Reviewby Theron Martin,
Master of Martial Hearts
While walking home from school one day, Aya and best friend Natsume stumble across two dueling women – a stewardess and a shrine maiden – who claim to be fighting as part of Martial Heart (Platonic Heart in Japanese and subtitles), a women-only fighting tournament steeped in local legend where the ultimate prize is the granting of a wish and those who fail get taken to the Dark Realm. Aya's mother was a champion fighter in her day, and Aya naturally picked up some techniques from her, so she intercedes and soon befriends the shrine maiden Miko (yes, that's really her name), as she can sympathize with Miko's wish to make friends. Miko soon disappears under suspicious circumstances, however, and Aya finds participation in Martial Heart to be the only way to find and, if necessary, rescue her. As the battles progress and Aya advances deeper into the truth behind Martial Heart, she also makes some unpleasant discoveries about herself. That is nothing, however, compared to the dark secrets waiting at the core of Martial Heart.
So the very first scene involves a stewardess using a blade-sprouting hand bag and spike-sprouting scarf fighting a shrine maiden (named Miko in one of the least creative naming jobs ever, a point which the characters themselves note) using good luck charms which can turn into shuriken.
Oh, yeah, it's that kind of series.
This trashy, five-episode OVA series from 2008, which is (not surprisingly) based on a video game, will invariably be compared to Ikki Tousen due to its similar emphasis on clothes-shredding attacks, although this one takes the concept to even greater extremes; there's more clothes to be shredded, and female flesh to be exposed, if all of the combatants are young women, after all. Also, unlike IT, this one does not hesitate to show fully-detailed exposed breasts, ultimately giving it a significantly higher fan service rating. That it also shows plenty of panty flashes and girls in swimsuits goes without saying.
And that is about all this series has going for it. Oh, sure, it does actually have something for a plot, but let's not kid ourselves here: the plot exists almost entirely to give excuses for staging cosplay-like battles. There is an element of mystery about the truth behind Martial/Platonic Heart and how Aya got pulled into it, and some odd hints are dropped along the way that there might be a bigger picture here (conspicuously showing that Natsume's mute mother has a nasty scar on her throat, for instance), but only in the second half of the final episode does that materialize into anything substantial.
When it does, though, watch out! The twists fly fast and furious over the last 18 minutes, revealing machinations that are vastly more perverse and sinister than what the series shows up until that point. Some of these revelations viewers will likely see coming, such as the true nature of the Dark Realm business and the identity of one of the people behind the Martial Heart, but others will certainly raise an eyebrow and the sudden ugliness of the whole business may be unsettling. It all plays out towards an ending which cuts off so abruptly that it feels like a scene is missing (it isn't; the DVD version is intact) and thus lacks a full sense of resolution.
The fights are supposed to complement the fan service as the other feature of the series, but they try so hard to be campy that their merits as action scenes are severely lacking. Some of the premises are gimmicky in a clever way, such as the cosplaying idol who uses fighting before her adoring fan base to unnerve her opponents (and, of course, ultimately gets defeated by superior cosplaying), while others are gimmicky in a stupid way, such as the mechanic who throws wrenches or the science teacher who performs chemical compound-themed attack combinations. Either way, the fights are stiff in execution, resulting in many of them having trouble generating real tension or excitement beyond curiosity about whether or not a combatant's clothes will hold together long enough to finish the fight and wonder about how simple punches and kicks can have such improbable clothes-shattering effects; at least the chainsaw blade in the idol's magical girl-like wand can legitimately cut through cloth. . .
Though this is not a top-grade artistic effort, the visuals aren't bad, either. ARMS, which has specialized in graphic, fan service-laden anime titles, makes a concerted effort to give all of its characters distinct looks, although it has some trouble maintaining consistent bust sizes in places and lets its refinement slack when the girls are in school uniforms. The fan service here eschews the busty emphasis of ARMS' Queen's Blade in favor of a more realistically-proportioned sensibility reminiscent of fan service seen in mid-to-late '80s OVAs but with more modern attention to natural movement. The artists seem to delight in the tattered clothing look, but whether focusing on properly-clothed characters or not the rendering is (usually) good in both the characters and background art. The animation actually looks better in the more passive scenes than in the fight scenes, save for some sequences towards the end.
Masaru Kuba, who gets his first scoring assignment here, shows some potential but also has some problems with consistency. At times his musical numbers hit just the right note, but his transitions between numbers are not always as smooth as they could be, with some pieces appearing too suddenly. Opener “Tatsumaki Wave” is a raucous J-rock number with plenty of its own panty flashes, while the uncredited closer is a much lower-key and more peaceful number, both audibly and visually.
While the English dub is anchored by veterans like Cherami Leigh, Brittney Karbowski, and Shelly Calene-Black, it also depends heavily on new or relatively new vocal talent, including a complete newcomer in the featured role and fresh voice Alexis Tipton doing her best imitation of Monica Rial as Miko. The dub does not suffer much for this new blood, producing an adequate effort which should satisfy those who normally watch dubs. The English script does not stray too far from the original beyond adjusting some of the name-calling and the change from Platonic Heart to Martial Heart.
The sole on-disk Extra is a meaty one: an audio commentary showing the three lead seiyuu talking about the first episode while it plays in a reduced window. Funimation also deserves credit for its inventive menu design on this single-disk offering.
Master of Martial Hearts is ultimately a series strictly for fans of the video game and those who don't seek anything beyond fan service in their anime offerings. Those expecting anything more from the series should not bother with it.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Nudity, plot twists towards the end, small amounts of cleverness here and there.
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