'Laughing Under The Clouds': Complete Series Blu-ray/DVD Anime Review

laughing under the clouds anime dvd blu ray
'Laughing Under the Clouds.' (c) Funimation

Laughing Under the Clouds is a 12-episode anime, packaged by Funimation into a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The story takes place in Meiji Japan as Westernization overtook the country, causing chaos and disgruntlement across certain factions of the populace, though most of that unrest functions as a mere backdrop to the supernatural meat of Laughing Under the Clouds tale.

The heart of Laughing Under the Clouds lies in the story of the three Kumo brothers. The eldest is Tenka, who raised his brothers after their parents’ murder and is an incredible swordsman. The middle one is Soramaru, who struggles to live up to his brother’s skill and competence. The youngest is Chutaro, sweet and trusting and good-natured. The bond between the three brothers is put to the test by a curse laid upon their village centuries ago: a deadly serpent called the Orochi that returns every three hundred years in the form of a human vessel to rain devastation upon these lands.

The first few episodes try to rain down as much goofiness as possible, mainly from wacky big brother Tenka, almost as if to apologize for the series’ increasingly serious tone. Halfway through, the stakes shift into an abruptly higher gear. The tone shift is jarring, but successful: I’d lie if I said the blatant tearjerker moments did not in fact jerk tears from me. The plot, with all its moving wheels of reincarnation, supernatural possession, defunct ninja clans and world-devouring serpent monsters, sweeps you along so fast you almost don’t have time to question the leaps in logic taking you from one moment to the next.

There are other characters in Laughing Under the Clouds, like the memorably cranky Abe no Sosei, who considers Tenka a traitor for leaving the elite military squad they trained for together under such flimsy circumstances as “my parents died and I had to raise my brothers” (he’s not super sympathetic, but at least he’s hot). Female characters feel strangely light on the ground: there’s Barely There Squad Member With Bandages For A Shirt, Nishiki And Her Crush On Soramaru, and Botan, whose love story with Abe no Hirari is cool in concept but unconvincing in execution.

Unfortunately for me, my favorite characters don’t fare well. Shirasu Kinjo, who was taken in by the Kumos as a boy and is considered part of their family, has a plot I can’t even breathe about without spoilers. Personally speaking, it’s a plot I don’t enjoy watching, one to which I’m thematically opposed and one whose conclusion is bitterly unsatisfactory. My other favorite is a C-level antagonist named Kagami Naoto, whose plot glimmers with hope but is never brought to a truly satisfactory conclusion because he’s pretty unimportant to the big picture. Still, what’s intimated of his direction helps to salve the wounds inflicted by Shirasu’s plot, just a bit.  

Extras include episode commentaries for episodes 1 and 10. Episode 1’s commentary comes courtesy of the English voice actors for the three brothers: Chris Wehkamp (Tenka Kumo), Terri Doty (Chutaro) and Dave Trosko (Soramaru). Episode 10’s commentary comes from J. Michael Tatum (Kotaro Fuma as well as lead adaptive writer) and Shirasu Kinjo (Robert McCollum). In my opinion, episode 10’s commentary is more substantial and interesting, as Tatum’s commentary about the challenges of adaptive writing as well as McCollum and Tatum’s discussion about broadcast dubbing and the voice acting industry is simply more controlled. Neither of the commentaries really focus on the episodes.

Other extras are standard Funimation fare: textless opening songs, textless closing song, and a handful of trailers. The art in the opening and closing credits is so beautiful that for once, the textless opening and closing songs feel like a real treat. I strongly recommend viewing the Blu-ray over the DVD if possible: the colors are so much more vivid and so much brighter on the Blu-ray that I wondered if something was off with the DVDs, but apparently not.

Laughing Under the Clouds is an addictive series with beautiful art and as Funimation’s first broadcast dub, is a special bit of English anime history. It retails for $64.98 and can be purchased at any major retailer, including here at the Funimation website (where it’s currently on sale!).

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