Anime Review: Romance of the Three Kingdoms Episode 1

(Originally published on Livejournal on 7/3/10)

Anime Review in a Minute:
Romance of the Three Kingdoms

tl;dr review: Diao Chan gets adopted by evil warlord; Liu Bei and friends are heroes, but get no respect.

The Skinny: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the classics of Chinese literature, an epic semi-historic tale spanning hundreds of characters, dozens of chapters and over a hundred years, beginning with the Yellow Turban Rebellion. This is a straightforward, no-nonsense retelling of the story in anime form. The legendary beauty Diao Chan is rescued from bandits by a warlord, who adopts her to replace his lost daughter. Liu Bei along with his brothers SeriousGuy and Chuckles, swear an oath in a peach garden; they save a general and Liu Bei is granted a tiny, remote territory to control. A corrupt official arrives to shake him down, and they tie him up, tell him to STFU, and then head off into the sunset.

My Thoughts: If you’re going to adapt one of the most epic of tales in world history, you better damn well do a good job. Alas, this is not the case — the animation itself is strangely stilted and sub-par. And the storytelling…oh my — it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer upside the head. The art of subtlety is completely lost on these guys, perhaps because they think they have so much ground to cover that they just throw everything out there in heavy, ham-fisted dollops of dialogue. I’m sure the actual story itself is accurate, but it’s about as enjoyable to watch as it would be to read the Cliff Notes version instead of the actual version.

Furthermore, I have a bit of an acrid taste in my mouth for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, since it was the (very loose) inspiration for three of the very worst shows of the Spring 2010 anime season: SD Gundam Senshi Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors (where the characters are replaced with super-deformed gundams, I shit you not), the excretable fanservice fighting anime Ikkitousen Xtreme Xecutor, and finally the **worst** show of the season Shin Koihime Musou Otome Tairan, which was so mindnumbingly awful it gave me eyeblisters. Luckily, the Summer 2010 season is devoid of such trainwrecks.

Note that this is not the only serious adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms — a 47-episode version came out back in 1991, to less-than-stellar reviews. Even so, I doubt this version will replace it as the standard bearer. Alas, anyone hoping for good Chinese historical fiction in anime is going to have to wait a bit longer.

For more info:

Extensive Wikipedia entry:
Anime News Network entry:
Watch the opening sequence online:

The Verdict:

Up Next: Yondemasuyo Azazel-san, xxxHolic: Rou

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