Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 17th 2004
DVD 1: Legendary Fighter
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a turbulent period of Chinese history, has resurfaced in the Kanto region of modern-day Japan. Seven high schools vie for supremacy over Kanto, with student brawls taking the place of historic military battles. In each school, certain students possess a bead that signifies the status of Fighter—a reincarnation of a great warrior from the Three Kingdoms conflict. One of these Fighters is the bubbly airhead Hakufu Sonsaku, who greets the entire school on her first day with fists raised and panties flashing. Although Hakufu's childhood friend Koukin tries to keep her in check, all she wants to do is fight, and she doesn't care who the opponent is! The "Big Four" at school, however, realize that Hakufu may be the reincarnation of the unbeatable Sho Haou. As Hakufu runs around blindly picking fights, the toughest Fighters in Kanto try to put an end to her in order to maintain the balance of power.
Ask any young male anime fan what he likes about the artform and he'll probably tell you that it's a diverse medium that goes where Western animation doesn't dare. Perhaps it's the complex, winding storylines, or the uniquely stylized visuals, or the exotic settings that can include futuristic universes, fantasy realms, and exotic cultures. Our anime-loving friend might even go so far as to cite the works of Hayao Miyazaki or Osamu Tezuka as transcendent examples of what makes it so appealing.
What our hypothetical fan really wants to say is, he likes anime because of the hot girls. And fighting! Or even better, hot girls fighting! And they've got plenty of that on the Ikki Tousen DVD!
It doesn't get any simpler than this, folks: unnaturally proportioned high school girls (and boys) fight a lot, and in the process, the girls often lose their clothes. It doesn't even need to make sense—apparently, schoolteachers have been exiled out of Kanto, and students randomly get into fights instead of going to class. There is, of course, an attempt at plot, but apart from the occasional description of pivotal battles in the Three Kingdoms era, the historical connection is pure artifice (and boring artifice at that). In the end, it always comes back to the fighting... and the hot girls. The only thing that flies faster than the punches in Ikki Tousen is the fanservice—the opening sequence alone contains 5 pantyshots, and while the level of panty-flashing decreases through each episode (41, 37, 25, and 9 in Episodes 1-4 respectively [Your dedication to your work is admirable. --Ed]), rest assured that the animators find plenty of other female body parts to objectify. Rarely has an anime series been so directly targeted at young males.
In a show with so little story depth, it should be no surprise that the characters of Ikki Tousen are equally shallow. While many girls can get away with being "clumsy but cute," Hakufu commits the grave sin of being clumsy and annoying. Consider her response whenever someone calls her stupid: "The person who says 'stupid,' is stupid!" Whatever happened to that old standby, "I'll do my best"? Every now and then, Hakufu does say something funny, but that usually only happens once per episode and then it's only funny because it's in the same vein as Beavis and Butt-head. Hakufu's protector, Koukin, is no better, as he turns out to be a simpering brat that could just as easily not exist in the show. In fact, most of the supporting cast could be eliminated or replaced with no effect on this series. Don't expect any character development either, since there is no apparent hierarchy in the progression of opponents that Hakufu faces.
In a series so reliant on male-oriented fanservice, one would expect carefully rendered female characters, but Ikki Tousen falls short in this respect, going for extreme gimmicks rather than eye-catching anatomy. It's hard to appreciate the female form if it doesn't even look right. Yes, we understand that guys enjoy big breasts on a girl, but in this series it gets to the point where they're so comically huge that it ceases to be pleasing—in fact, it's downright embarrassing, both for the viewer and the animator who drew it in the first place. Fanservice aside, the character designs are very plain (looking vaguely out of the mid-to-late 90's) and poorly drawn, save for the excessive use of shadows and highlights. Dynamic poses and anatomy are crucial to a fighting series, and when ripped clothes become more important than limbs and torsos, the fight ceases to be believable. It also doesn't help that the animation is painfully choppy during the fights, relying heavily on still frames that are supposed to look dramatic but end up interrupting the action instead. (Funnily enough, the animation smoothes itself out every time Hakufu does a high kick or jiggles her boobs.)
The audio in Ikki Tousen does little to save the show; saddled with bland dialogue, the English dub actors are stuck with trying to fake some sort of emotion. If Hakufu's dub voice sounds empty-headed and annoying, don't be surprised—it's an accurate representation of her Japanese incarnation. The dub script is remarkably faithful to the translation, even keeping honorifics as necessary, so it's a shame that such a meticulous translation had to be wasted on this kind of show. The music consists of a few repetitive synth-pop phrases, occasionally varied to match the mood, but otherwise a fitting complement to a mindless action series.
Ikki Tousen sets low goals for itself and accomplishes them eminently: lots of fighting, and lots of pantyshots. Sadly, these goals do not equate to the criteria of what makes good anime, and what we get stuck with is a story as thin as the girls' outfits, coupled with visuals that try to titillate but get hung up on technical issues. If you like hot girls, or if you like fighting, or if you like hot girls fighting, you can surely find plenty of other anime titles containing those elements that don't stoop to the level of Ikki Tousen.
Overall (dub) : F
Overall (sub) : F
Story : F
Animation : D
Art : C-
Music : F
+ Stripped down to the purest form of guilty pleasure: extreme action and extreme fanservice.
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