Judge William Lee is a kung fool for sexy women warriors.
"Oh, please, it wasn't that cool. Just some basic moves for self
defense. Honestly, I'm not proud of it."
If you've been waiting to see a sexy flight attendant and a Japanese schoolgirl in a street brawl, your ship has come in with the Master of Martial Hearts: The Complete Series on DVD. The show walks a fine line between being a cheeky send up of anime actioners and an outright T&A parade. Still, the mystery has enough narrative steam to power the series through five half-hour episodes without getting repetitive.
Zettai Shougeki: Platonic Heart, as the series is known in Japan, centers on schoolgirl Aya Iseshima who befriends a lonely girl named Miko. Soon, Aya becomes the unwilling participant in a secretive combat tournament for women after her new friend mysteriously vanishes. The prize is a legendary jewel called the Martial Heart that will grant the wish of its winner. Matches are announced to the fighters via text message and the two women square off when they meet at the surprise location. Aya's goal is to win the tournament and find out what happened to Miko. Cheering for her on the sidelines is Aya's friend Natsume. The reluctant female warrior must also contain her crush for Natsume's older brother.
For the most part, the show looks like any other anime series. Movement is limited and most of the animation involves panning across mostly-still frames. In this case, however, the slow pans along the bodies of the characters have a certain deliberateness about it. All of the female characters are drawn within in the range of cute to sexy. Each is assigned a different costume to represent the standard roles for women in anime such as teacher, nurse, pop idol and so forth. Their costuming also reflects their fighting style. The flight attendant has some lethally tricked out luggage; the nurse wields a needle. Without fail, the fighting results in shredded clothes, and victory is certain once the defeated opponent's breasts are exposed. Even before the final blow is delivered, the animators readily exploit low-angle views of the characters in too-short skirts.
Depending on your perspective, Master of Martial Hearts is either poking fun at anime conventions or it's simply sleazy. The young, reluctant hero facing off with a different enemy each episode is a well-established formula. The unique angle here is that the fights are showdowns between female stereotypes. Maybe that's subverting the genre; maybe it's just misogynistic. These women are fierce warriors, sure, but there's also a high jiggle factor. A lecherous gym teacher and a horde of drooling fanboys represent the male population. The series wants to have it both ways by making fun of the same audience to which it's pandering.
At a breezy 146 minutes for the entire series, the story concludes before the novelty wears out. The mystery surrounding the Martial Heart tournament is revealed at a good pace with just enough complexity sustain interest. Aya transforms from a reluctant heroine to a pretty vicious fighter—there are hints of her darker personality throughout—in short order and her story arc could have provided the framework for a longer series. Still, the concise storytelling makes this an anime series that doesn't overstay its welcome or wear out its gimmick.
The show looks good on this single disc DVD. The image is clean and the colors are deep. The lighting design often casts a soft glow over the artwork but fans of sexy drawings of women in tight costumes won't be disappointed. Funimation provides their typically strong translation work using their regular voice actors. The English script is slightly reworked to sound smoother to North American audiences while the timing and energy matches what we see on screen. Audio is delivered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that isn't entirely necessary. Dialogue still comes mostly from the center channel. Music and background sound effects are shared sporadically in the surround channels. The original Japanese language track is presented in stereo with accompanying English subtitles.
The first episode is given a video commentary by the Japanese voice talent. The three actresses dominate the screen while the anime plays in a smaller window. It's an amusing supplement and it takes only about a minute before the talent goes off on a wild tangent. In this instance, seeing video of the commentary performers really is useful. Personal note to Funimation: I want to hear (or see) more commentaries from the English cast.
You may not want to watch this series in respectable company but it's free to go as a guilty pleasure.
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