A fairly popular video game in Japan, the first “Oneechanbara” game emerged in 2006 under the title Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad concerning the bikini-clad hero Aya and her friend Reiko searching a post-apocalyptic wasteland overrun by zombies. Keeping pretty close to the setup of the game for the feature-length μοωιε, this first effort in the series offers a fun introduction to the character before the follow-up emerged the next year with a different cast and creative crew.

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In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, warrior Aya (Eri Otogura, from “Shutter”) and her partner Katsuji (Tomohiro Waki, from “Gokusen”) meet up with Reiko (Manami Hashimoto, from “Kamen Rider Kiva”) who are both after the same person. Teaming up in the process, they soon realize the overwhelming amount of zombies are created by the mad doctor Sugita (Tarô Suwa, from “Battle Royale”) who happens to have corrupted Aya’s sister Saki (Chise Nakamura, from “GoGo Sentai Boukenger”), who they’re both looking for, into working on his side. Faced with the true reality of their situation, they have to unite their forces to deal with the situation and stop the doctor as well as his zombie hordes.

There was quite a lot to like overall here. One of the strongest aspects of ‘Oneechanbara’ is the impressive amount of action lead by Action Director Gô Ohara, who manages to bring martial arts skills and hand-to-hand into a zombie film, such as the opening battle in the pub where the dexterity displayed is quite fun or the battle with the zombies at the abandoned ruins where they encounter the lone survivors still in the area. As the swordplay use, coordinated by Naohiro Kawamoto, borders on the mythical, the inclusion of the weapon not only in the martial arts battles but also the series of training montages of straightforward sword-fighting including some skilled performers, offers some nice action.

That also leads to another strong factor in the emotional resonance some of the action scenes feature, courtesy of writers Fukuda and Yasutoshi Murakawa. Since both girls are given incredibly sympathetic backstories involving younger siblings, there are scenes for each one here that play this up very nicely. As the connection between the young girl in the factory to Reiko’s daughter is made clear, the eventual payoff in the hospital, as a result, becomes heart-wrenching due to realizing the inevitable outcome. With the finale featuring the sword-fighting encounter between the sisters that plays off their relationship interspersed with the flashbacks to their early training, there’s a touching resonance leading to an emotional resolution. Alongside the great action elsewhere as they combat the zombies, this has plenty of solid and enjoyable elements.

The cast really doesn’t hurt this much either. Eri Otogura as Aya is a straightforward, no-nonsense type that never smiles, shows no emotion at all and just seems sour all the time, even though she does handle her swordplay scenes nicely. Manami Hashimoto as Reiko is much more engaging as her maternal instincts are brought out much more and we get on her side a lot easier, and it helps that she’s quite handy with weapons as well. Tomohiro Waki as Katsuji becomes another sympathetic figure with his clumsiness yet overriding desire to do the right thing, meaning that he tries to fight them off yet still needs help to get out of the situation. They forge quite an enjoyable unit as they come together to stop the creatures with the information we learn about them helping greatly with the emotional aspects.

There are some flaws that hold the film back. The major issue is the complete lack of coherence regarding what’s going on as so little is explained. There’s little here as for why Saki felt the need to stay with Dr. Sugita once he started making zombies, or even what makes him want to make zombies to begin with. He has several scenes detailing his madness and quest for power but that doesn’t account for what his purpose is creating the creatures. The other flaw is the low-budget quality CGI, swarmed over in way too many areas that causes the film to look incredibly cheap. From the enhanced swordplay powers that add a supernatural gloss over the swordfights or the enhanced CGI gore, this one looks cheap and rather low-budget. Otherwise, there isn’t much else.

Despite a few minor issues to be had with this one, ‘Onechanbara’ gets a lot of surprisingly enjoyable elements alongside far more heart than expected which makes for a watchable effort. Give this a look if you’re appreciative of low-budget zombie efforts or intrigued based on the video game series while those not won over by its flaws should heed caution.

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