Reviewby Theron Martin,
Maken-Ki! Battling Venus
BD+DVD - The Complete Series [Limited Edition]
Takeru Ohyama aspired to attend Tenbi Academy for two main reasons: it required no entrance test and was converting from a girls-only school to a coed format, so he was firmly convinced that the female-to-male ratio would be in his favor. That his childhood friend Haruko, who has blossomed into a busty beauty, also goes there was an added bonus. However, Takeru had no conception of what he was getting into: an environment where the students are all outfitted with items called Maken which grant them seemingly mystical powers, and that the school existed in large part to train students in the use of these powers – which of course means that disagreements are often settled by duels. Before his first day has finished, he finds himself caught in the midst of two such battles, drawing the attention of a petite, twin-tailed blond who privately speculates on whether or not he might be her nemesis, attracting the clingy affection of a girl who claims to know him from years past and be his fiancée, and rooming with three of the hottest girls in school. And that's just the beginning of Takeru's wild ride through his Tenbi Academy days, which eventually lead him to joining Maken-ki, the school's security team. Will he survive long enough to ogle all of the breasts and cop all of the feels that his horny heart desires?
Just like anime titles of all other stripes, dedicated fan service shows can be good, mediocre, and bad. This manga-based 2011 series certainly does not qualify as good, and only on occasions does it claw its way up to the mediocre level. The creators and producers seemed to clearly understand, though, that quality has little correlation to success in series like this; throw enough T&A at the target audience and that covers up enough for deep flaws that even a series that is sometimes painfully bad can be successful. That presumption certainly proved true here, as these 13 episodes (12 regular and one OVA) have earned a follow-up series slated to premiere in the Winter 2014 season.
So what makes this series work well enough to sell? The answer is quite simple: big-chested babes and panty shots – lots and lots of both. The series is so indiscriminate about its use of the latter that it not only never passes up an opportunity for one but also goes out of its way to angle for them, and its camera is especially fond of focusing on camel toe - much moreso than most other panty-obsessed series, in fact. Amply-endowed ladies amongst both the students and staff are so commonplace that the occasional normal or petite-built girl feels more like a concession to a broad range of male interests than any attempt at portraying a realistic representation of the female population. (Not that this is particularly unusual as fan service-oriented anime series go, but again, it seems more pronounced here than normal.) The series gives them lots of opportunities to show off their bounciness and nipple outlines and/or in various states of undress, though the nudity quotient is actually only limited to a handful of brief scenes across the series; it is definitely not in a league with the High School DxD, Freezing, or Queen's Blade franchises in that regard. Naturally the series includes the obligatory swimsuit, giant octopus, and “working at a maid café for extra money” content, cleavage-baring outfits of other types, and a “splattered with cream” scene so suggestive that it will make eyes roll. All-in-all, this is not a fan service effort on the level of the aforementioned franchises, but it is sexy enough and lacks the sometimes mean-spirited nature of the others; one thing this series does not do is mix in elements of sado-masochism, as even the one scene where characters think this is happening turns out to be something much more innocent.
If the fan service and battle scenes that sometimes lead to clothes-shredding do not draw a viewer in then nothing else here will, as those are the only positive merits that the series has. Even then, the battle scenes are hardly sterling affairs; they can have some flash but take much too many shortcuts, focus too much on getting in the requisite panty shots, and rarely have any freshness or zing about their choreography and power uses. The same can be said of the series' writing, which is so intent on recycling tired tropes and clichés, and so dead-set on making Takeru into a harem figure, that it sometimes does not bother to consider if certain stock scenes or characterization adjustments actually make any sense where they are used. Add in the awkwardly-handled execution of other scenes and you have a series whose writing is thoroughly awful through most of its first few episodes. While it does get a little better later on, every time the writing raises its game even a little bit it soon finds a way to regress, such as so badly failing to establish a foundation for a dramatic scene that the scene loses all credibility.
The lack of a plot for most of the series does not help, either. The first episode drops hints that something might be special about Takeru, and that one of the girls has a big unrevealed secret, but the former is only occasionally touched on in minor ways before the final regular episode and never clearly explained before the end. The intimation of the truth behind the latter does make for a genuinely interesting twist later on, but that potential storyline is also not explored in much detail in this series. In fact, everything about the plotting gives the impression that the series was intended from the beginning to be a two season project. Waiting until episode 9 or 10 to get the plot going is fine for a 24-26 episode series but a glaring pacing problem for a 12-13 episode series separated by more than two years from its follow-up. In fact, watching this right before the second season starts in January 2014 is probably the ideal timing.
The production effort by AIC Spirits does not shine in technical or musical aspects, either, but it is at least better than the writing. Character designs offer little that is particularly fresh or interesting and background visuals are ordinary, although the artistry does use its color palette well, and that comes through strongly in the Blu-Ray release. While the animation effort does have its moments, it is not above using extended scenes of still shorts (although thankfully not commonly) or taking big shortcuts. Blood and grievous bodily injury are rare, so the TV-MA rating is entirely for the fan service. The musical score is likewise tepid as it ambles along with innocuous tunes occasionally punctuated by more dramatic bursts, ones which simply lack the gravitas to have much impact. Opener “Fly Away” is a decent but eminently forgettable number, while closer “baby bay” is distinguished most for being sung by rotating duos of series seiyuu.
Funimation's English dub team certainly realized what they were getting into with this one and so did not let themselves take the roles or the content too seriously. The result is a liberally-interpreted dub juiced up with sharp-tongued but fitting slang references and spirited performances which help make the content at least a bit more tolerable. Despite the limitations of the material (e.g., Takeru has such a bad habit of bouncing back and forth between serious and perverse modes at the blink of an eye that Ian Sinclair is forced to make some awkward transitions in what is otherwise a very good performance), the dub is a strong and effective effort.
Funimation's release of the title also comes off well on the Extras. The three DVDs and two Blu-Rays each come in their own cases housed in an artbox, with bonus artwork on the case interiors. Blu-Ray picture quality is good, although the 5.1 TrueHD English track and 2.0 TrueHD Japanese track audio quality are wasted here. Standard Extras include uninteresting English audio commentaries for episodes 2 and 8, Japanese commercials and teasers, and a clean opener. Also present are six “Heart Throb! Maken-Ki Secret Training” videos which average about 10 minutes in length. Each of these subtitled-only affairs features one of the series' main girls leading the viewer in an assortment of exercises. These do seem legit, and even come with warnings about what not to do to render the exercises ineffective or raise the risk of hurting oneself. These being attached to the series that they are, though, they (naturally!) eventually all take a salacious turn.
The package advertising for this quotes me as declaring this to be a “brazen harem fan service fest” (a quote taken from the original Preview Guide write-ups from back when the show premiered), which is, indeed, true. That statement should not be taken as an endorsement of the series, however. While it can match nearly any dedicated fan service series out there in terms of sheer volume of fan service scenes, much better series of this ilk have been put out in recent years in all other respects.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : C
+ A dream series for panty fetishists and fans of big breasts, good English dub and English release production.
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