Judge Adam Arseneau often tears his Japanese schoolgirl outfit when fighting. It's a bit snug these days.
A triumph of low expectations and a similarly low cut on the dresses, Ikki Tousen: The Complete Series Box Set is a niche title appealing to those who like jiggling anime girls, simplistic character designs, and zero plot. To its credit, it does all of these things very well, and the end result is enjoyable…in a lobotomized, cleavage-filled sort of way.
Facts of the Case
The new girl in town, Hakufu is looking for a good street fight. Luckily, she doesn't have far to look, as all the high schools in town are in constant battle with one another. Each of the schools has "fighters" in possession of magical jewels that contain the spirits and destinies of ancient warriors from Chinese lore. For these warriors, the battle is the fullest achievement of their destiny—only one can unite all the schools and be the strongest warrior of them all.
Hakufu might be that warrior, but then again, she might not be. Could the most powerful reincarnated warrior really be in the form of a busty, klutzy, clueless teenage girl—one who always manages to get her clothes torn in provocative fashion?
For those not in the know in terms of anime, Ikki Tousen falls shamefully into the category of what is called "fan service" anime—excessive shots of scantily clad females dancing, bouncing and jiggling about in increasingly skimpy states of undress. As such, Ikki Tousen is full of buxom female protagonists who fight each other causing no more damage than tearing each other's clothes in suggestive and provocative fashion, followed around by a camera that constantly frames its subjects from the, ah, underwear up. There's plenty of street fighting, but equal amounts of bouncing and jiggling. Racy to be sure, but there's nothing overtly pornographic about such titles, and people rarely ever gets more naked than a lingerie ad, but the attitude about it screams of naughtiness and sexual suggestion and pretty much prohibits any kids from ever being allowed to watch it.
The story (as many Japanese animes are) is loosely based on the Chinese Three Kingdoms mythology, but set in modern times; the kingdoms are replaced by high schools, and each class becomes groups of warriors in a never-ending cycle of street fights for dominance with jewels that contain the spirits of dead warriors…or something? Unfortunately, almost no attention has been paid making the plot make sense, merely using it as a setup device for having teenagers constantly fight and tear their clothes off. The story is as thin and flimsy as tissue paper—like the episode where they all go to the hot springs, get totally naked, and then meet a perverted old man. Did it have to be a hot springs? Of course it did, because then, Hakufu and her friends can take their clothes off! This is the kind of thinking that drives much of the Japanese economy.
Handsomely drawn, Ikki Tousen doesn't have the most well-designed or original character designs in an anime (eye-patch dominatrix girl vs muscular giant vs. spiky-haired dude with attitude!) but neither are they nauseating. What little character development we do get does help endear them to audiences, especially towards the end. The animation is solidly executed for a television series, but the fighting sequences lack any real detail or dedication to them—they're really just a delivery system for each female fighter to have her clothing provocatively torn, or for her to kick her legs up high and flash…uh, what she's got. As the show progresses, Hakufu gets stronger and more skilled as a fighter, exactly as one would expect; before long, she's thumping everyone in sight, and old enemies soon join her as comrades in arms. Of course, new enemies more powerful (and more buxom) emerge every episode to lay down the pain. We've seen this before, many times…just maybe not as naked.
At its best, Ikki Tousen is cute and mildly endearing as a martial arts adventure, but the constant and gratuitous panty shots are unsettling to those of us, you know, not watching Ikki Tousen specifically and exclusively for this reason. (Whoever those people might be, they'll probably love this title.) There is something inherently cool about the idea of high schools battling it out in after-school street fights, but I wish more was done with it. For those daring to even try taking Ikki Tousen seriously, there's not an original idea to be found here, and no way to approach Ikki Tousen as anything other than a T&A parade, a shamefully explicit bra and panties parade making almost no attempt to disguise its seediness. Stupid on every measurable level, absolutely—but if you turn off your brain and just head into the show with zero expectations, Ikki Tousen can be amusing and entertaining in its own right. Just, you know…ahem. Try and keep your mind out of the gutter, there, you otaku nerd you.
Previously available on DVD via Geneon, Ikki Tousen: The Complete Series Box Set (along with many others) was acquired by Funimation and now returns to DVD in a two-disc set; a sensible re-packaging that improves upon the original, unnecessarily spaced four-disc individual collection. As for the name itself, Ikki Tousen: The Complete Series Box Set is a bit of a misnomer; this set contains all thirteen episodes from Ikki Tousen: Battle Vixens, the first incarnation of the Ikki Tousen series, which went on for another two seasons ("Dragon Destiny" and "Great Guardians") and six OVAs. Think of it as the first season in a long franchise—although whether it makes it to North American shores is another issue.
The presentation is full frame (native aspect ratio) with a clean and crisp transfer, vibrant colors, and respectable black levels. The show was made for Japanese television and is about five years old, but has held up well to modern standards, even working subtle uses of CGI in on occasion. The picture upscales very well, with crisp black outlines, and no print damage or grain. Colors pop from the screen with strong presence and definition. The picture muddles and exhibits some jagged stairstep aliasing along outlines and edges, especially in fast-motion sequences, but all in the realm of acceptable in terms of anime. Not exactly a reference-quality title, but it performs well enough.
Audio comes in stereo, both Japanese and English dub. There's not much in the way discernable between the two, so it comes to preference. Dialogue is clear, the score is repetitive and inoffensive, and bass response is minimal—all on par with Japanese animes that go straight to television. English subtitles are included. There are no extras on this set save for some trailer adverts for other Funimation titles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So who exactly is the audience here? Ikki Tousen is far too risqué for kids, the normal catered demographics of anime. This is a TV-MA title, and no parent in their right mind would pick this one up after checking out the sauciness of its cover. On the other hand, there's little of substance plot-wise or in character development for mature anime viewers to appreciate. I can't really imagine older viewers championing such a juvenile and simplistic show, except to dwell in its racier elements. In Japan, this kind of fare is just fine for television broadcast, but in North America, we draw a pretty brutal line between our perverts and our prim and proper.
That's the problem with these fan service type animes…the only people they appeal to are, well…you know.
Ikki Tousen: The Complete Series Box Set is cute and sexy and entertaining, but severely limited by its own inherent ridiculousness and obsession with varying states of female undress. Despite an ambitious plot rooted in Chinese folklore, the story never develops beyond its fan service roots, limiting its appeal to anyone but the most hardcore of anime fanboys.
Is it all bad? Not really, believe it or not. Ikki Tousen may represent anime stupidity in its most basic form, but to its credit, it is charmingly direct and honest about its intentions and nakedness. It never claims to be anything other than what it is, and never takes itself too seriously. People will watch Ikki Tousen and secretly enjoy it for its campy merits, its handsome animation and its constant levels of undress.
It's just that nobody's going to admit to it.
Vacuous but inoffensive. This court is easily swayed by, ah, easily swaying…things. Not guilty.
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