"Ikki Tousen Complete Series": Teenage Kicks
Throughout human history, there have been many great legends: the gods of Olympus, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the titan Paul Bunyan. Many of these stories are twists on historical fact, as is the case with the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The latter work covers a famous period in feudal Chinese history but, as the title suggests, it romanticizes elements to create a more thrilling plot. The story focuses on warriors of great ambition and talent clashing over varying ideals, many forming alliances that continually shift, and meeting tragic ends. Due to the richness of this story, it’s no surprise that many games, films and comics have adapted the story or drawn strong inspiration from it. Even my beloved SD Gundam is currently in the third year of a massive storyline based on the novel.
Ikki Tousen is set in modern-day Japan. The souls of the various Three Kingdoms warriors are sealed in small beads which have been handed down the generations, with the bearer of each taking on attributes of the historical individual they carry. These bearers are destined to effectively repeat history, most recently in the form of a cold war between seven high schools. The designated students engage in brutal street fights to obtain power and stay alive, with many of the teenagers desperate to avoid the fate suffered by the soul they carry. The story begins with the ditzy blonde Hakufu Sonsaku transferring to the same school as her male cousin, Koukin. Both have beads, with Hakufu carrying the spirit of a great fiery warrior and Koukin carrying the spirit of that warrior’s loyal bodyguard. However, the spirit Hakufu carries is also a threat to many of the other characters, and it doesn’t take long for many of them to attempt to either kill her or manipulate her to their own ends.
Now that sounds like a pretty interesting story so far, right? Well, don’t expect much, because there’s more to the picture.
Despite the Three Kingdoms warriors being prominently male, the sacred beads carrying their essence are entrusted primarily to females—scantily clad, bisexual, rape-happy females whose clothes tear like wet toilet paper. The show is hardly progressive in its treatment of girls. There are a fair number of scenes that involve the young women who make up the bulk of the cast being taken advantage of, often to a disturbingly willing extent. One male character continuously feels up any girl he comes across, from fellow students to the nurse helping him recover. I’m not trying to perpetuate the view that women are fragile dolls in constant need of protection, but Ikki Tousen never shies from treating the females in its cast as objects. Where there’s a female in this show, there’s always a disturbingly horny male literally licking his lips at the thought of violating her.
The show also doesn’t help itself with its frequent use of clichés. Hakufu is the classic generic action anime protagonist: the low-ranker that everyone sneers at but who always manages to pull off a win and has a destructive power up just beneath the surface. The thirteen-episode run only makes this more obvious. Long-running shows such as DragonBall and Naruto at least have the benefit of a passage of time before falling back into how special certain characters are. Ikki Tousen pulls the same trick out every episode and expects us to be surprised. If you’ve watched enough action anime you could probably see this kind of thing ( “I’ve beaten you, you can’t stand up, I wi- WHAAA?! How are you standing up?!”) coming anyway, but the show’s lackluster creativity just makes it worse.
The ‘repeated destiny’ angle of the storyline offers some hope, but it goes unfulfilled. Allow me to ask the obvious question: Why is this happening? Why are legendary warriors from Chinese history being forced onto Japanese teenagers as vessels? Why has this been happening for 1800 years? Do the police or government know about it? Right from the start, the premise raises a ton of questions which make it hard to buy into. The show does manage to get some effective drama out of individual’s reactions to seemingly lacking genuine free will, but it never really moves beyond it as a crutch. Towards the end, certain characters who do terrible things including blackmail, rape and murder are forgiven under the logic of “It’s not you, it’s the soul you’re carrying”. One character in particular is told all he has to do is say sorry and is then happily welcomed back into the lives of those he’d manipulated in various ways. That’s a very weak resolution and just goes to prove that the show falls into the same trap as almost every other anime in the last 15 years, believing it can wallow in trashy elements while trying to redeem itself by sprinkling in some philosophy and character angst. The basic feeling is reminiscent of works like Lord of the Flies, with clearly young and immature characters operating in a secret sub-society where the souls compel them to act more like their mature historical counterparts than the confused young people they are. Primal indulgences overtake many, as their own identities are blurred by high-ranking warriors and court manipulators.
Production-wise, the show stands up well in both video and audio. The picture is crisp and clear, with a choice of the original Japanese audio or an English dub. The English dub actors do a great job, only occasionally having trouble with some of the clearly Japanese terms. There are no extras presented, other than some trailers on the second of two discs. The trailers are pretty much focused on the ‘babes and boobs’ titles from FUNimation’s catalogue, showing who they likely imagine will buy this. This is echoed by the packaging, with a cover shot showing two of the girls wearing ripped up school uniforms. Even the back of box synopsis effectively reads as “Boobs! Broads! CATFIGHTS!!”
It’s probably obvious that Ikki Tousen isn’t my favourite series. There are a lot of awkward elements, including teenage angst and hormones. But then that probably speaks of the target market for this show: teenagers. I think if the show is taken as being made for a like-minded audience, it makes an odd kind of sense what it’s going for. But beyond that? I think Ikki Tousen is a show with wasted potential. The basic story premise, whilst not wholly original, is quite interesting, and if it had been refined and not bogged down with all the trashier elements it probably could have been a good show. But as is, I think it’s effectively disposable: something for the teenage crowd to watch at that age and leave in the past as they grow older. As I said, not everything is destined to be a classic.