Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor
DVD - The Complete Series + 45 Minute OVA
The three great Kanto schools—Seito, Kyosho, and Nanyo—are temporarily at peace. Following the Battle of Red Cliffs, none of the schools particularly wants to challenge the others. But that doesn't mean all is flowers and love. Bachou Mouki, a spunky little girl with an outsized grudge, assaults Kyosho, demanding to see Sousou. She's soundly thrashed by towering volleyball ace Chuuko Kyochou and stumbles off to be rescued by gentle-hearted Gentoku—whom she is destined to one day serve under. But Bachou has a less, er, well-balanced master in mind: air-headed violence addict Sonsaku Hakufu. As if Hakufu having an apprentice weren't carnage enough, a mysterious figure is also arranging a second Big Fighter's Tournament—a Tournament that may be a deadly trap from beyond the grave.
This is the fourth of Ikki Tousen's violent, habitually topless seasons, and the third on which the franchise's now-customary director, the ever-seedy Koichi Ohata, has worked. The experience is not wasted on him, or his team. Xecutor combines Dragon Destiny's convoluted ongoing conflicts (both inherited and fresh-made), grave tone, and continuous story with Great Guardians' self-contained filler plot and taste for silly character humor, creating a portmanteau that is once again a crucial hair more enjoyable than previous incarnations.
Don't worry though; it's still messy, dumb, and screamingly exploitative. The "secret" villain is both obvious and nonsensical—he's a combination of a deceased former villain and a sentient collection of supernatural grudges—and his actions consequently have no real rhyme or reason. The revelation of his identity exposes the convoluted plot for what it is: just a bunch of evil-scheming magical mumbo-jumbo—something about wanting to see all fighters suffer and resurrecting an army of spirit-possessed homunculi—the unfolding of which has nothing to do with logic and intelligence and everything to do with marching the sprawling cast from one clothes-shredding death match to another.
Which is perfectly fine. That's always been the series' purpose after all. For all the historical echoes, supposedly devious schemes, and double- and triple-identities, the purpose of Ikki is and always has been watching voluptuous teens grapple until their clothing disintegrates and their bladders give out. Ripe bodies contort, tongues flop, crotches jam into the camera, and shirt fronts explode as if made of nitroglycerin, allowing breasts of every size, shape, and nipple contour to drink the sweet, sweet air of freedom.
And the show is absolutely unashamed about it. It makes no excuses, and offers us none. We're either here for the nakedly sexualized martial-arts brutality, or we aren't here at all. Which is part of its elusive charm. There's something disarming about its unapologetic trashiness. It doesn't dissemble or disguise, doesn't hide its id behind romantic justifications or hypocritical speeches about female empowerment (I'm looking at you Wanna Be the Strongest in the World). "Sometimes you just need a little trash in your life," it tells us. "No need to be ashamed of that."
It helps, of course, that it's handsome trash. Yuji Shiozaki's characters are among anime's best-designed, with memorable coloration, heavily stamped personalities, and a distinctive, earthy sexuality. To appreciate the show's visual smarts, look no further than new addition Bachou, whose shocking pink gloves and sneakers combine with her graceful, athletic fighting style to communicate a kind of healthy, unflagging youthful energy—giving the lie to the dark, vengeful urges she forces on herself. Similarly Kan'u continues to radiate warrior dignity and lesbian magnetism, Hakufu is fairly busting with airheaded (and cheerfully violent) sunshine, and Ryomou is a tsundere vision in S&M cosplay.
Ohata is improving as an action director, always learning how to use his less-than-stellar budget a little better, a little smarter. From opening brawl—in which lanky Kyochou and petite Bachou spar balletically, ending when Bachou is punted through a window and out the other side of the building—to closing duel (between Bachou and an equally quick and lethal little thing with a preference for dual-sword assassination) the series is one long chain of swift, punchily-delivered fights, highlighted by well-timed bursts of fluidity and carried smartly forward by the pulpy thrust of the nonsense plot. Bachou, whose style is heavily reliant on agile dodges and spinning counter-attacks, brings the pure joy of motion and an almost musical choreography to her fights, and the fact that Kan'u gets the longest (and most nudity-intensive) throw-down weighs heavily in the show's favor. On a purely visceral level, this is the best of Ikki Tousen to date and, after the action-depleted Great Guardians in particular, a down 'n dirty action delight.
On a musical level, the series is pretty forgettable. Yasuharu Takanashi's score is perfectly functional, and Ohata doesn't assault you with it, but you won't find it hanging out in your cerebrum afterwards.
If I had to guess, I'd say Funimation isn't especially excited about Xecutor. For one, this set—three discs, with the third reserved for the OVA, which we'll get to in a minute—is DVD only, a high-def version apparently having been judged unnecessary. And then there are the subtitles, which are awash in uncharacteristic blunders: missing lines, grammatical errors, inconsistent name and terminology usage. There's no surer sign that a company doesn't give a crap than the decision not to proofread their subtitles. The only thing about this set that shows any consideration for the purchaser are the extras, which include six nudity-intensive omake about various characters' stupid dreams and the aforementioned OVA—Shūgaku Tōshi Keppu-roku—a 45-minute freestyle rumble between all of the major characters, with suitably muscular production values and a delightful dearth of anything remotely (and, given the show's proclivities, badly) dramatic.
Funimation did care enough to give Xecutor a dub, but the cast doesn't care enough to really sell it. The dub is written with the wit usually associated with New Generation Pictures (my favorite exchange, between a nameless schmuck and Bachou after Bachou has bamboozled him with her fake boobs: Bachou: "Boobs don't matter." Shmuck, crestfallen: "Boobs matter most!") but the cast can't be bothered to invest themselves. The whole affair is flat and apathetic, though livened here and there by Carrie Savage's Hakufu. Perhaps the most telling moment on the three included commentary tracks (for episodes 1, 2, and the OVA) is when Rachel Robinson (Kan'u) sputters out while trying to think of something nice to say about the show.
It's always tempting to call an enjoyably bad show a guilty pleasure, but that is a particularly inappropriate term for Xecutor. Its defining quality, the reason it succeeds where other rocket-chested nudity-fests fail, is that there is no associated guilt. Why? There's no simple answer to that. It has to do with the show's incapacity to feel shame—shame is a contagious emotion—and with Hakufu's sunny nature-girl disposition, with Kan'u's proud ownership of her body, which somehow takes the leer out of the leering camerawork. It has to do with Ohata's aptitude for pushing the violence and sex over the top and into the realm of self-parody, and with the good humor he learned in the bright, silly Great Guardians. It has to do with how weirdly attached we've gotten to the show's pancake-flat characters, turning them into company that we enjoy rather than cynical vessels for nipple-flashing nudity, and with the sheer glee of the show's sleazy excesses. In short, it's complicated. The result, however, is elemental in its simplicity: pure, trashy fun.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : D+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Another twelve episodes of gloriously trashy violent sleaze; a little lighter and funnier than seasons one and two; Bachou is a solid addition to the cast; OVA.
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