Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 15th 2011
DVD - Complete Collection
Black-haired beauty Kan'u (aka Aisha) lost a brother to bandits during her youth, which inspired her to become a formidable warrior and bandit hunter. In one particular village she crosses paths with Chōhi (aka Rin Rin), an orphaned girl who has become a local hellion and proves quite strong in a fight. Some dueling and heart-to-heart talks lead to the two adopting each other as sisters and traveling together as they do further bandit-hunting and other odd jobs. Along the way they encounter several factions competing for power as the Han dynasty crumbles and run across a plethora of colorful characters, including some who become short-term or long-term traveling companions, others who contest against or employ them, and even the occasional character who wants to hit on Kan'u. When your life consists of traveling the open road, adventures can include rescuing a kidnapped girl, investigating a supposed monster, eating contests, hot springs hunts, helping to form a Volunteer Army, and plenty of dueling.
In the OVA episode “Rival Warlords Battle for the Position of Student Council President: There Will Also Be Flying Tops,” the entire cast gets transplanted into modern-day St. Francesca Academy, an all-girl boarding school where school leadership is determined by competitions between four-girl squads. Aisha and Rin Rin have a falling out on the eve of one such competition, leading them to compete in different squads.
The anime version of Koihime Musō (not to be confused with the hentai OVA Koihime) is derived from a similarly-named 2007 PC adult visual novel/strategy game, which was later ported to the PS2 platform in a cleaned-up version. The game was itself derived from the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, so most of the character names and faction affiliations featured in the anime version are loosely based on characters and factions present in that novel. The events of all episodes except the included OVA are also set in the period of Chinese history covered by the novel, specifically the period around the late 2nd century A.D. where independent power blocks were growing as the Han dynasty crumbled but had not yet collapsed, although the series hardly makes any effort to be historically accurate; anachronisms, like idol singers, maid costumes, and modern women's undergarments, abound.
Of course, being historically accurate here is entirely beside the point. While these thirteen episodes do have distinct action components and achieve occasional moments of true sentiment, they are primarily just an exercise in pure otakucentric fare, one which replaces traditionally male characters with sexy and/or moe girls and runs them through a gauntlet composed mainly of comical adventures and fan service situations. Cuteness dominates here, complete with elaborate, colorful costumes and hairdos and plentiful SD scenes, and regular doses of nudity (uncensored here, unlike in the earlier Crunchyroll streams), breast size references, lingerie, and implied or outright lesbianism spice up the fun. This is a series where an attempt to find and/or create a new hot spring can take up an entire episode, another episode focuses on an eating contest and an encounter with a girl training to be a competitive eater, another character occasionally rides into battle or mischief on a pig, and yet another tries to pass herself off as a costumed hero called Butterfly Mask (because, naturally, she wears a butterfly-themed mask).
The personalities of the girls are a cross-section of archetypes common to fan service shows, and most are executed in a simple, straightforward way. A nicely summarized breakdown, complete with character reference pictures, can be found here. While other characters come and go, including standards like the arrogant rich girl, the cool and confident lesbian authority figure, the motherly figure (who, in this case, actually is a mother), the hard-drinking girl, the quiet warrior who's secretly an animal freak, the twin idol singer wannabes, the announcer girl, and the rebellious princess type, the focus remains on the central duo of Aisha/Kan'u and her adopted sister Rin Rin/Chōhi. The latter fills the role of the plucky, rambunctious kid who wears her heart on her sleeve (or, in this case, her remarkably expressive tiger-shaped hair clip), while the former is the kind-hearted, stalwart warrior who easily gets flustered by romantic advances from both men and women. Aisha is also something of the straight woman in the series, as most of the series' running jokes – including her being mistakenly regarded as the mother of some of the younger characters and the way her actual appearance doesn't seem to live up to her reputation – involve her. Other commonly recurring characters include Shuri/Komei as the shy herbalist and master strategist, quietly competitive Sei/Chōun, and thick-headed but boisterous and good-natured Sui/Bachō. While this lot may lack any degree of originality, they make up for it with the light-hearted and entertaining way that they interact. Between that and all of the situational gags, the series rarely has a dull moment.
The regular episodes have nothing that could be called an ongoing plot, as they mostly just amount to the main characters traveling around, picking up and losing traveling companions, having adventures or getting stuck in ridiculous situations, and encountering a broad array of colorful characters who either help them, employ them, combat them, or (in Aisha's case) try to seduce them. If there is a recurring theme, it involves the forging and testing of the bond of sisterhood between Aisha and Rin Rin, a theme which also gets touched upon heavily in the OVA episode. Karin/Sou Sou's ongoing attempt to get Kan'u in her bed borders between being another running gag and a plot thread of its own. The OVA episode's story is an entirely self-contained transplantation of the cast into a modern-day school setting for typical competitive and fan service hijinks.
Doga Kobo a support-focused animation studio whose only other significant lead efforts are the recently-released 11eyes and the unlicensed Myself; Yourself, here produces a bright and colorful effort which is hardly a paragon of action animation but loads itself up so effectively on the cute factor that the lackluster animation may not matter. Each girl gets her own distinctive look (albeit typically one that can commonly be found in fan service-focused series) and one of three builds: ultra-petite elementary school, modestly petite middle school, or tall and voluptuous. Most of the female cast members appear in partly-defined nudity (upper=yes, lower=no) at some point – and yes, that includes the younger-looking members, for those sensitive to such things. A couple of the handful of male characters also get distinctive looks, but the same trio of designs for bandits – one short and sharp-nosed, one medium-height and thin, a third who's tall rather chubby – recycles so frequently that it seems to be another running joke. The visual effect may actually be at its best in the frequent SD scenes, which marks the series at its most irrepressibly cute level. Background art is typically solid but unremarkable.
The synthesizer-heavy musical score mixes some traditional Chinese themes in with cutesy themes, an occasional mildly dramatic one, and themes which sound like they were directly borrowed from an ero game for an overall effect that is energetic but unimpressive. The same could be said of opener “Flower of Bravery,” which captures the enthusiastic spirit of the show but is bland enough that it does not distinguish itself from the crowd. Closer “Yappari wa Sekai Atashi Legend” which complements a hyped-up beat and highly enthusiastic singing with an SD parade, works much better. Japanese vocal performances conform to the expected mix of cutesy interpretations.
Sentai Filmworks opted not to dub this one and includes only clean opener and closer for Extras, though they did also include the associated OVA episode. Although all of the content presented in this release is uncensored, some controversy has arisen over whether or not this is truly the most uncensored version of the series, as scene from episodes 9 and 10 both use SD artwork in places where the Japanese DVD releases apparently used regular artwork and more involved nude scenes; for instance, the breast competition between Rin Rin and Shouren happens entirely off camera in this release but was fully detailed in the Japanese release. Controversy has also erupted over the release due to Sentai apparently using the error-riddled subtitles from the original Crunchyroll stream of the series. Regardless of whether the subtitles were borrowed or created in-house – and the lack of any mention of a Subtitle Editor in the English credits suggests the former – they represent one of the worst examples of basic text editing to date on an anime DVD release, as nearly every episode has multiple instances of basic grammar mistakes, stuff that should have been caught on even a casual editing pass.
Accept Koihime Musō for what it is – a cutesy fan service show – and it can be quite entertaining. It was popular enough to inspire two follow-up twelve episode TV series (both of which are also licensed by Sentai Filmworks) and has a format which can sustain silly situational gags for quite some time to come. You won't find any depth here, but really, what can you expect from a series which casts little girls wearing berets as master strategists?
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Lots of cutesy fun and fan service, occasional effective sincere moment.
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