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This Week in Anime
Does Ikkitousen Still Got It?

by Jean-Karlo Lemus & Steve Jones,

Back in the early 2000s, one series was driving the fanservice caravan. Ikki Tousen, a series about reincarnated fighters from Romance of Three Kingdoms beating the crap out of each other with plenty of nudity is back. Prepare yourself for unabashed T&A in This Week in Anime!

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Jean-Karlo, after hearing everyone speak so fervidly about that hot new anime based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you know I just had to check it out for myself. And, uh, I guess I've gotten to the bottom of why it's become such a popular critical darling, butt it's not quite what I asspected.
I kept waiting for my boy Zhuge Liang, courtesy name Kongming to show up but he never did? And nobody even did the chiki-chiki-bang-bang dance? I think something's off with this show.
Let me play back the tapes for a moments. And...huh. Must have missed the title screen the first time around.

Definitely explains why there was no rapping. And why there were so many female-presenting nipples.
I'm as bewildered as you are to see an Ikki Tousen joint in this day and age. Their original home, Studio ARMS, went bankrupt in 2020 (a pity, because they also made MAOYU, which I loved). I'd figured we'd seen the end of Ikki Tousen at that point. The once hallowed fanservice franchise about sexy high schoolers with powers and personalities based off of figures from the Three Kingdoms had long since been overtaken by other, newer panty-fighter shows like Queen's Blade and Senran Kagura, and even then that subgenre of action show seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur in favor of more isekai or outright softcore anime like Interspecies Reviewers. I say this a lot, I know, but this Ikki Tousen anime came out of nowhere.
A bolt from the blue if there ever were one. I only vaguely knew of the series by reputation, but when this assignment was dropped on the "This Week In Anime" newsdesk, something about it caught my eye. While I might gravitate towards the more ~pretentious~ shows more often than not, I can certainly enjoy a good T&A romp like other completely normal people. So why not, I thought. Mind you, this was, quite crucially, before I realized that this franchise is over two decades old and has over 50 episodes under its belt already.

They made four seasons of this between 2003 and 2010, plus a handful of OVAs. What a time to be alive and hyper-focused on panty exposure.

Like I said, Ikki Tousen was once quite hallowed! The likes of Kano Unchou and Shimei Ryomou were once PVC statue du jour for the most discerning of weebs. I grew up during the Ikki Tousen heyday and I have too much smut on my personal shelves to turn my nose up at it. There's a time for grownups in spandex doing karate at each other in the quarry, and there's a time for boobs.

This is a time for boobs.

I only bring up my background, because seeing as I'm jumping into a plot already 49 episodes underway, you'll have to forgive me if I'm a little lost. Luckily, though, this is all based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, so I can always fall back on my familiarity with that...which is nada.

So basically, watching this made me feel like it was 2003 and I had no idea what was going on. Which is, to be fair, exactly how I felt in 2003.
Oh, yeah, even though it's been a good while since the last Ikki Tousen romp, Shin Ikki Tousen doesn't really give you any kind of setup as to the state of things when they start. They just presume you've been keeping up with everything after all these years so you know why it is Hakufu Sonsaku isn't around at the moment, or what have you. Which is why we have this girl.
Yeah, character familiarity aside, it does begin exactly how I expected a combination skin rag/high school battle series to begin: new girl shows up at school and everyone is beating the crap out of each other.
Also, the incontinence. Don't forget the incontinence.

...I'm not showing it, but that happens too.

I mean incontinence in anime is one thing—we are no strangers to piss here at TWIA—but graphically depicted incontinence less than two minutes into runtime is a new record.

I'm not upset, I'm just impressed.
Anyway, this is Chubo Sonken, allegedly the younger sister of series protagonist Hakufu Sonsaku. Like everyone else, she's a Fighter—but she doesn't have a sacred bead, so she doesn't really have any power at all. She's just a normal high-schooler walking in on a state of emergency in the school. It seems another fighter named Himiko is making a bid to take over the region, and people are very hostile.

Also, I really wish this series had a more creative term for their characters than "Fighters." Call them, like, Dynasts or Incarnates or something like that. Calling them "Fighters" is really underwhelming and undersells just how powerful these girls are supposed to be.

