What They Say:
Clothes-shredding combat continues between teens guided by spirits of ancient warriors in round three of the original martial arts marathon! Hakufu’s ready to make some dough for tournaments, but her stacked reputation keeps the fearless leader up to her tits in trouble. Just when her joy peaks over meeting a mysterious sister from another mister, a foe Nanyo Academy once creamed returns!
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at the usual 192kbps while the English mix gets a 5.1 bump as well as encoded at 448kbps. The show is one that does decently across the forward soundstage when it comes to the action aspects of it but it goes only so far when you get down to it. There’s some decent placement and directionality at times with a touch of impact where needed, but it doesn’t hit any really strong notes or pull you deeply into it. Dialogue is standard across the forward soundstage with some minor placement at times but mostly coming across as a center channel based piece without much distinctness. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. It’s spread across two discs with seven on the first and five on the second, which also has the video extras that come up close to a full episode together. Animated by ARMS, who handled the second season of the series, we get a decent looking show overall here but one that is certainly showing us that it wasn’t a big production. Animation quality is average at best with not a lot of detail to things and some very flat hair designs alone. The action is where things pick up a bit and it shows some decent fluidity at times, but it’s not one that will really strike out in a big way. Colors are generally solid though there are areas where things get a bit noisy such as when it shifts to darker interiors where we get greens in the walls and ceilings. It’s not a bad looking work overall but it’s also one that doesn’t stand out in a big way and definitely paints it as a budget show.
The packaging for this release is pretty simple and definitely feels weird after so many limited edition releases for other series in the last several months. The show comes in a single standard sized keepcase that’s clear with an o-card slipcover for it that replicates the artwork in the case itself. Set with a decent shade of slate blue as the background, the front cover gives us a good look at most of the main girls of the season here with a good big of detail and plenty of short skirts as well. It’s cute and eye-catching to be sure and sets the general expectations nicely, though the animation doesn’t have quite the same pop in it as it does here. The back cover goes for a white background while using some of the stencil style artwork lightly along it but also bordering it with the blue from the front. Kan’u gets the main character piece here which definitely looks good and has a lot of vibrancy to it. tHe premise is covered decently as are the solid slate of extras that are included. Add in a few shots from the show and a very simple DVD only technical grid and it lays out those details nicely. Though there aren’t any show related inserts, we do get some really nice artwork on the reverse side that lets Hakufu and Chubo each take a panel to themselves in their school uniforms.
The menu design for this release is actually quite nice in its simplicity since it takes what works and just lets its shine. Using a good deep blue for the background where the detailed artwork is allowed to shine for the dragon aspect, we get the logo through the center with the navigation just below it. To the right we get the character artwork, which doesn’t reuse the same material as the packaging, which looks sexy and definitely is full of pop and vibrancy. It’s blue heavy to be sure but it fits well and makes for an appealing menu to let sit on the screen for a bit. Submenus load quickly and easily and the release doesn’t have any issues when it comes to being setup.
This release has a couple of extras with it that are definitely fun and worth having for fans of the show. The big one is the bonus mini episodes, of which there are six, that clock in at about fifteen minutes. These are simple little shorts that have some cute chibi animation bits that then segues into slow pans over much more detailed and fanservice oriented shots that are comical yet appealing. In addition to that, we get a couple of commentary tracks, a good commercial and promo collection and the clean opening and closing sequences. We also get a 2008 radio show that was done in Japan in front of an audience with a couple of the actresses that hits about 30 minutes and is definitely fun for those that want to see how the show was cutely promoted.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the success of the first two series of the property, it certainly wasn’t a surprise that there’d be a third season as well. Which was also followed up with a fourth season. The problem came in that getting these seasons released overseas proved to be difficult due to all sorts of licensing issues, distributor issues and then the difficulty of getting the originals out for awhile as well. I had originally liked the first season of the series since it had a good bit of fun, sexuality and violence to it but that was just over ten years ago and the whole genre has grown since then. The original work by Yuji Shiozaki is still going on though and is over twenty volumes at this point, which is good to see that it still has an audience in Japan.
