If there are genres that have been in constant grow in today’s anime, those must be moe and ecchi. And this 2011 manga-based series is one of those that take the ecchi element simply up to eleven: like Najica Blitz Tactics had done with its panty-shot fest, Manyū Hikenchō focuses its area of interest right up where the sun does shine: female breast. With a twist: this element is fundamentally inscribed in not only the plot, but the entire setting. Is it just a poor excuse for shameless fanservice? Does it have even a hint of any value? Let’s have a look… I’ll try to keep the puns to a minimum, but I make no promises.
In an alternate Edo-period Japan, breasts mean everything: large bosoms promise wealth and success, whereas the small breasted are hardly considered humans. The Manyū clan possesses secret techniques to grow large breasts and to cut other women’s by making them actually shrink preserving the body (I’ll give you a moment to finish laughing...... OK); this places them in a position of power almost above the shogunate. Chifusa, the clan’s heir who possesses the ability to not only cut, but absorb other women’s breasts into her own (again I’ll give you a moment...... OK), decides to run away with the clan’s Scroll of Secrets (take a wild guess, where will she hide it?). Armed with a katana and her personal bazookas, she and her handmaiden Kaede set off on their Robin Hood-esque quest to change the world’s breast-centred mentality.
I think everyone will agree that for an anime with such a premise it’s simply imperative to have a tongue-in-chest... CHEEK! I meant “tongue-in-cheek” attitude, it mustn’t take titself seriously. Indeed, after a first borderline hentai episode with an awful lot of drama, half the series is comedic in mood: the two protagonists have to survive making money in a way that will inevitably involve Chifusa’s huge tracts of land, fending off assassination attempts from inevitably female Manyū warriors, with even an inevitable beach episode with an inevitable perverted octopus where we will learn that big floaters actually make it difficult to dive. Even if in this part it will seem just a 20 minutes excuse for fanservice, even such tasteless moments can be genuinely hilarious. The characters are funny, the gags aren’t bad, everything is so over-the-top that it’s hard to not laugh, the puns are as preposterous as they are funny… it’s silly, of course, but not as bad as your probable first impression, and enjoyable in a “so bad it’s boogood” way. Then, the fanservice gets toned down lower and lower, the mood goes all over, and the anime starts taking itself dangerously seriously: it becomes full of dramatic moments, which aren’t even half bad, mind you, it’s clear that quite some effort was put there, but they’re hard to take seriously, because at the end of it we’re still talking about breasts. Back–breaking massive breasts. And existential reasoning on the purpose and philosophy of bosoms is just silly… If it wanted to be serious, it could have been about anything (there were so many things in Edo Japan that a Robin Hood-esque character could have wanted to change…), otherwise it’d have been better off keeping its initial comedic tone. What little plot there is starts holding up in some way only near the end; until there, the heroine’s goal seems to get lost midway, and it’s really hard to give the series any dignity. And when it starts throwing some clues that there is some sort of greater scheme going on, when it starts becoming more interesting and a less silly, it just ends. I understand the manga’s still ongoing, so it’s only a “season finale”, but even as a season finale it’s pretty inconclusive and unsatisfying, even annoying.
You won’t find anything deep or original here, but for what they’re trying to be, most characters are quite strong. I’d say the best is Kaede, simply because she’s adorably hilarious, easily the best source of humour in the series. She’s Chifusa’s loyal handmaiden, who lost her… Hindenburg Zeppelins due to her betrayal, and continuously laments that; she also has some surely intentional homoerotic subtext with Chifusa (she keeps groping her, damnit!), again played for laughs and often lampshaded. Another one who surprised me is Mie, who starts off as an unbelievably breast-obsessed perverted feudal lord, but later shows some hidden, chivalrous and badass sides of himself; he’s also a great source of laughter. Chifusa, on the other hand, is a pretty flat character (make your own joke here), and not really that likeable either: it feels like the author didn’t quite know where to go with her, it’s hard to get a grip on her personality, thus shge fails to leave a strong impression on the viewer (except for her… size). She is given some surprisingly Freudian-like psychological analysis, but again it’s hard to take seriously since it feels thrown in because otherwise she’d be just about her mammaries. About the secondary characters, they’re all quite stock and unoriginal, but still likeable and, in the case of Chifusa’s sister Kagefusa and of Ōka, even with some little development and exploration. Kagefusa’s change feels actually a bit too forced, but still... every other character has very little space, so there’s not really much to talk about, unless a face that misses only a big glowing arrow with the caption “’Tis the villain” counts as characterisation.
The art is in line with today’s standards. As you’d have imagined, an embrarrassing lot of detail is given to the animation and the physics of the bouncers, and even if it pains me to say this, it’s actually quite impressive. There’s also some nice landscapes (especially dunes and mountain pea... OK, I’ll stop this now…). However, it loses point for probably the most half-assed censor I’ve EVER seen (part of the screen just goes white. Like a light bulb or something. It’s physically painful to watch), for the battle and duel scenes, which are incredibly stiff and cheap with the exception of the last one, and for some quality drops near the end.
Watch the uncensored. Really.
Despite a very energetic hard rock opening and a pretty epic ending song, the (pretty scarce) soundtrack doesn’t have much to say, it doesn’t ruin the mood but doesn’t help much either. Maybe a better one could have helped the dramatic moments.
The voice acting, on the other hand, is simply great. It’s almost a shame to hear such talented seiyū as Kotobuki Minako (as Chifusa) and Toyosaki Aki (Yui from K-on!, here doing a simply perfect job at making Kaede the most hilarious character in the anime), or as the unbelievably prolific Noto Mamiko (as Ōka) and Ōkawa Toru (as Mie) in such a mindlessly ecchi anime. Also very solid is Mizuhara Kaoru’s performance as Kagefusa.
In the end, this is a show about boobs. When it wants to show fanservice, it does its job embrarrassingly well, but this gets toned down quickly so if you’re in it only for this just watch an hentai. When it wants to make you laugh, it does its job well. When it wants to be dramatic, it’s just trying too hard for something with a premise that can’t possibly be taken anywhere near seriously. It makes you ask whether they put drama to give it some sense, or if they put comedy to give it more dignity. Still, even if it’s so silly I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t dislike it. Maybe because some scenes are a pleasure to the male eye, maybe because I laughed my arse off, maybe because it does have some surprisingly likeable characters, I can’t say it’s a monstrosity. I can understand why some people love it, as I can understand why others got thrown off by its unbelievably over-the-top first episode. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone but the big breast fanatics, but I wouldn’t advise against it either: if taken with the same attitude you’d have with a “so bad it’s good” movie it can provide some nice moments of laughter, and maybe even keep you interested. But if it took itself much less seriously, with such a premise that would have worked perfectly as a parody of the ecchi genre, it'd have had the potential for a comedic treasure chest. Pun intended.