Get ready to go on a magical, gender bending adventure! Make sure you have a katana, gun or fireball on hand, and prepare yourself for some fierce catfights. The women in Kämpfer are not to be trifled with, but that does not mean they will not give you your fill of fan service! What, not used to seeing a talking stuffed toy with its entrails hanging out? Well, this is not your usual magical girl anime!
Kämpfer was originally a Japanese light novel series written by Toshihiko Tsukiji and illustrated by Senmu. A manga adaption was released in 2008, with an anime series soon following in 2009 under the studio, Nomad. MVM Entertainment have now licenced and released the anime for UK viewers, which includes two DVDs that contain all twelve episodes!
Our protagonist for Kämpfer is a second year high school student named Senō Natsuru. One morning Natsuru wakes up to a breeze between his legs and a weight upon his chest. Natsuru has been transformed into a busty, doe-eyed girl! A stuffed animal called a ‘bowel familiar’ appears and tells our now heroine that she is a kämpfer (which is German for ‘fighter’), a person chosen by the ‘moderators’ who must fight other kämpfers! Why was Natsuru’s sex changed for this task? Well, that is because only females can be kämpfers! Natsuru’s gender bending adventure begins with an onslaught of attacks, confusing tactics and a womanly attraction that defies all reason!
That is my synopsis of the anime, but in all honesty, writing about Kämpfer’s plot is rather difficult. This is not because the plot is complex, but rather it is because Kämpfer lacks any real plot to begin with. There are no intricate backstories to the characters, nor is there any compelling storyline to keep the audience second-guessing the possible actions in the next episode. We are given no reason as to why Natsuru was chosen to be a kämpfer (despite being a different sex) and we have no idea who these all-powerful ‘moderators’ are. What explanations we are given are very shallow and half-arsed. The anime is very aware of its own lack of depth however, with one of the characters literally turning to the audience and saying, ‘Why do kämpfers fight? Stop complaining, you nincompoops!’ Indeed, fans of the Kämpfer anime do not watch it for its stunning plotline.
What Kämpfer does have are cute girls, its harem genre, charm and a hell of a lot of fan service. You will see female Natsuru being groped, kissed and fondled by schoolgirl classmates on a regular basis. You will also see a large amount of bickering among the girls as they all try to win our heroine’s affection, along with the stereotypical (and utterly annoying) obliviousness of the protagonist as he/she stubbornly denies that any of the girls are interested in her/him. With the anime largely focusing on Natsuru’s female form, a part of me cannot help but wish Kämpfer had gone with a yuri genre instead. The storyline would, at the very least, make a bit more sense that way.
This brings me to the very question that originally piqued my interest in Kämpfer: How does this anime deal with gender identity and sexuality? Initially I thought this question would be focused on Natsuru, but the protagonist’s romantic interest, Sakura Kaede, also plays a hugely relevant role. I do not want to turn this review into an essay, so I will skip to the two most prominent examples of gender being commented on, and which had the biggest impact for me personally. The following will also include some spoilers, so if you want to skip this part, go ahead. In the final episode, Natsuru is told to make a choice: choose Kaede and be a girl forever, or choose Shizuka and be a boy forever. There is no third choice, and in the end Natsuru does indeed make a decision. I must admit, I found this disappointing. Rather than question the idea of gender, Kämpfer fixedly puts gender into two categories without bothering to challenge the concept. The gender bending aspect of this anime is largely for comedic effect and fan service, it seems.
The moment Natsuru became equipped with a female form the entire female population at Natsuru’s school fell in love with her. They wrote love letters to Natsuru, kissed her, asked to be her girlfriend, blushed over her curvaceous body and even tied her up and trapped her in the janitors closet so they could, literally, ‘have their way’ with her. And yet, and yet, Kaede is the only one labelled as a lesbian. The other three main female characters, Sangou Shizuku, Mishima Akane and Mikoto Kondō, then make it their mission to ‘defend Natsuru from the lesbian’. To make sure the nail is well and truly in the coffin, Kaede is later revealed to be the anime’s villain. She has a harem of her own female kämpfers and she plans to use them to destroy Shizuku, Akane and Mikoto! This whole ‘plot development’ came out of nowhere, with everything happening in the final two episodes. It was as though the creators suddenly realised they were coming up to the final episode and so hurriedly crammed in some distasteful plot before the series ended. I admire the fact that Kämpfer was able to surprise me with a plot twist, but I am disappointed with the direction it took.
Perhaps sensing the displeasing connotations created in the final episode, Kämpfer creators then added a bonus episode centred around Kaede. In this particular episode, Kaede runs to a church and asks God to forgive her for her ‘sinful urges’ towards women. The nuns (who are the student council in cosplay) declare that she cannot be forgiven, and thus put her to work as punishment. Natsuru, Shizuku, Akane and Mikoto, whose bodies are actually under the control of bowel familiars, then appear to rescue Kaede from the nuns’ clutches. They also declare their love for Kaede. The episode attempts to mock the messages found in episode eleven, and although I am not entirely convinced of its success, it nonetheless fits the overall comical and foolhardy tone that Kämpfer is based on.
