Fanservice is all well and good, but is it too much to ask for even a vaguely compelling story?
What They Say
When these girls fight - clothes won't last!
Everyone wants a piece of the new girl in town, but nothing turns Kakufu on more than a brutal street fight. She shrugs off her shredded skirts and tattered tops with a flurry of busty badassery while fighting to unite seven rival schools. And with no shortage of enemies, why take on one guy when she can take on ten? In this adventure where teenage brawlers are guided by jewels infused with the spirits of ancient warriors, Kakufu is content to flash her panties and crack some skulls. But like any hero, she cannot escape her destiny – no matter how dark it may be.
The audio for this release is fine, if a bit underwhelming. Both the English and Japanese are presented in 2.0 stereo, and the various tracks and channels are clear and distinct. With all of the fighting, though, I really felt this was a release that could have benefitted from the 5.1 treatment. There is nothing wrong with what is here; I just would have liked to have had more.
Shown in 4:3 aspect ratio, Ikki Tousen looks mostly nice. The colors are vibrant, and the animation is smooth. The only real problem I saw was that there was some aliasing here and there that was distracting, but I am not sure how noticeable it would be if not looking for issues. Otherwise, it is a pretty release.
I like the design for Ikki Tousen’s packaging, but it is admittedly nothing special. Both discs are housed cascading in a single amaray case, and the case has a few shots of sexy girls in fight poses with little and/or disintegrating clothing. The screen shots on the back also capture the fighting fanservice nature of the show. It is all designed to fit the theme well, though I do wonder why they chose to highlight Kanu on the front cover, when she plays such a little role in this series, rather than somebody like Ryofu, who is just as busty and much more important. But then, maybe I am thinking about it too much….
The menus here are pretty basic. Each disc has one of the girls—Hakufu holding a katana on disc 1 and Ryomo in her maid battle gear on disc 2; the submenus feature some of the other women. The selections are offered in white along the image of a wall hanging, with the highlight in bright yellow, which makes it easy to see while a dramatic battle theme plays in the background. It is basic, but functional.
Aside from some trailers on the second disc, there are no extras on this release.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ikki Tousen is a title that mixes sex and violence, and not a little bit of fanservice, in an attempt to retell a classic tale. Based on the classic Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ikki Tousen tries brings the story into the modern age, but the complex plot has too many moving parts for this short series to fully explore.
In the Kanto Region of Japan, seven high schools are at a constant war for supremacy with one another. Various students at each school carry a sacred bead, which each carry the spirit of an ancient warrior according to legend and marks that student as a fighter. Every few years, a tournament is held to determine the school that will rule over the others. Currently, that title is held by Rakuyo High School, and their sinister leader Totaku. But legend has it that one day a fighter will arrive that will officially unite the seven schools under a banner of tranquility.
Enter Hakufu Sonsaku, the busty, empty-headed girl of destiny. She was raised in China, but has moved to Japan to attend Nanyo Academy and follow her fate as the legendary fighter. She is unskilled, but her bead contains the spirit of an ancient dragon, which when awakened makes Hakufu go berserk and be near impossible to stop. But from the moment she arrives on the scene, Hakufu proves that she has no interest in any of the politics of the region; she just wants to fight for the sake of fighting.
Unfortunately for her, she gets caught up in an increasingly complex web of plots and schemes as Totaku is determined to either control her or kill her. As such, Hakufu is continually thrown into situations where her dragon has no choice but to awaken before she gets killed. At her side is her cousin Koukin, who has all the common sense that Hakufu is missing, but unfortunately none of the fighting skill. Through it all, Hakufu has to learn to control her dormant powers while Koukin conspires to keep her out of danger.
As I mentioned before, Ikki Tousen is based on the 14th Century Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and so much of what goes on throughout the thirteen episodes has a direct correlation to an event in the novel. There is a little bit of meta-fiction going on in it, as the characters are also aware of their positions as modern day counterparts to the ancient fighters, so their actions and reactions are sometime directly influenced by this knowledge. For example, Totaku understands that his destiny is to ultimately die during Hakufu’s rise to power, so he is attempting to do everything he can to thwart that fate.
Unfortunately, at around 800,000 words, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is an incredibly long novel, and they try to cram much of it into these 13 episodes. The result is a disjointed affair where little about the relationships between characters makes any sense. A voice over at the end of each episode tries to helpfully explain the connections of events from that episode to the novel, but it does little to help the overall problem. If I sat back and tried not to think about it too much, I found myself enjoying the spectacle, but as soon as I would turn my brain back on, I would get frustrated by it.
Part of the disjointedness comes from the infusion of sex and fanservice into the storyline, and there is a lot of it. Barely five seconds ever passes without at least one panty shot, and every fight scene includes the requisite “Clothes Disintegrating” forms of attack that permeate many anime. In fact, Hakufu’s clothes get ripped off so often every episode that I often wondered why she ever bothered to get dressed at all as she would be virtually naked again roughly a minute later. Oddly, despite all this, there is very little actual nudity at any point.
Now do not get me wrong, cheesecake for the sake of cheesecake can be very enjoyable, but in their effort to cram as much skin as possible into such a short timeframe, the writers/animators often forgot little things such as plot and character advancement. Throw in the random sex scenes, often sexual assaults that do little more than reinforce one character’s dominance over another, and even more time is taken away. With an already short amount of episodes to try and plow through their complex plot, any time wasting just hurts it all the more.
But more importantly, Ikki Tousen gets bogged down by the staggering amount of characters in it, especially since each person has their own agenda. Hakufu is expected to unite the schools, but only wants to fight; Koukin wants to help Hakufu achieve her goals, but is mostly powerless; Totaku currently rules the schools, but wants more out of his power; Ryofu is Totaku’s second-in-command, but marches to her own rhythm; Saji is seemingly uninterested in all the struggles, but is in reality trying to position himself on top; etc. That’s just the main characters; each of the minor characters have just as much of a back/side story to them, and it is way too much for the series to handle.
Ironically, Ikki Tousen tries to do too much, and ends up not doing much at all. Because it attempts to weave in all these characters and stories, it short changes each one of them. None of the characters or plot lines are fully fleshed out, and it leaves the experience a bit lacking. I really wanted to enjoy Ikki Tousen, as the retelling of Romance of the Three Kingdoms sounded like it could have been interesting, but it left me feeling underwhelmed.
At its core, Ikki Tousen is about cute girls getting in fights and ripping each others’ clothes off; it is perfectly acceptable anime as long as you do not expect anything more from it. Unfortunately, it does not stand up very well to any examination closer than that, which is a shame because the plot had potential to be something very interesting. Check it out if all you are interested in is the former; ignore it if you want anything else.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System