Okay so at first glance this looks like your typical retelling of the events of the Three Kingdoms period, but one thing really makes it stand out--it follows Cao Cao as the protagonist rather than the antagonist like most interpretations of the time period seem to, making for a really interesting new take on the story. Now, fair warning before you watch, this show is MANIME through and through. This is like, the second manliest anime I have ever watched. So if you cannot handle all of the FACE-MELTING MANLINESS, turn around and walk the other way. Also it's really bloody and violent and stuff, so if you're not into that stuff, then be warned, it's there. Oh, is it there.
The story is fairly straightforward. It follows Cao Cao's military campaigns during the Three Kingdoms period. The way the narrator is used throughout the story makes it feel almost like an over the top parody of a historical documentary. The tone is super serious though. It also has a bit of a problem with female characters and objectifies pretty much any women that actually show up, which is kind of discouraging. There are barely any women in the show though, so at least it's not shoving it in your face 24/7. It's put together fairly well, though sometimes it does some really abrupt timeskips. I mean, I get that this is a necessary thing when you want to make an anime that spans as many years as this one does, but sometimes it feels like they could have picked better times to do it. Aside from that though, it's really good. Until the ending, that is. The ending is really abrupt and kind of dissatisfying. It feels a lot like you've just watched half of a story and the second half is just...missing. I hear the manga doesn't have this problem.
The animation fits the tone of the series pretty well. Overall the production qualities are high and the style the characters are drawn in is visually very interesting. It's a very pretty show, once you get over all the blood. Honestly, the only beef I have with the animation is that often some of the big movers and shakers are portrayed figuratively as dragons, and the anime takes this to the max and actually animates like LITERAL dragons coming out of them and flying around. With the way they implemented it, it could have been a really awesome stylistic choice, if it werent for the fact that the dragons were done in really cheesy CGI that clashes a LOT with the style of everything else.
The music is freaking EPIC. It starts out with the unbelievably awesome HARDCORE METAL OPENING, and gets better from there. Both the opening and ending theme songs are good, but what I really love is some of the background music. It fits so well with the rest of the show, and it really gets your blood pumping while managing to be really pretty at times too.
The voice acting is really nice. It can get over the top at times but that really fits with the larger than life way the show often presents itself. There was a pretty wide variety of voice acting styles. Mamoru Miyano plays the role of Cao Cao straight and doesn't get into the theatrics the others do as often, but he really gets Cao Cao's frightening magnetism right on the mark. On the other hand we have Rikiya Koyama totally chewing the scenery as Lu Bu. But I mean, come on, it's LU BU, it would be disappointing if his presence WASN'T ten times larger than anyone else in the scene. Though my personal favorite performance was Tomokazu Seki as Liu Bei. He was right on the money with that role. Once more I have been impressed with his ability to make a character really come alive, and to strike that perfect balance between serious and light hearted, which seems like it would be expecially hard to pull off in a show with a tone like this.
Well, first off, the cast is almost entirely male. The main cast IS entirely male. This doesnt bother me as much as I thought it would. Everyone is badass and a lot of them are pretty compelling. I mean, I can't really say much because I mean it's not like they're exclusive to this show. They're all historical figures. Though I have to say for a lot of them its one of my favorite portrayals of them.
So anyway, even though Souten Kouro has a few glaring issues, it's still overall a really good anime and if you're into the whole manime thing I would totally recommend it. And for any Romance of the Three Kingdoms fans out there, this is a MUST WATCH. I cannot say that enough. Absolute must watch. Yes.
And if you don't fall into either of these groups, Souten Kouro, while not absolutely outstanding, is still a good solid anime that I would honestly recommend to almost anyone. Unless you just absolutely cannot handle blood and violence because again, there is a lot of that.
*WARNING* This anime contains exessive amounts of violence and blood, if you cannot stand those kinds of things, this anime is defintely not for you. Also this anime is very heavy on manliness. As such sits near the top of a short list of anime that I would consider Manime or manly anime. This usually means things such as manly admiration, manly tears and ofcourse minimal to nonexistent female presence. Okay now to the review.
