In ancient China, there exists an artefact of great power that could change the fate of a nation- the Sovereign’s Seal. Sun Ce, leader of the kingdom of Wu, decides to pursue the seal, hoping that it will tip the balance of his war with the rival kingdom of Wei. But using the Seal comes with a cost, and it falls to Lu Xun, protégée of the legendary Zhuge Liang, to fulfil his family’s duty of protecting it.
It’s no secret that I’m easily drawn to anything Three Kingdoms related, and with the 1991 anime having proven to span a range from laughably poor to just plain awful, the promise of a brand new series in 2007 seemed too good to pass up- especially as it seems to focus on my favourite and all-too-often glossed over kingdom of Wu. With that in mind, I had high expectations for Koutetsu before it aired- even going so far as to download and translate the character map on the official website in preparation for the day when it finally aired.
Sadly, for all that I was anticipating it, Koutetsu Sangokushi was about to prove that the only worth it had lay in the realms of the unintentionally amusing. Within the space of a few episodes it became clear that the series was less concerned with telling a good story than it was with appealing to all the fujoshi out there. Not only were HARD GAY pairings and possibilities readily apparent to even the most untrained of eyes, but despite the fact that all the characters were male, many of them seemed inclined to dress as women- in particular Ling Tong, Sun Quan, Cao Cao and Liu Bei appeared to have been taking regular oestrogen supplements. If you didn’t happen to know that historically these figures were indeed male, you might be forgiven for thinking that they were meant to be women.
Character design irregularities aside, Koutetsu had much more to offer- all of it in the realms of the ridiculous. The historical setting and even the laws of physics themselves were of no concern to the writers, who were quick to turn hero Lu Xun into a destined warrior with the ability to transform and equip the arm-encasing Flame Armour, a weapon not unlike the Alters seen in S-Cry-Ed. In fact, in an episode where Wei somehow shoots thousands of slow arrows at the Wu capital from no visible source, our bold hero flies up into the sky and destroys them in much the same way that a Gundam might slice through generic mobile suits.
As it turns out, this rather laughable scene was only to prepare us for what was to come, as new named characters were introduced. Joining Lu Xun in the defence of justice were his would-be lover Ling Tong, “brawn but no brains” Taishi Ci and new Wu army recruits Zhuge Jin and Lu Meng. The latter two only signed up to take civil servant style roles, but apparently in this particular reality, being a civil servant involves the same amount of combat as being a front-line warrior.
Next to join the team was none other than pirate Gan Ning, who is lured away from his cruel yet dominant lover and master by the promise of wild nights with Zhou Yu and his flute. With this addition to the ranks, our set of main characters is not only completed, but given the amusing name “The Six Steeds”- clearly an indication that they are all hung like horses. Forget the army of Wu and its experienced advisors- the Six Steeds will always be there to save the day!
With our heroes all in place, the time had come to forge ahead to the next arc- the battle of Chi Bi (aka Red Cliffs). Those who are familiar with the era will recall that Chi Bi was quite a complex affair, involving an alliance between Shu and Wu to launch a fire attack on Wei’s fleet. Clearly, such a thing was too much for the writers to grasp, because they decided to simplify it considerably- transforming an important historical event into a one night assault on an unrealistically huge boat called Chi Bi. Such a boat was large enough to house several floors and even a palatial garden, but for all that it only needed to be crewed by a few named characters.
These named characters (who include in their number Xu Zhu, inexplicably wearing sunglasses centuries before their invention) were of course to form the bosses for this arc, which was to ultimately see the awakening of sentai powers in the Six Steeds. In a laughably stupid turn of events, all six of them gain destined “Pleasure Ranger” powers, enabling them to transform their weapons and glow with coloured energy. If the sense of the series had been questionable before, this turn of events was to see it depart entirely- how could anyone take it seriously now?
Even so, at least the battle of Chi Bi had a vague plot and a basis in history, because what was to come in the second half of the series was to overshadow all that had gone before. For reasons best known to himself, Zhuge Liang decides to contradict everything he did in the first half of the series by allying himself with Liu Bei to create the kingdom of Shu; fair enough, one might say, given historical events, but I hardly think that the real Shu was run by a pink-haired effeminate shota with a desire to turn the world into a flower garden.
