If I say that Master of Martial Hearts is from the same person responsible for the latest instalment of the Ikkitousen franchise, you’ll have a good idea right there of what you’ll be in for. For me, invoking a connection Ikkitousen also invokes a certain sense of dread – and unfortunately, that dread wasn’t entirely unwarranted…
What They Say:
A pugilistic peep show that hurls political correctness out the nearest window and leaves nothing to the viewer’s imagination once the all-too-revealing, raiment ripping mayhem gets under way, Master Of Martial Hearts is definitely aimed at the more mature anime fans. Consider yourself warned.
Aya Iseshima’s carefree existence takes a bone-crushingly violent turn when she inadvertently wanders into the midst of a sadistic, girl-on-girl martial arts tournament with an irresistible prize for the victor. Her freshly-pressed school uniform doesn’t stand a chance of surviving this pulverizing peep show, but Aya’s out to prove that she can take a pounding just as well as the other knockout beauties in this clandestine competition. If she emerges victorious from a series of fabric-shredding fights with titillating teachers, sultry stewardesses and mesmerizing maidens, her every wish will be granted by a mysterious jewel known as the Platonic Heart. But if she goes down for the count, she’ll join the growing ranks of brutally bruised yet resiliently buxom battle-broads that are never heard from again.
1 – Destiny Sprints Into Motion
2 – A Reason to Fight
3 – Three Sisters, Sworn Enemies
4 – Sliently, Like Secrets
5 – Flames
Audio is provided in Japanese and English 2.0 stereo – I listened to the Japanese track for this review, and it does a functional job, but nothing more than that, with sound being pretty much rooted to the centre of the soundstage. There were no apparent encoding problems.
Video comes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The days when OVA shows equalled lavish visuals seem to be long past us, with Master of Martial Arts featuring decidedly average looks on all fronts. Colour choice is fairly bland, and the animation itself is nothing spectacular. No obvious encoding issues, though, so there’s that to appreciate.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Menus are a straighforward affair, a simple static screen with Aya in slightly-dishevelled state on the right of the menu options (other girls feature, in similar disarray, on the submenus). Play All, Setup, Episodes and Extras are the available choices, and with no menu transitions it’s all quick and easy to use.
Only extra is a commentary track, but done in slightly unusual style – instead of the usual audio voiceover to a full episode, here we get a video segment with three of the shows VAs talking on camera, while the scenes they’re talking about are inset into a corner of the scene. Nice twist on the usual commentaries, helped along by the three VAs being rather easy on the eyes themselves.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Right. What we have here is a series that’s aiming squarely for the “guilty pleasure” category – it’s got all the ingredients of a show that you take out after the wife and kids have gone to bed and you want a little lightweight, shameless titillation to round out the day: young women in a variety of uniforms (school, nurse, policewoman, airline hostess…), gravity-defying physical attributes, clothes that fall apart at the slightest touch, and a plot that, foru four episodes out of five, is so simplistic that brain power is not required. It’s one of those shows where you can almost feel the (temporary) drop in IQ as you watch it – and that’s not a bad thing. Detailed, intricate plots have their place, but there’s equally a time and a place for something that requires very little thought. It also doesn’t require much effort on the part of anime producers to pull that off – in theory, anyway.
On the surface, Aya is your normal highschool girl thrown into circumstances that she doesn’t want to be in, for no reason other than wanting to find the friend she’s just lost. Her best friend Natsume is equally normal – the reliable one of the pair, always making sure that Aya’s ready for anything. Against them, an array of unlikely (and always annoying) opponents are arrayed, against whom Aya usually has no problem defending herself – while she’s calm and kind on the surface, when back into a corner there’s a dark side to her that is unleashed which usually makes her battles short and brutal affairs. If you like your violence bloody and bruising, then there’s plenty here to see.
But while the idea is a good one, the execution lets it down extremely badly. I could do a shopping list of flaws: the two-dimensional personalities of Aya’s opponents, the ‘breast physics’ that are completely unrealistic and annoying to watch, the way clothes shred at a simple punch (except for Aya’s bra and panties, which seem to be made of something completely indestructible – this material does not, sadly, appear to be available to anyone else), and the way in which, for the first four episodes, the show doesn’t take the time to explain anything, instead focussing on the fighting to the exclusion of all else. Even allowing for the titillation value of the fights, it’s just annoying to watch.
And for all that I complain about the lack of plot for most of the season, when it does finally appear in the fnal episode, it turns out to have really been not worth the wait, as we get a convoluted tale of abuse, betrayal, counter-betrayal and revenge that is pulled out of nowhere – with no hints, no clues, no foreshadowing at all. It’s almost as though, after finishing off Aya’s final battle, the production crew suddenly discovered they still had twenty minutes to fill. “Oh, crap, how will we fill it!?” “I know, how about this….” I like conspiracy. I like plot twists. But I also like to at least get a little pointer beforehand to give you a chance of seeing what’s coming, instead of the “epic” ass-pull that we get instead. The show is lazy, in terms of plot, characterisation and fanservice (which it just beats you over the head with). It’s as shallow as it’s possible for a series to be. For an OVA series, where you would usually expect the production values to be a little higher than the norm, it seems to have been done on the cheap. It ends on a cliffhanger so abrupt that you’ll wonder if a further scene has been cut. It’s all ultimately just lazily done, and it’s as frustrating as hell – something a series like this should never be.
I’ve seen Master of Martial Hearts on the “worst anime ever” lists of a few people – it’s not quite that bad (I’ve seen Eiken, for a start), but it has so many flaws that any hopes of sitting back and enjoying the show can pretty much be forgotten about. Not worth the effort.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Video Commentary with Japanese Voice Cast
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: April 4th, 2011
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37″ widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.