The most surprising thing about Ikki Tousen as a whole, or Season 3 (Great Guardians) in particular, is how tame it actually is. Tame not just in the sense of having since been long surpassed in both sleaze factor and mindless enjoyability by other shows that have since hit these shores, but also in the sense of not actually delivering much of what's allegedly promised. In other words, it isn't even a particularly good lousy show.

Let me say up front that I don't think the problem is me not savoring vacuous fun for what it's intended to be. It's that vacuous fun still needs to be, you know, fun — that even a dumb show needs to be swift on its feet and feel like it's going somewhere instead of nowhere. The most that happens in all thirteen episodes of the third season of Ikki Tousen is that someone who lost their memory gets it back, sort of, a bunch of people get hypnotized but get better, and that's really about it. Everything else crammed between the boards here is merely the ecchi version of Lorem ipsum.

So, the story, for those that don't know it: A bunch of high school students discover that they're destined to fight each other because they each possess the spirit of a Chinese warrior from millennia past. The whole thing is supposedly inspired by Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but it's difficult to say how that amounts to anything other than some manufactured plot movements. Plus, I'm not positive a key motif of Kingdoms was how the (predominantly female) fighters' clothes get shredded whenever they clash.
© 2008 Yui Shiozaki · Wani Books / IKKITOUSEN GG Partners
You'd be surprised which of these two approaches
makes up most of the show. Then again, maybe not.

Most of what plot there is revolves around Hakufu Sonsaku, the airhead (but a powerful fighter) who turns out to be the pseudo-incarnation of warrior Sun Ce. Hakufu makes up for her lack of brains with tons of heart, a stalwart dedication to her friends, and far too many scenes of her naked from the waist up in the bath. Season 3's storyline involves a former enemy who returns without her memory, whom Hakufu befriends rather than simply beating up, and who must choose between returning to her bad old ways or becoming a plot device.

This all sounds like it should be the premise for a far more outlandish and entertaining show than what we actually get. But Ikki Tousen suffers from being a high-school sitcom first, and so everything in the show that's not goofy, dim-witted byplay has to take a number and wait at the back of the line. The most major and visible side effect of the show being constructed this way is how a great deal goes on, but precious little ever seems to be happening. Consider a beach episode where an amazing number of things are thrown out at the viewer as if being shot from an air cannon (fired from work! treasure hunt! shark attack!) but where exactly one thing of importance takes place — and maybe not even that, since it's little more than a restatement of something the audience already knows.

What gets me is how, even on this show's own least-common-denominator terms, there's better wastes of time to be had in the immediate neighborhood. And maybe not even wastes of time, come to think of it. The first time I sampled the compulsive junk-food flavor of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, I thought it was a throwaway, but over time it proved itself to be consistently entertaining. Heck, in Kenichi, the combat actually had purpose; it drove the story forward, and even without such scenes the story felt like it had genuine momentum. Here, it feels like a fight breaks out only because there hasn't been one in the past fifteen minutes, and by the time we get to the end we feel like we've merely driven around the block.

One of the common excuses I hear bandied around for forgiving a bad show its transgressions is that it only means to entertain. It's not trying to be Art, so why pick on it? But these things are their own kind of art whether we like them to be or not, and even so-called "mindless" entertainment is only mindless in relation to other things. It still needs to meet certain internal standards to actually be ... well, entertaining. If we must have trash, and I'm positive we will no matter what, at the very least it ought to be trash that rises to the occasion.

© 2008 Yui Shiozaki · Wani Books / IKKITOUSEN GG Partners
It's a shame this image doesn't encapsulate the show's actual premise.
Note: This product was provided by the creator or publisher as a promotional item for the sake of a review.

About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@GanrikiDotOrg) is Editor-in-Chief of He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.