I didn't even realize that was a title! But I had plenty of other proper nouns to keep track of, so maybe that's a blessing in disguise. Because not only do we have a cast full of short-skirted girls whose names I don't know, they're all housing the souls of famous Chinese warriors I also don't know. And when I went to Wikipedia for assistance, I was greeted by a page with a 20,000 word count.

Fans are writing damn novellas about this franchise. And I have to respect that when the series itself is brave enough to edit these exact shots back-to-back. True courage.

Shortly after Sonken is taken to a spare classroom to recover after wetting herself, students from a rival school start attacking. It turns out, Nanyo Academy is housing a great treasure, one of the five Hyakuhekitou swords.
And I was also surprised at how much murder there was? Like, I suppose you might as well go all in on the gore when you've got bare buttcheeks flying everywhere anyway, but these girls get wrecked.
I'm kind-of perturbed by the mood whiplash? It's something akin to what some of the Senran Kagura games have where obviously the bouncy mood and silly character designs mean you're supposed to enjoy the silly lewd fights, but then you read the story and realize "Oh, this person has a ton of baggage because they're a female heir to a family that wanted sons and she has to deal with an underling mourning her dead sister and oh yeah, the bad guy is drugging people because she's terminally lonely" and you don't know what it is you're supposed to take away from the game when it just slapped you in the face with a match-finisher where a character's clothes are shredded and she's clutching a dakimakura of one of the other characters to maintain her dignity (one of the best finishers, IMO).

And here's where we're getting to the real problem with Ikki Tousen. A lot of people were really defensive over it and other fanservice fighters back in the day, and I sympathize with that. But the tone is just plain confusing. You want to turn us on with women getting their bloomers shredded, but also you have these half-naked girls getting run through with swords. What are we supposed to take away from this? It's really cool that these girls are legit martial artists who can tank getting stabbed through a lung, but that gets lost when you're so eagerly showing off the same girl's bared boobs. Also, things are very rushed, so don't worry too much about Ukitsu up there because the anime doesn't linger on her for very long. Which is a shame because she's cute, has a unique design (I love her "monk" motif), and she wears weights strapped to her arms and legs. She has a miniature "Rock Lee" moment where she takes off her weights before she jumps into the fray, it's a nice bit. It sure would have been nice actually seeing her fight before she just gets impaled.

To be fair, I certainly didn't jump into this expecting it to be GOOD. It's schlock! It's supposed to embrace that and be tasteless and dirty and fun. Rival schoolgirls slashing off each other's sailor uniforms and all that. And maybe Shin Ikki Tousen's three episodes aren't an accurate representation of the rest, but even ignoring the tonal whiplash, it mostly just bogs itself down into a lot of interminable lore I had no context for. Like, the crux of the first episode is new girl getting possessed by some scary dragon and going Super Saiyan on everyone, but it never feels as cool or as powerful as it should.

Like "oooooh she's beyond S-Rank." I don't even know that that means, bro. You gotta give me something I can chew on.
Yeah, so Sonken walks into Nanyo without a Sacred Bead of her own but one of the fellow classmates there supplies her one allegedly from Sonsaku, and it awakens the historical Sonken within Sonken. This is a problem, because Three Kingdoms Sonken was a wild sadist and is itching to slaughter everyone there. Also, Ikki Tousen Sonken doesn't have the mastery over her bead to contain its chi, so she just summons a water dragon with the full power of the Yangtze River and almost kills herself from the chi overload on the spot.
Admittedly, her just standing there with a single tit out saying "pathetic" makes for a pretty badass/hilarious moment. That's the caliber of mise-en-scène I want out of this.

Oh yeah there's a maid mixed into all this too. You know, the famous French maid character from Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

The one who can make people hallucinate giant chessboards? That one?
She's supposed to be Indara and apparently her shtick is Alice in Wonderland-stuff while also saying words twice in a cutesy way. But she mostly gets her cake-hole stuffed with a knuckle sandwich.

Oh yeah, and the server of that knuckle sandwich was Sonsaku, who I guess is back from buying cigarettes from the gas station?
Kinda weird that the premiere goes through all this effort to introduce a new protagonist before dragging the old one right back in, but apparently, they're similar enough that it doesn't make too much of a difference either way.

