Takeru Ohyama is accepted into "childhood friend" Haruko Amaya's Tenbi Academy, which he knew had an emphasis on martial arts; but he did not imagine they were MAGICAL martial arts. Despite Takeru's being a slow learner in Magical Studies, he, Haruko, and several other students are inducted into the Maken-Ki! (don't forget the !), a "defensive" group that is intended to protect the school from outside conspirators called the Kamigari, as well as perverts and other menaces within the school (despite the fact that two of the members are world-class perverts THEMSELVES.)
If I'd originally become an anime fan in my teens or twenties, I might have been more appreciative of this fanservice-for-its-own-sake sort of show. Coming into the genre a bit later in life, I've grown to expect an interesting story, or original/endearing characters, before a show holds my interest. I'm not opposed to fanservice - if there's something more intriguing going on there too. As I've said, I actually enjoyed a lot of the Ikki Tousen seasons, partly because they're not precisely "harem" shows (despite their rampant fanservice), but also because they have that weird underlying plotline involving all the main characters being reincarnations of individuals from the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms, who feel compelled to re-fight the quarrels of their previous incarnations (in a gratuitously garment-shredding way of course.)
Now all of this is prelude to the fundamental problem I had with Maken-Ki! (don't forget the !). Having seen the show, I was puzzled by the discordance between a statement Haruko made at the beginning of the series, "My school has only recently begun to accept boys", versus the very last episode of the show, which is a flashback showing an obviously co-ed school. So I looked up the Wiki article on the show. That article did indeed confirm that the school had been co-ed, then unisex, then co-ed again. The article also made something else plain: the anime either omitted entirely, or only noted in brief passing here and there, a HUGE amount of the backstory/mythos that existed in the manga, in favor of an almost exclusive concentration on the fanservice. As a result, a lot of terms and events appear in the show completely devoid of context, and even the characters who survived the transition from manga to anime are largely (Takeru) or nearly completely (the Kamigari) presented sans backstory. Which meant that my interest (and tolerance) for the show diminished as it went along.
There WERE things I actually liked, at first. Some of the character art was appealing. Setting aside Haruko's huge breasts (a difficult thing, but stick with me here), I found her facial design somewhat attractive; taking her down a few cup sizes, to bring her from a TOO-much-of-a-good-thing status to more just-a-good-thing status, her face, combined with her statuesque physique and a more realistic bust size, would have made her, in my opinion, rather pleasant to look at. But as to her character, alas, she checks all the boxes that Houki from Infinite Stratos, and a plethora of similar characters in other shows, also check: childhood friend (CHECK!), who ostensibly rooms with the male lead to prevent him engaging in any "improper" relationships with other girls (CHECK!), but really does it to chase away rivals (CHECK!), even though she absolutely won't tell him she's interested in him herself (CHECK!), and if he DOES realize she's interested in him, she must violently dissuade him of that idea (CHECK!), as well as punishing him for any inadvertent apparent compromising situation she finds him in with any other girl (CHECK, PLEASE!, and in fairness to Takeru, he doesn't find himself in these situations QUITE as often as To-Love Ru's Rito, but that would be a hard record to break.) Haruko's use of a sword to administer these punishments clenched the comparison with Infinite Stratos' Houki for me.
As for Takeru: again, a rather interesting character design, but a rather TOO familiar character behind that face. Takeru is "brave" as far as Haruko's concerned (her obligatory flashback of this is a scene where he does something to rescue someone that would much more likely have killed both him and the person he was trying to save.) But he's a voyeur, as well; Maken-Ki! (don't forget the !) compensates for this flaw in his character in the conventional way of these shows, by giving him a male sidekick whose OWN perversion is SO over-the-top that he makes Takeru look like a saint by comparison. (I'll get to that guy later.) I couldn't quite figure out what the admission requirements for Tenbi were- think about the real-world implications of a school that openly developed powerful magical abilities in its students, if magic existed in the real world- but Takeru is, it turns out, a "legacy" admission, and like many other legacies seems to have trouble performing at the level of the original alumnus. Interviewed by a guy named Gen (given his initial appearance, the creators of Naruto should sue; it seems a pretty open-and-shut case), Takeru fails to show any magical talent as assessed by Gen's ill-tempered magic-identifying machine (Tenbi's equivalent of Hogwarts' Sorting Hat, I guess), but perhaps because Takeru IS a legacy, Gen, who's a "Maken Smith", vows to make him an appropriate magic. The term "Maken", I gather, refers to your particular magic; for some it manifests as some implement- a sword, a glove, a boot- as well. Gen makes "replica Maken", but there are also "Eight Original Maken" mentioned. None of this is really explained that well; how much you want to bet the manga does a better job of it, AGAIN?
