Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 3rd 2010
Ikki-Tousen Dragon Destiny
Three schools and their reincarnated warriors remain in the struggle to control Kanto: Kyoshou, led by Sousou Moutoku; Seito, led by Gentoku Ruubi; and, of course, Nanyou, led by Hakufu Sonsaku. Convinced that Moutoku's "dragon" needs to be awake in order to ensure their victory, Kyoushou strategists Kaku Bunwa and Houkou Kakuka take time between bouts of gratuitous sex to instigate an attack by a rival school that leaves Moutoku's lieutenant Genjou Kakouton with one eye and Moutoku possessed by the demons of his previous life. In the meantime, taciturn badass Unchou Kan'u worries that her leader, the gentle Ryuubi, isn't ready for the violence ahead. While trying to coax some martial prowess from her, Seito is attacked, first by Kyoushou nasties and then by Shimei Ryomou, Hakufu's lieutenant, recently back from China with an artifact rumored to have the power to suppress the dragons that sleep within reincarnated warriors like Ryuubi and Hakufu. And then the rumble is on.
If none of that made any sense—and really, there's no reason it should—don't worry, in Ikki Tousen plot is most definitely of secondary importance. The series' purpose isn't to tell a story. It's to show overripe high-school girls going at each other like kung-fu Playboy bunnies, preferably with the felicitous side-effect of stripping each other naked.
Based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an account of a particularly chaotic time in Chinese history, Dragon Destiny is, well, chaotic. The series is plotted to within an inch of its life, crammed with double-crosses, triple crosses, and other forms of devious skullduggery and political maneuvering. Its dialogue is a labyrinthine mess of references to events, people and places that would probably be familiar had one read The Three Kingdoms (or at least watched John Woo's Red Cliff) but that are gibberish to the uninitiated. Keeping the schools, their students, and their various allegiances straight is a chore only made more laborious by the barely-explained historical context and everyone's habit of stabbing one another in the back based on it. Stir in the nonsense about inner dragons and the baubles that can suppress them and you have a plot that is constantly on the ragged edge of incomprehensibility.
But really, why worry about niceties like who is who and why they do what they do when you can instead watch overdeveloped teenage girls beat each other until their breasts explode through their shirts, their panties separate from their rears, and their bladders give out and drench them in urine. Fun! As grotesque as the exercise sounds, the series is so ridiculously overpopulated with crotch-cams, copulation and sexed-up violence that it's more funny than shocking or even offensive. And unlike too many of its brethren, its Onan-friendly fan-service has a certain genuine artistic appeal. Vivid colors and compositions add visual punch to the panty-shredding fights, even as their slick presentation (a few artless digital pans and clunky explosions aside) and heartless, head-crushing violence add visceral impact. Eventually the constant battles achieve a sort of vulgar beauty, and even a (low) level of emotional engagement.
As you'd expect from a series obsessed with breasts, panties and everything else hormonal, Dragon Destiny is a highly visual series. Its gal warriors are drawn boldly and with an earthy sexuality that befits their violent natures and its attention to color and detail are clearly out of proportion with its quality. And even when its imagery isn't impressive, its energy is. The flip side to that is that it pays no attention to sound. After all, if it can't affect the groin, why waste effort on it? The usually reliable Yasuharu Takanashi's score is uncharacteristically bland, and Koichi Ohata's deployment of it is no more inspired. In a church? Use church music! In a fight? Use rock music! In the midst of sneaking? Use sneaky music!
The cast likewise sleepwalks through their roles, though given their spectacular shallowness that isn't unexpected, or even necessarily a criticism. That's particularly true of the Japanese cast, which sleepwalks most professionally. It's less true of Media Blasters' English actors, who sometimes sleepwalk professionally and sometimes simply sleepwalk, stumbling over clumsy bundles of Three Kingdoms terminology and falling flat on their faces. Some of the performances are also pitched wrong, particularly when the series mocks itself (lightly, which it often does), and a couple of them are flatter than Kansas cornfields. Others, however, are quite good—especially Angora Deb as bimbo-from-hell Hakufu. Acting aside, the English version is very faithful, rarely deviating more than absolutely necessary (a few amusing ad-libs aside).
Aside from a promo video and your usual clean opening (an energetic action montage) and ending (a slow, nipple-tastic tour of the main cast), this volume also includes two OAV omake: short, sleazy tales of breast-comparison and lesbian harassment that indicate that, even as extreme as it was, the television broadcast still left its animators feeling terribly constrained.
Dragon Destiny may be trash, but it isn't garbage. At least, not quite. For all their insensibility, the endless scheming and whipsawing allegiances keep the series loping between exploding shirtfronts; both Hakufu and Kan'u are more sympathetic (and dare I say, more interesting) than agents of excessive nudity need be; and the inherent humor of the show's overblown fan-service takes the edge off of its potentially sick-making sadism. It won't leave anyone feeling particularly clean, but it's surprisingly fun for a reeking slice of sex 'n violence exploitation.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : D+
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Fast-moving, trashy and completely shameless; heaven for fans of unrepentant exploitation.
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