Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 8th 2005
DVD 4: Fighting Fate
The modern-day re-enactment of the Three Kingdoms saga enters its final chapter, but can a clueless teenage girl overcome her own fate? Hakufu, the reincarnation of the legendary Sho Haou, finds herself on a countdown to death after Totaku places a curse on her. With the help of rival-turned-ally Ryomou, Hakufu must defeat Totaku if she wants to live. However, Totaku has some plans of his own for challenging fate. Meanwhile, childhood friend Koukin discovers just what school leader Saji is up to, and it all centers around Hakufu, so Saji is next on the list of maniacal powermongers who must be stopped. Finally, the history of the Three Kingdoms dictates that Hakufu will die at the hands of Ukitsu, but when the contemporary Ukitsu shows up, the final duel takes a different twist as two equally airheaded girls meet on the battlefield.
What is there to say about Ikki Tousen that doesn't involve snide comments about breasts and pantyshots? This train wreck of a series finally comes to a crashing halt in Vol. 4, culminating in a flurry of exaggerated fights and school uniforms that explode on contact. The storyline clings to its feeble Three Kingdoms premise right up until the end, where it's then thrown away in one of the most anticlimactic endings to ever close out a fighting series. But it's not like anyone was following this for the story, right? When it comes to high kicks, mindless bloodshed, and provocatively exposed body parts, Ikki Tousen is the place to be.
As a history lesson on the Three Kingdoms, Ikki Tousen fails badly—not that it was supposed to teach anyone about that tumultuous period of Chinese history, anyway. Take away the historical connection and the show remains essentially the same: a series of fights where the opponents keep getting tougher and the girls' clothing keeps getting smaller. With each character corresponding to an important warrior or politician, the Three Kingdoms parallel exists as a crutch to determine the next matchup, eliminating the need for an original plot. However, when people start defying ancient prophecies, that's when things get screwy, and Hakufu's final battle turns out to be... a complete waste of time. As far as endings go, this one fizzles out so badly that you might want to chain down your furniture to avoid throwing things at the screen. Although things do get resolved, it's such a lame way of getting there that they should have just stuck with rampant fanservice all the way to the credits.
By the end of the series, our main heroine Hakufu has evolved from a ditzy, fighting-obsessed girl to, well, a ditzy, fighting-obsessed girl who's aware of her grand destiny. That's about it as far as character development goes, and don't even bother asking about the supporting cast. (Ryomou's change of allegiance was interesting, but that was several episodes ago.) Because the characters are so thinly scripted, with their only memorable attributes being odd names transcribed from Chinese, there's no emotional attachment to them—they're just schoolkids who beat each other up (and, if female, lose their clothes a lot). Despite some attempts at sentimentality by having a few side characters die, Ikki Tousen ends without ever really exploring the personalities of these reincarnated warriors.
Now here's the part everyone wants to talk about: gratuitous fanservice. Like the rest of the series, these final three episodes are a cavalcade of pantyshots, upskirts and miraculous levitating boobs that need no material support. If you're looking for anatomically believable characters, this is definitely the wrong series—if not the wrong genre entirely. Even more laughable is how the girls' school uniforms strategically rip apart, revealing skin in ways that's not so much sexy as it is ridiculous. Animation studio J.C. Staff tries to dress things up with sharp, high-contrast colors, but it can't hide the weak animation. Although the action scenes try to look "extreme," they often show just the final pose of each blow, rather than animating the motion all the way through. As a display of power, it works, but it doesn't truly bring things to life. The extra gallons of bloodshed, which may be shocking the first two or three times, also lose their impact rather quickly. And like any mediocre fighting series, Ikki Tousen resorts to the shortcuts of dense speedlines and glowing power-up auras as a substitute for real action.
If there's one thing more forgettable than Ikki Tousen's characters, it's the music, which goes through all the motions of a typical score for an action show. Although fight scenes and conversations are accompanied by the right kind of orchestration, there's nothing striking about the music and it fades too easily into the background.
The English voice actors on the dub track try to play their roles with honesty, but they seem to be all too aware of how clichéd this show is. Carrie Savage is a fine choice for the bubbly Hakufu, but the rest of the cast is a downhill slide from there. Koukin gets stuck with a lot of typical "I'm your best friend! I'll protect you!" lines, and most of the other characters have to spout challenges and threats that would fit perfectly in a tournament video game. The voice actors make an effort to sound spirited, but most of the time it just sounds really silly. As an added bonus, there's a hidden easter egg on the DVD where you can hear voice actor outtakes, although they're mostly pre-scripted. There's also one other egg featuring the Japanese staff working with actresses to get reference poses for the fights, so just in case the animated pantyshots aren't enough, you can get live-action fanservice too.
In the end, Ikki Tousen meets its simple goals: to stage unbelievable fights and even more unbelievable fanservice. But with so many other great fighting shows out there—and an equally large number of boob-and-panty shows—this is one that's going to get lost in the crowd. The weak ending doesn't help either, capping off a story that was simply a cheap copy of actual historical events. Let's just be thankful that the series didn't go on any longer than it had to.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : D
+ Delivers eminently on its promise of blatant fanservice and outrageous fighting.
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