If you’re mystified by that last sentence, then allow me to explain- you see, Liu Bei is a man (and I use that word loosely) who believes that food is the root cause of all suffering, and that the only way to world peace is to burn down villages and make everyone toil in the field planting immense flower gardens. It’s a rationale that makes the oft-used anime concept of finding peace through invasion and genocide look well-reasoned, but nonetheless no one ever gains the courage to put a stop to it by pointing out the flaws in Liu Bei’s reasoning. Instead, Zhuge Liang encourages him on his way, even creating a special sphere filled with HARD GAY energy to enhance the power of the Shu warriors.
Thanks to this enhancement, our Pleasure Ranger heroes have minions of darkness to foil every week, starting with the unfortunate Guan Yu. So consumed is he by the HARD GAY energy that after several uses he actually transforms into some kind of giant horse mecha for our heroes to battle against. Even as the audience finds itself caught in a mix of revulsion and amusement, however, Taishi Ci loses his life in a pointless attempt to destroy the beast, which ultimately only delays him for an episode or so.
In true sentai fashion, the supporting characters are useless compared to Lu Xun, who, despite having broken his magical Flame Armour a scant few episodes before, somehow magically restores it in time to defeat Guan Yu and turn the hideous horse monster back into a human. Unfortunately for Guan Yu, his fate is sealed anyway, and he ends up giving his life to stop Zhang Fei turning into an equally ridiculous animal mecha.
By this point, much of a dubious nature had occurred, and anyone who believed that the series could possibly offer up a sensible conclusion was either deranged or delusional. Equally unbalanced were the writers, who seemed keen to present some kind of coup of grace in the form of an ending so completely and utterly stupid that it would make everything that had come before seem sensible and well-plotted.
Having inexplicably defected to Shu and the side of evil some time before, in the final batch of episodes, Zhuge Liang plays his trump card, forcibly using his HARD GAY spheres to turn Liu Bei into some kind of Yu-Gi-Oh dragon hell-bent on avenging the loss of his brothers. To that end, said dragon flies across China and manages to disable the country of Wei with laughter with bursts of frozen breath. Next, he turns his attention to Wu, and despite the best efforts of the Pleasure Rangers, everyone except Sun Quan and Liu Bei end up encased in ice. I’m sure you’re laughing by now, so take care not to spit coffee all over the keyboard.
Anyway, after an episode or so of Sun Quan and Lu Xun enjoying their HARD GAY honeymoon in the land of ice, the moment of the ultimate showdown finally arrives. Using his destined powers of flame, Lu Xun easily foils Liu Bei and melts all of China, leaving only final boss Zhuge Liang to face. It is here that the series steps off the edge into complete and utter nonsense, as we learn that an evil meteor not unlike those of Final Fantasy 7, Mai-HiME and Good Witch of the West is threatening the planet, and that Zhuge chose to turn himself into the ultimate evil so that Lu Xun could in turn become the ultimate good (don’t try to follow the logic here, there isn’t any).
Fortunately for all concerned, Zhuge’s plan to turn evil by dyeing his hair jet black appears to work, triggering an Otome transformation in Lu Xun and enabling him to fly into space and single-handedly destroy the meteor. Sadly, the intense Pleasure levels involved take their toll on Zhuge Liang, who starts dissolving, at least until Lu Xun somehow saves him by shoving the Sovereign’s Seal (or as I call it, the Lord’s Cube) into himself and thus absorbing the source of all Koutetsu’s HARD GAY. Of course, no one man can endure such levels of HARD GAY, and so Lu Xun ultimately explodes, leaving Zhuge Liang to continue on to other, better projects. At this point you might be wondering what the point of it all was, but sadly I cannot provide any explanations- answers on a postcard, please.
And with that, the story has been picked to pieces, but what review would be complete without some mention of the presentation side of things? As far as character designs go, everything from ridiculously effeminate pretty boy to muscle-bound macho seems to be acceptable, and whilst effort has clearly gone into detail, many of the designs are hard to swallow (sunglasses? zippers? pink hair? This is the third century!). The animation itself is highly inconsistent, ranging from solid to budget-saving in terms of movement and level of detail. Background music is decent yet unremarkable, whilst the OP reaches new levels of HARD GAY.
Koutetsu Sangokushi is one of those series that you watch not for straightforward enjoyment, but because you feel a need to see just how ridiculous it can get- for whilst it started out as mildly entertaining, it soon descends into the depths of stupidity. Fortunately for anyone who has yet to try it, there is no longer any need to actually watch the series- you can just read my parodies of it instead.