meanwhile, the Mystery, Inc. gang arrives in Tokyo to discover a crowded city filled with dazzling lights and bullet trains. We learn that Daphne has been invited to a martial arts tournament at a prestigious school. They meet up with Daphne’s friend Miyumi and fly to the school aboard a self-flying futuristic plane. Upon arrival, she is introduced to Miss Mirimoto, the school’s martial arts master, and her bodyguard, Sojo. Also at the school is Mr. Takagawa who warns Ms. Mirimoto that the Black Samurai is after the Destiny Scroll which is located at the school.
That night, the Black Samurai, accompanied by ninja warriors attacks the school and steals the scroll. Mr. Takagawa then explains the story behind the Black Samurai. In ancient Japan, a warrior requested a new sword from a master sword maker, but when his evil servant made him one in half the time, he accepted the replacement. The sword, however, transferred the evil spirit of the servant into the warrior’s body, turning him into the Black Samurai. The Samurai, and his sword, were only defeated when the Green Dragon used the first commissioned sword, known as the Sword of Fate, to defeat the Black Samurai. We quickly learn that the Destiny Scroll that was stolen was only a copy, but that the scroll will lead the Black Samurai to the location of the Sword of Doom which will revive his ancient powers. If the Black Samurai regains his powers, he will rule over Japan with an iron fist and bring the Samurai Age back to life. The gang then agrees to take the case by securing the Sword of Doom and bringing it back to Ms. Mirimoto for safe-keeping. The mystery leads the gang to an isolated island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where their adventures begin.
Overall, Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword is a good Scooby-Doo adventure. I like the moral of the story and I think it is very relevant in our modern age. My favorite parts include the sequences where Scooby-Doo and Shaggy learn how to become samurai. I do not think I am spoiling anyone’s expectations by saying that they do eventually save the day. There is a great flashback sequence with the Green Dragon and the Black Samurai that is inspired by traditional Japanese paintings and the panels look beautiful. I have always liked these Scooby-Doo DTV releases and I think that Warner has created a brand that works in this format. I think that the continuation of the What’s New Scooby-Doo? designs are some of the best and I like that they are continuing the story with these releases. There have been some fans who feel that this story is recycling past Scooby-Doo releases, but I think some of these mystery aspects are inevitable in a 40-year-old series. The only drawback to the story, in my opinion, is the supernatural element in this story. While this is nothing new (real ghosts and monsters have regularly made appearances in the show and movies), I always prefer the stories when there is always a scientific reason or person behind the monsters. In the end, however, I think that Samurai Sword features a good mystery and story that should entertain children and adults who are fans of the show.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There is one small, featurette on the disc called Scooby-Doo Dojo (10:17). In it, a martial arts expert provides a guide to the history of martial arts in Japan. This is also followed by brief segment demonstrating some stretching techniques and basic self-defense moves. These are all very simple and very age-appropriate for this disc (ages 7 and up). I enjoyed the brief history, but I particularly liked the stretching techniques. I was worried for a second that the instructor was going to start demonstrating fighting techniques, but parents will be glad to know it sticks with self defense blocks.
There are also trailers provided for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Banana Splits, and the new Scooby-Doo show Mystery, Inc. set to debut this fall. These play at the beginning of the disc and are only available there. Other trailers, in the trailer section of the special features include previews for the new Green Lantern animated movie, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, Steven Spielberg Presents: Tiny Toon Adventures and Freakazoid!, Peanuts: Snoopy’s Reunion, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, and Tom and Jerry Tales.
Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword is being released in a standard, black keepcase. The case also sports a cardboard slipcase. Inside the case is an insert promoting a future program to get free Scooby products called “Zoink Points.” On the back of the same insert is a promotional code for an exclusive online adventure at Scoobydoo.com. The cover prominently features Scooby-Doo and Shaggy in their martial arts attire. The rest of the gang and the Black Samurai also make appearances. The back cover features some scenes from the film, including a hilarious visual gag where Shaggy and Scooby dress up as geishas. Finally, I have to fault the case for incorrect information provided regarding the audio included in this release. This will be covered in the Scratch Tracks section further in the review.
Ink And Paint:
I have always liked the designs used in What’s New Scooby Doo?. I think that Warner knows it has successfully updated the designs for a new generation. I am interested to see how the designs may change in Mystery, Inc. and if they will change character designs in future releases. Overall, the image quality of this release is very good with a complete digital transfer. Since this movie was briefly shown on the Cartoon Network this past April, the video aspect ratio is listed as “standard”, preserving the ratio of the original television exhibition – 1.33:1.
Let’s get to it. I have to fault this release for the audio options advertised on the disc. Usually, Warner Brothers does a great job at providing a combination of English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles and audio tracks in their releases. I do not think most people mind if some of them are missing, but I take a big issue with false advertising. This disc is being advertised as containing English and Portuguese audio tracks. However, once you play the disc only one Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is available! This is the same problem with the subtitles. It is supposed to contain English, French, and Portuguese subtitles (why not Spanish?), but only English (for the hearing impaired) and French subtitles are available! This is a rare oversight on the part of Warner Brothers who usually does a good job in this department. I do not mind the exclusion of the Portuguese, but I think it is wrong to falsely advertise it on the case.
I thought it was cool to see Scooby-Doo and Shaggy don martial arts clothes and hone their samurai skills. I think that the scenes where they seek the different swords are great action sequences and provide beautiful animation. I was only a little disappointed that there were supernatural aspects in this story as I always prefer human-only villains. However, I have to say that everything is very natural and doesn’t really affect the overall story. In fact, I think that it may have enhanced the story, but only to some extent. In the end, I think fans on both sides of the argument will be satisfied as it is not a purely supernatural explanation to the mystery. Some fans have accused the makers of being repetitive. I have particularly read some comments about the similarities between this story and Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost from 1999. However, while some of the arguments are fair, I think that recycling some story structures are inevitable for a series that is reaching its 40 year anniversary. Finally, while I recommend this disc based on the mystery and story, I have to fault Warner for the missing audio tracks and subtitles. This was an odd occurrence in their overall good track record.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?