And Chubo is completely out of commission for the remainder of the season, because she's too dehydrated. From peeing her pants too much, I assume.
Sonsaku's only choice is to go to the island of Jofukuin to train herself so she has enough chi to save her sister. Jofukuin is presumably next door to Saint Seiya's Death Queen Island, because it's a hellish place where people who stay for too long turn into zombies. But also-also, it's right on top of the actual gates to hell?

And being so close to Hell is a problem because there's a fighter named Himiko who's working with the historical Himiko to collect Sacred Beads in a bid to restore historical-Himiko to power so they can flood the world with the undead and take over Japan? I think?
I'll take your word for it! I was too distracted noticing that the anime gives skele-Himiko jaw muscles to facilitate her spooky speech. Too few anime these days care about that degree of realism.

Speaking of realism, the government doesn't want you to know this, but 95% of watermelons are actually rocks.
For the record, the spoof watermelon weighed about 94.5 pounds. Where did Sonsaku even get that thing?

Also, shout-out to Sonsaku's method of hitchhiking which is basically to list her measurements.
I legitimately like her a lot. Strong, buxom, and dumb as bricks, she's precisely who I envisioned the protagonist of Ikki Tousen to be. And in a sea of countless girls yelling about swords and magatama, she's a island refuge of down-to-earth relatability.
Sonsaku's merit is her plucky attitude (as well as her perky sweater puppies). Sure, her Sacred Bead gives her a connection to a famed warlord but she's not the smartest or most-skilled fighter around. There's a reason her catchphrase is "the basics for a fighter is fists!", she basically solves every problem by punching things until they're better. And hey, can't ask for a better mindset for a protagonist.
If it's good enough for Symphogear, it's good enough for Ikki Tousen. Ignoring that the latter precedes the former and all that.

She also has some of the best out-of-context fanservice. I love this almost forlorn pose of hers in the spring. She must be thinking of all the skulls she wasn't able to punch that day.

I'm slightly offended at the notion that Sonsaku has enough brain cells to think.
Fair. Actually my favorite example of that is how we're led to believe she doesn't recognize Chubo because they've been estranged so long, but then we cut to her memories, starring a tiny Chubo who looks exactly the same as she does now, down to the freaking hair accessories.

Head like a tin can with a single nickel rattling around inside. Bless her heart.
Once she's on Jofukuin, Sonsaku is met by Ganryu Sasaki, a woman with a massive sword who is also training just to be able to draw the thing. There's also Master Jofuku, the old lady who serves as the guardian of the island. Their trust in Sonsaku to have what it takes varies; Jofuku, at least, sees a spark in Sonsaku.

Hard to blame her when Sonsaku almost forgot why she went to the island in the first place. Get your crap together, Sonsaku, lives are at stake!

Look, it doesn't all have to be about Chubo. Maybe she's also there to find her true calling as a practical special effects supervisor.

Oh and Ganryu isn't the only girl on the island who specializes in swords and scarves.

Well, swords, scarves, and white panties, but the panties may as well be the Ikki Tousen uniform. It is nothing if not consistent in its perversions.

...I wonder if someone's gonna try to revive Agent Aika next. Wouldn't that be a trip?

Anyway, Tamonmaru is also on Jofukuin—and she's very protective of her big sis Ganryu. She's tasked with preserving the gate to hell, and with Himiko's dealings that's become even more challenging. Ganryu actually had to save her from an incursion of the undead.

It was at this point, when they started discussing hell, that I got to thinking "wasn't this about rival high schools fighting each other?" I know you have to innovate and up the stakes in any battle-orientated series, but it was pretty surreal to pop at the skeleton soldier phase of things.

Incidentally, I know bikini armor gets a bad rap in certain reputable circles, but considering that every enemy in Ikki Tousen exclusively aims for the crotch and tits, I think it makes a very powerful argument for breast plate efficacy.
You can't go to school in bikini armor. The student council would never approve of that, silly.
True, they're very strict about that dress code.
Anyway, the story isn't complicated enough so let's have some more long-time characters show up. Ryomou, the blue-haired wrestling maid, is back! And apparently, she's been in Hell all this time. She's being harrassed by Ryofu, who doesn't wear a shirt and has been dead and in Hell all this time. Lotta high school girls ending up in Hell lately. Maybe it's the uniforms?
I mean, like I said, I don't know much about Ikki Tousen, but maybe Hell is just being homophobic?