The premise of the series is essentially the same as before as we get the students who are echoes of past warriors of the Three Kingdoms period who are parts of different schools and have dealt with an array of battles since then. The general idea is certainly fun, but it always proved to be a bit difficult for me in some ways because of the dual characters aspect and the connections that exist between them. I’ve never had a strong affinity for the Three Kingdoms material and with the complication of additional names here and the way the old fates are entwined with what’s going on here, it’s definitely something that the more you know your history and those tales, the more you’ll get out of this. I find that the whole thing simply leaves me confused and a bit disconnected from it, forcing it more to win me over based on the present day characters themselves and their own interactions.
With this season, one of the main changes to it is the introduction of Chubo, a cute young woman who arrives and is revealed to be Hakufu’s younger sister. This brings a little bit of a new dynamic to things since Chubo is of the cute and fun and deferential variety who is just happy to be a part of the family. She doesn’t add any sort of new seuxal tension to things when it comes to the relationship with Koukin, which is welcome to see since that would just be awkward in general. Chubo’s glad to be a part of the family and simply wants to make Hakufu happy, but the plus side is that she’s not slavishly trying to do that or to go overboard with it. That keeps her a bit more realistic in some ways and also allows her to not be a completely annoying addition to the show. In fact, she’s largely in the background for a lot of the show until she becomes pivotal as the end episodes play out. But that’s not a surprise.
That main arc of the series is one that plays out in small ways across a lot of it until it gets serious and truly reveals itself in the final episodes. The villain of it is Genpo Saji who has it in for some of the characters because of the grudges of the past and uses her ability to slide into the bodies of others and control them, turning them against Hakufu and others in order to achieve her goals. A lot of this is done on the sly for a lot of the show and it’s actually a nice bit of deception at times because we think one person is the villain but it turns out that they’re really just being controlled, even if it does seem like it would be a natural fit for them to take the others down. Genpo uses folks in pretty standard ways with some threatening moments and subterfuge for a good part of it and then into the outright bodyjumping action towards the end that’s faced off in unfortunately predictable ways.
What Ikki Tousen: Great Guardians largely does is show off the various interactions of the cast as it goes along. Hakufu and Koukin are always fun to watch but we also get the twist along the way of Ryofu coming back into the series after dying previously. Which is not a spoiler since she’s in the opening sequence. Her coming back has her short on memories and trying to figure things out, but it was a subplot that just didn’t do all that much for me in general. Most of the subplots here and standalone episodes are largely forgettable since they tend to focus on some silliness at first, then a bit of fanservice, a bit of action and then resolution. You do get to enjoy the whole fanservice side and the action is decent in general, but there’s not a lot of substance here that really held my attention overall. The focus is largely on Hakufu as one would expect and even Koukin feels a lot more secondary than I expected. With a growing cast as the series has become between seasons and the general growth of the manga, it’s easy for a lot of characters to really be secondary and that happens in general here to most everyone.
Ikki Tousen: Great Guardians is essentially more of the same when it comes to this franchise and for its fans, that’s definitely a good thing. I really liked the first season when I saw it years ago but it was also something that I knew didn’t have a lot of real meat to it as it was more about playing with familiar themes and situations in a more connected way. The Three Kingdoms story is one that has a lot to work with and we saw more of it in the first couple of seasons. There are obviously echoes of it here as well but it’s just something that hasn’t hit me well at this stage. There’s some fun to be had here between the action, humor and fanservice, but the core story itself is simple and without enough to really engage. The core characters are fun to be sure and there’s enjoyment to be had with the interactions with them as they go about their days, but there’s not much more here beyond that.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Bonus Episodes, Tokyo Anime Fair Footage, Commercial Collection, Commentary Tracks, Promotional Video
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: December 31st, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.