One of the paradox's of writing reviews is that if the title is really strong, you are drawn to pointing out what was weak. Which ends up sounding like you are just being picky and negative. On the other hand if the title is weak, you often get to point out some bits that work, which sounds positive. This review, and the Samurai Champloo review, bringing this element out pretty strongly.
Meet Aikawa Maki, a towering high school girl with blood red hair, an intense gaze and a solid build. She looks exactly like the archetypal anime high school bully. As it turns out she's not... she's actually a whole heap more scary. Her skills are already at such a level that only a handful of people, those who have dedicated themselves to the martial arts, can provide the challenge she seeks. Even the underground streetfighting scene, who know her as the air-master due to her superb aerial combat, have opposed her and found themselves brushed aside.
However a reputation becomes a beacon for those also seeking to test, or to prove, themselves. These are people whose fighting abilities go so far beyond that of a "normal" person that they can seem almost like magic. Each having trained for absolute mastery of their chosen skill, and they will not rest until they have climbed to the top and proven themselves strongest. And Maki is even more eager than most, not caring about the status or the ego, but simply the thrill of danger that the hardest fights bring, that fill the void and feed the anger within her.
Writing a synopsis for this sort of anime is a bit of a futile effort. And the reason is that most of them, in reality, boil down to an extended sequence of fights with one "new challenger" after another. Someone who generally seems unstoppable when first encountered but is eventually defeated as the lead character grows in skill and strength. And this series is definitely of that mold. If the idea of a fighting schoolgirl doesn't interest you then you may as well stop reading the review right now, because the good parts of this anime all center on it.
Of course many of these anime try to extend the interest, or at least generate some cheaper to animate content, by having some character drama on the side. This anime certainly does try to follow this formula, but it fails in a totally spectacular fashion. In the first episode Maki makes friends with some fellow school girls, who are not at all repulsed by the idea of her being a street-fighter. Which is a shame because they're just awful. There's a screeching little goblin, a monstrously breasted wimp and two "generic" school girls. They're loud, obnoxious and unsubtle. And I'm not even going to cover "nagato" (who is a follower character to one of the other fighters) because it is best to try and forget trauma rather than dwell on it.
The odd thing is that the fighters, some of whom become recurring characters, are generally awfully cool. They have focus, intensity, depth and are involved in the action. The comparison between the "fighters" and the rest of the cast makes it clear that the creaters aren't really interested in the "support" characters, but they still made the support characters fill up quite a lot of time. Maki herself is definitely in the fighter camp and actually has a really great screen presence. She's a wonderful example of the whole "fighter" philosophy, driven by the adrenaline and a void within, always striving to grow stronger and only really alive in a serious fight against a challenging opponent. We actually get to see into her mind, and character, and it is actually really fun watching over her shoulder. Put simply she is tough and cool but also likeable, partly because she's not ego driven (so no long bragging sequences, thank heavens).
Of course like all of these series the fighting is bogus, but it is entertaining. The usual disregard for physics and physiology is present, as is common for the genre. Even a modicum of reality would suggest that half the characters would actually be fatally wounded and the other half on the run from the law for having done it. But such things are ignored for the purposes of extended, varied and intricate fight scenes. And Maki, with her signature aerial moves, monstrous reflexes and ability to almost instantly learn other's moves, is one of the most entertaining of them all. The series does actually make a decent attempt to indicate that "Ki", a near magical internal energy, is part of what makes a high level fighter capable of doing the moves and taking the blows they do... which also allows a nice power progression through the series leading to a sort of cool, but rather rushed feeling, conclusion. It also avoids using the "arena" shortcut, with most of the fights having varied environments and making a relatively sensible sequence. So you often end an episode eager to see what will happen next.
There is a fair amount of blood in the series, but it's generally superficial. Needless to say there's also an awful lot of violence, most of it aimed at someone who can handle it, but also some indiscrimate examples. There is also, it must be said, an awful lot of pretty unappealing fan service. One character's enormous breasts almost have a character role of their own, however they're so large that they just make the eye water... not really very erotic at all. Likewise Maki spends a lot of time fighting in the air, not always the right way up, and mostly in very short skirts (such as her school skirt). Thus there is no shortage of opportunity for panty shots which the show seems quite happy to accept. I imagine they intended this to be a selling point but it's ultimately sort of pointless. Maki's character, and appearance, isn't really focused on being feminine and sexy anyway. Sadly I can even imagine that their decision to make Maki a believable fighter, physically imposing and almost totally unconcerned with her appearance, possibly cost them in the sales and merchandising of the series. That might explain the rushed feeling on the conclusion... although there's no shortage of other possible explanations, the show has quite a few weaknesses.
So in essence the fighting is pretty good, the rest of the show is pretty repulsive. If you like watching a sequence of fights, between characters with quite different styles of combat, and the whole rather silly philosophy behind it all then this isn't bad at all. And there's enough nice touches, and sweet sequences, to keep you watching. If that doesn't interest you, or you hoped for some element of "cute" or "sexy" when you heard schoolgirl mentioned, I wouldn't bother with it. Personally I was surprised how many times I could happily re-watch it, both the fights and some of the character work.
There's not really enough budget to fully animate every fight sequence, thus like most such titles it relies on "segments" of moves and suggested movement. But it actually does it pretty well, presenting a believable illusion of complex and intricate combats. Making Maki use acrobatic and aerial moves actually works well here, adding a useful third dimension to fight in. It also does some good work with ambient effects (especially the glowing eye trick) to suggest both motion and mood. The character design is pretty good for the fighters, there's a number of likeable characters and interesting appearances, but the extra's are extremely bland. The voices are the same, some of the leads have top notch voices, but it fades quickly. The "cute, girlish" voices are especially painful, Renge (the little goblin girl) had me clawing at my ears in pain, and Sakiyama's over acting was a bit much at times. The music is direct but excellent, heavy guitar opening suits it perfectly and the ambient music does a lot to add energy and tension to the fights (some really sweet percussion work in there at times).
It's like a schoolgirl version of streetfighter... although the emphasis is on the fighter rather than the schoolgirl. Heck, a lot of arcade fighting game females are more effeminate than Maki... so are a few of the males when it comes to that. But what this does have is some excellent fights, varied and entertaining to watch, and interesting fighters with a simple but agreeable story progression to link them all together. It's a shame some of the support drama is awful, but if you like animated fights this ones definitely worth checking out.
My "Other Review" System is going to get revised, so I'll wait on that. However I suspect I'm one of the few reviewers who is not going to make fun of this title.