Story- Souten Kouro or "Beyond the Heavens" has quite a unique setting in being set in China during the Han Dynasty and being looesely based on the events of "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I have played my fair share of Dynasty Warriors games and see quite a few memorable names pop up again. So the story follows a young man named Cao Cao (pronounced Sou Sou) who is of noble origin, but his thinking deviates quite a bit from the average noble. Basically the story follows the the life and legacy of Cao Cao and his many military battles, political schemes and the various other side characters he interacts with spanning 30+ years. Doesn't sound all that exciting, but there are many touching and dramatic moments spread out throughout the series and the battles are really quite a marvel to look at. There is quite a bit of politics in the show and you may find yourself lost with all of the characters and their respective allegiances, however you should feel fairly familiar with them about 1/3 of the way in. Also if your really into military strategy, tactics, formations and what not you'll find more than enough in this anime.
Animation- The animation is crisp and clean even during intense battles, but still frames are still used occasionally. Characters are exceptionally detailed, considering the time it was made. Settings and backrounds are quite beautiful, especially during the dancing scenes in this anime (it's the most manly dancing you can imagine). Another thing is that I liked how they captured the grandess of the fortresses and the armies. When you look at an army in this anime you can really belive there is 3000+ troops in there and when you look at a frotress it really does feel like something giant and impenetrable. There is cg in this anime, but it is used sparingly. Sometimes for flooding waters or rocks thrown onto the enemies, but usually to show the symbolism of great generals representing dragons. Lastly the violence in this anime is animated wonderfully. People are sliced in half, beheaded and just plain evicerated in this brutal series and it is lovingly animated to the smallest bloody detail.
Sound- The opening theme will melt the faces of lesser men. If you really do not like screamo/metalcore though, I advise you to skip the opening, even though I think quite awesome and fitting for a show as brutal as this. The ed theme... is forgettable at best a cheery shonen-y song. The characters voices are all booming and commanding of your attention as the main characters often give inspirational speeches to their men. Some of these voices are even comically so, especially in the case of Lu Bu. The saving grace to this OST is the music that actually plays during the actual anime. Some of the most epic, moving and inspirational orchestreal pieces I have heard in an anime. Although there is not a ton of variety within the songs, the ones that are there are truly amazing and really help heighten the viewing experience.
Characters- Like I mentioned before the main character of the show is Cao Cao. He is an idealistic and charasmatic leader who is tired of all the corruption from the nobility in China and wishes to take matters into his own hands. Like all good characters though, as the years pass by he changes, but I won't say in what ways. There are a few episodes dedicated to side characters, the most important of those being Lui Bei (not to be confused with Lu Bu). He is another young idealistc man, who wishes to make a grab for power in the ever turbulent China with the help of his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zang Fei. Several antogonists for Cao Cao pop up throughout the series. The most fearsome of this bunch would have to be Lu Bu. Lu Bu is a man that is characterized simply by his strength, rage and violent tendencies. I say he is strong, but I don't think you understand how strong this man is. Lu bu makes soldier shish kebabs using his spears. Lu bu spins his spears around and charge into the front of an army evicerating everything in his path. Lu Bu jumps 50 feet into the air while mounted, decapiates his own horse and then throws the decapitaed horse head at you and the now dead horse head will eat you. Yeah, you don't want to mess with this guy. Most of the characters that are able to survive the brutal battles in this anime, have fairly good development throughout the series and often powerful and inspirational figures with hopes, dreams and ambitions.
Overall- There are only 3 things that are keeping me from giving Souten Kouro a higher score
1. The use of cg. Perhaps a nitpick on my part, but I generally do not like CG in my anime.
2. Objectifying women. Women are treated as objects in this anime, which is understandable given the time period that the show takes place in. Watching women being sold off, traded and just seen as sex objects is never good though.
3. "Read the manga" ending. The ending is not the true ending of the series. Instead you must read the manga to get the true ending.
Overall I found this to be an extremely enjoyable experince and one of the few throwbacks to the popular 80's Manime. However I feel like it is resurfing with titles like, Kaiji, Rainbow and the new Jojo's Bizzare Adventure 2012. If you enjoy Manime, politics, military, period pieces or just violence this is the anime for you.