The Big Tournament is here, but it’s not what anyone expected. Well, unless you were expecting a lot of violence and copious amounts of nipples.
What They Say:
Round four delivers double the ditz when the master of school uniform disasters gets a disciple! Word of a tournament gets around, and Hakufu’s ready to rumble. But training a pupil is tiring work – and catching some random ZZZs puts a delay on her dreams of combat conquest.
When a sinister force sabotages the rival schools into submission, the warriors’ fates reveal themselves in gravity-defying fisticuffs. Can Hakufu muscle her way to victory and save her friends from repeating their fatal past? Only the power of the dragons can tell!
Contains episodes 1-12 and the OVA, “Shugaku Toshi Keppu-Roku.”
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 2010, 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. The TV episodes are 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. The third disc has the OVA by itself, which clocks in at 43 minutes, and it has a bit there itself for extras too. Animated by ARMS, who handled the second and third 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 as it 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 orange that works better than you’d think as the background, the front cover gives us a good look at most of the main girls of the season here with a good bit 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 an off white background while using some of the stencil style artwork lightly along it but also bordering it with the blue from the front. Gentoku 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 the same orange from the cover 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 rught 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. The orange may be a bit of an odd choice 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 eighteen minutes. These are simple little shorts that have some cute if simple animation that plays heavily for the fanservice and just being silly. In addition to that, we get a couple of commentary tracks, a good commercial and promo collection and the clean opening and closing sequences. The OVA on the third disc gets its own slate of extras as well, with a commentary track just for that as well as a promo and TV spot for it.
With the way Ikki Tousen has had such an awkward release over the years, both in Japan and the US with the gaps between seasons, it’s actually rather nice to get Great Guardians and then Xtreme Xecutor pretty much right after it The Great Guardians season didn’t really do all that much for me since it felt a lot more haphazard with what’s going on and less clear, but it was also suffering from the gap between the second and third season with how well you can reconnect with it. While I had like Ikki Tousen when it first came out, time has moved on and the show in some ways doesn’t quite hold up in the same way. Thankfully, Xtreme Xecutor manages to have a stronger story to it, though it has a weaker ending as well.
Now that the recreation of the Red Cliffs storyline has come to a close, the series is pretty much back on to just going through its existence, which means school, socializing and all that comes with it. While the familiar cast is off doing their thing, we get the introduction of a new character with Banchou, a young woman whose brother was lost previously in the series in the fight against Sousou. This gives us plenty to work with her as she’s single minded to be sure, and her coming to the Kanto region to find Sousou and get her revenge is a plot point that you can easily latch onto, even with the way there are so many dual personality characters here. Banchou comes across a bit younger than some of the other characters, but that just gives her a different kind of energy, especially as so many others underestimate her abilities and we see the way she can take down the big guys easily enough.
Banchou naturally gets a lot of attention as she starts to make her way through things, but she ends up hooking up with Gentoku and Kan’u for a good part of the first arc which is rather cute since she likes them a lot and manages to learn a little bit as well. But all of that takes a more humorous turn when while out with Gentoku, they get accosted by some thugs who want to use Gentoku as a bargaining chip to gain their own castle. While Banchou can obviously do some damage, even with the numbers there, it’s the arrival of Hakufu that changes the tide of it since she deals with all so easily and quickly. But that also impresses Banchou in a way that turns her to idolizing Hakufu, who herself loves the idea of having an apprentice now since her favorite TV show has that going for it as well. The two certainly make a kind of ditzy couple that can make you laugh with how well suited they are for each other.
The opening third of the series has a good bit of fun about it as we get Banchou mingling with everyone and catching up on the minor fallout from the previous season, but it all moves towards the next big thing that dominates the series. With the old personalities that continue to surface in the present, there’s always those that are looking to take advantage of things and advance their own agendas, which as we’ve seen before has been used to recreate historical battles. What defines this season though, at least beyond Banchou’s arrival, is that the Kentai has opted to start a Big Tournament and has invited two representative from each faction to come and participate in it. These are fairly important events with a bit of prestige since it’s essentially performing in front of the emperor in the days of old, and there’s also the fact that a lot of these characters simply like to fight. Even Hakufu is all keen on it.
Unfortunately, Hakufu sleeps through the meeting time and ends up literally missing the boat, but it allows her to go and visit Chuubo a bit and spend some time with her until things all catch up and cycle around together. That makes for its own fun little subplot when you get down to it, but the bulk of the season focuses on the representatives from all the factions heading out to the island where the Kentei is. Unfortunately, it’s all basically a trap, one that’s sprung very quickly upon arrival there, and that leads to multiple episodes of various people being caught, escaping, fighting and coming together in different configurations from different schools in order to survive. You never truly feel a threat to them or anything, but it’s pretty fun to watch as the characters we’ve known for several seasons now to work together against the larger threat, which is admittedly pretty much off screen for most of it as we get the underlings that have no real personality as the main focus of events.
The season as a whole is one that is more firmly about the action than anything else and the addition of Banchou gives it a little more spark since she feels like she works better than what Chuubo brought into things in the third season. With the bulk of the episodes focused on the island, there are some connections and stories between various characters that come into focus as part of the larger stories from the manga, but with the way the show has worked it doesn’t feel like it has a lot going for it. Instead, it’s easier to just enjoy the action for what it is and leaving it at that. Which, admittedly, it does well because it keeps moving and has plenty of good sequences with the choreography. Which is certainly a challenge for the animators as so many of the characters have their shirts torn off and it has to be difficult animating so many independently moving nipples.
While the TV series is a good bit of fun, I was a bit nervous about the OVA. Considering how much skin they flash in the TV series, how much would it be upped here? Surprisingly, the OVA is a lot more tame than I expected as it goes into the post-events of the TV series by sending the kids off to Kyoto as part of a school trip wherein they also get to search for the soul energy to recharge their beads a bit. This puts more of the focus on the actual search, interaction and action aspects of the episode and less on what you’d presume would be a pure fanservice fest at hot springs or other ways of dressing down the cast. There is, of course, some fanservice and they do have some fun at the inn, but largely it’s just a transitional piece that allows for some calmer material and less serious action that caps off the season well enough but is, largely, forgettable.
I still have very fond memories of the first experiences with Ikki Tousen when it first came out, but I’ve struggled with the show in its ongoing incarnations as there’s just something about it that hasn’t clicked for me. Whether it’s the multiple personalities, the feeling that there’s no strong story moving events forward, the weak use of the main characters or the whole lack of interest on my part in the original people that the characters are supposed to be, it could be anything. This season manages to ease these problems to a degree since it has a stronger overall storyline running through it and that helps to keep it moving and to feel like it’s trying to get somewhere. Not that it ends well as the final TV episode just feels so disconnected from the rest, but the journey to get there definitely played a lot better than I had thought it would after watching Great Guardians. Fans of the show already know what they’re getting into though and FUNimation has done a solid job with this release, bringing the OVA, the extras for it all and new English language commentaries with the dub cast fans really enjoy with it. It’s still not a property that works for me, but I can certainly see the appeal.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Six Dreamy Views, Promotional Videos, Textless Songs, Japanese Commercial
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: March 11th, 2014
Running Time: 325 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.