And I can tell they're lesbians because they can use energy attacks, obviously.
Man, that shows me. I really need to read more Sappho...

Anyway, around here is where Sonsaku seemingly disappears from the story: Ryomou now takes the starring role as she punches her way out of hell. Meanwhile, Ganryu and Tamonmaru face off against another horde of hell-skeletons that they're very much not surviving.

Yeah, Sonsaku sleeps through all of this because she fell off a bridge. Normal girl behavior.
And because things aren't complicated enough, Kan'u Unchou is also around training in a bamboo grove because of an encounter with some other Fighter. And this is important, because once Ganryu meets her end, Unchou is set to inherit her sword, which is apparently of the same kind of magical stock the original magic sword this anime talked about way back in the first episode (remember when that was a plot point?).
Screw the plot. More importantly, I have to tip my hat to the way Ikki Tousen never passes up a single flash opportunity. I can't imagine anybody over the age of 15 getting horny from the sight of plain white cartoon underwear, but if you've been on that grind for over 20 years without acquiescing to even the slightest hint of patterned pantsu, then that warrants some respect. Weird respect, but respect nonetheless.
It's a strange thing to obsess over, but then again I can't exactly talk when my shelves are... the way they are. Also, mad-props to Ikki Tousen recognizing the destructive power of the German Suplex. The real problems with the MCU is that nobody has ever German Suplexed a bad guy. For shame, Feigi. For shame.

Anyway, apparently Jofukuin operates off of Dark Souls map rules because there's a well that leads to it apparently and Ryomou winds back up in Japan by crawling out of it to warn people about Himiko's army of the dead.

It's consistent about those FromSoft World rules at least. The other entrance to Hell looks like it's hiding a treasure chest that will teleport you to the other side of the map. Or to Hell.

And while that happens, another swordsmistress is coolly walking away from a train massacre. Towards where? Who knows, because that's where this season ends lol.

Our one heroine needs a lot of magic gatorade, our other heroine is in the middle of her beauty sleep, and everyone else is doing ????
Apparently, only three episodes of Shin Ikki Tousen were made because GENCO had no idea if they'd get to make any more. But this is a pretty sloppy way to go about it, sadly. Any one of the plot points here—Sonken's awakening, Himiko's plot, Sonsaku's return and training in Jofukuin, Kan'u Unchou's training, Ryomou being alive, the army of the undead—could have been a three-episode special of its own. Instead it's all crammed into an hour and a half of media and I don't really know what to make of it. I don't know who the main character is, which is bad when I barely know these characters outside of recognizing them from half-remembered clips, old PVC statues, and lots and lots of doujin. But worse yet, they leave off on a cliffhanger. Didn't you guys learn anything from Advent Rising? Don't count your chickens before they hatch! Smaller stakes are better for these experimental toe-dippings than trying to bludgeon people with the fate of the world.
Self-evidently not a good idea, but the anime industry at large hasn't really been about good ideas for a long time anyway. Like you said at the start, it's pretty incredible three episodes of this got made in the first place, so Shin Ikki Tousen at the very least has some innate status as an erotic curiosity unstuck in time. But it is complete ass. In several senses of the word.
I don't know who I could recommend this to because I'm not entirely sure if Ikki Tousen has much of a fandom anymore when there are newer and edgier fanservice shows out there. But even if there was a legion of them, this feels like a pretty poor outing. Ikki Tousen fans deserve better for a big comeback of this franchise. It's a shame that something that was such a leading figure in anime fanservice is just such a dud. What's next, a Burn Up! revival without Rio?
Well if there are any Ikki Tousen fans left out there, power to them, and I'm sure they'll be excited to use their senior discount on Crunchyroll to catch up. But laymen like me are probably better off doing something more constructive with their time, like watching and reviewing an entire season of World’s End Harem.
Ah, I thought I'd killed that thing already. Hang on, lemme get rid of it good and proper this time...
I've got your rear.

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