Now, you probably read all that and thought, ‘wow, Cuppa really hates this anime!’, but that is not the case at all. Although I find some of Kämpfer’s comments on gender unpleasant, I do not think it is a bad anime. Kämpfer wants to make its audience smile, blush and laugh through ridiculous antics and racy scenarios. Kämpfer does this, and it does it well. The anime is very honest in this regard. I do, however, believe that Kämpfer is a missed opportunity. If a bit more thought had been put into the plot, Kämpfer could have been a wonderful yuri anime rather than a very mediocre gender bender anime.
Senō Natsuru is a slightly shy young man who studies at Gakuin High School. He has a huge crush on Sakura Kaede, a seemingly innocent girl who goes to the same high school. Natsuru is able to transform into a girl after being visited by a bowel familiar who tells him he is a kämpfer. As a girl, Natsuru oozes charm and draws the attention of all his classmates, especially the female ones! Natsuru’s female form is able to throw fireballs at enemy kämpfers, although deep down she would prefer not to fight at all.
Sakura Kaede is a sweet-looking high school girl who is obsessed with a stuffed animal collection called Bowel Familiars. The soft toys look like distressed animals with entrails hanging from their stomachs. She falls in love with the female Natsuru after being saved from an attacking kämpfer.
Mishima Akane is an honour student and regular helper at the school library. Usually Akane is quiet and polite, but once turning into a kämpfer she becomes a red-headed spitfire! Foulmouthed and full of energy, Akane’s kämpfer-self wields a gun and often comes to Natsuru’s rescue. You definitely do not want to get on her bad side!
Sangō Shizuku is the student council president and one of the ‘three beauties of Seitetsu’. She is a calm, calculative lady who is not shy about her interest in Natsuru. She is initially seen as an enemy kämpfer, but soon allies herself with Natsuru and Akane once realising that blindly fighting will not help her gain information on the moderators. She enjoys teasing Natsuru and has a domineering presence.
Kondō Mikoto is Natsuru’s childhood friend. She loves to travel, and because of this Mikoto is not fully introduced until halfway into the series. She also loves curry, and will happily make her favourite dish whenever Natsuru and his friends are hungry. Mikoto is energetic and cheerful, and this does not change after she transforms into a kämpfer. Her weapon of choice is a katana.
Each kämpfer is given a bowel familiar. Natsuru is given Disembowelled Tiger, Akane is given Black Seppuku Rabbit, Shizuku is given Electrocuted Wildcat and Mikoto is given Strangled Stray Dog. These cuddly, though be it slightly disturbing, toys, can talk, move and have personalities of their very own. They assist the kämpfers in understanding the rules and mechanisms of kämpfer combat.
The art style in Kämpfer, although not notably special or unusual, is nonetheless attractive and done to a professional standard. It uses a cheery colour palette to match the anime’s light-hearted tone, and enjoys using bright backgrounds and shiny textures. It goes without saying that there are plenty of close-ups of breasts and bottoms, but what is worth pointing out is Kämpfer’s knack for referencing other animes. The anime does this a lot, and you will find it in both art style and character dialogue. One of the most obvious examples comes from Kämpfer’s bonus episode, when the bodysnatching bowel familiars dress the kämpfers in outfits that match Lum Invader (Ramu) from Urusei Yatsura, and Mikuru Asahina’s red bunny suit from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
The opening theme is a happy, upbeat song called Unreal Paradise by Minami Kuribayashi. The ending theme is One Way Ryō Omoi by Marina Inoue and Megumi Nakajima, which has a slightly slower tempo but which is equally as cheery. It also has a very catchy chorus! There are no English voiceovers but there are English subtitles. In all fairness, if there had been English voice acting a good chunk of the humour would be lost on the audience. This is because the Japanese voice actors themselves are used as tools for jokes. For example, when asked about what television programmes it likes to watch, Disembowelled Tiger, who is voiced by Michiko Nomura, responds with Sazae-san, an anime which Nomura also voices in. The rest of the characters make similar references.
Despite being a gender bending anime, Kämpfer makes few thought-provoking comments about gender and gender identity. What it has instead are heaps of fan service, cute girls, otaku references and antics that, although utterly ridiculous, are likely to make you smile. There are moments in this anime that make me cringe, but I would be lying if I said Kämpfer brought me no enjoyment at all. I standby the statement that, if a bit more thought had been put into the plot, Kämpfer could have been an entertaining yuri anime rather than a very average gender bender anime.
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