But this ain't the manga. And what it does give you is relentless fanservice nudity. The genitals are not actually seen uncovered, but ALL the rest of the girls' bodies are frequently on graphic display (and even the outlines of the pubic regions are sometimes visible beneath the underwear.) And this show has it ALL! - Hot springs! S&M themed outfits! Sex toys! (The latter in the Kengo episode- the guy I mentioned, who's orders-of-magnitude more perverted than even Takeru; I swear I'll get to him.) Of course, we have battling females! (The show thinks it's funny that the ladies often fight over trivial stuff like teddy bears; this strikes me as more demeaning than funny.) AND-wait for it!- TENTACLES!!!! (What, you needed to ask?)
I grant that the show does have a kind of nod-and-wink attitude about some of this, and tries- with varying degrees of success- to get some laughs out of the fanservice. And that finds particular focus in Kodama Himegami, a tsundere (complete with flat chest) with dominatrix tendencies, who in spite of this (or maybe because of it) has a devoted male fan following. In the inevitable episode where the ladies work in a maid café, she approaches a table full of her fanboys, puts her leg up on the table, and demands that they all order the "most profitable" item on the menu. In triplicate. And they all hurry to comply. She has another episode, in Season Two, that is supposed to showcase her "softer" side but ends in a surprisingly effective (for THIS show) twist of cynical humor, with her thinking that all is well, when it's actually anything BUT. I guess I liked Kodama a bit more than anyone else in the show, but that's an awfully low bar here, believe me. (Maybe it's just me, but I do find this sort of character marginally more entertaining if they're the sort that blows their stack (like Kodama) rather than stays ice-cold (like To-Love Ru's Yami.))
And speaking of the show's two seasons, only Season One features the kind of master villain with a nefarious plot against the school that any respectable action fantasy should, in this case a goth-loli named Otohime who, armed with her voodoo dolls (and her "enforcer", her berserker big sister Kikyo) plans to take Tenbi for her group, the Kamigari (Yes, ANOTHER point that I guess was actually EXPLAINED in the manga.) At one point her actions trigger events that threaten to raze Tenbi to the ground, and she's perfectly fine with that, which made me think that she wasn't really that interested in either the school OR the students, but just the property value of the land itself. But she's a bit outnumbered, not just by the Tenbi students but also by yet ANOTHER group of almost-entirely-female mages, allied with Tenbi, called Venus; I'll just say that the show doesn't return to the Kamigari bunch in the Second Season. No, the show's Second Season is almost exclusively about the efforts of the Maken-Ki! (don't forget the !) to combat various perverts among the students; apparently the school's magical mojo can also CREATE perverts using animals and inanimate objects as well. At one point Takeru demonstrates his amazing powers of deduction by determining that a molester and bra-thief is going by increasing bust size, with the school's principal Minori Rokujou (who usually wears a cleavage-baring tracksuit for some reason), and school nurse Aki Nijou (who's SO huge clothes can never fully contain her!) as the pervert's intended final victims. (This show is another of those that showcases the girls' "bounces" in the opening credits, by the way.)
Still, there's the basic problem that the Maken-Ki! (I ALWAYS remember my !) includes two perverts ITSELF. I said Takeru was the lesser one. The ultra-pervert is Kengo Usui (who's also Kodama's number-one fanboy, though she's not at all enthusiastic about HIM.) He's literally given free rein in one episode near series end, and it's all just painful to watch and, even worse, the episode ends with a little coda with the depressing message that perverted teenage boys NEVER really grow out of it. EVER.
Another character is a redheaded girl named Azuki Shinatsu. We are supposed to know she's tough because she sports a bandaid on her nose. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think bandaids really scream "toughness"; but the thing that struck me was that she wears the stupid bandaid through both seasons of the show! (For some reason it reminded me of a line from Excalibur: "It is the old wound, my King. It has never healed.")
There's also Inaho Kushiya, the usual other-childhood-friend-our-hero-forgot-about, a cat-mouthed girl who really seemed a waste of screen time to me, and NUMEROUS other girls who are recorded in my notes, but I've no idea WHY. Harems really SHOULD be kept to a manageable size.
OK, OK, I DID kind of like the school's woman-with-a-sword logo, and at least the colors are vibrant. I just felt I had to throw any and all mitigating factors before pronouncing sentence...
Voyeurism and molestation do NOT an epic make. I DID wonder what this show would have been like if it had included more of the background details from the manga, and maybe a bit FEWER of the anatomical details of its female cast. Still, there are some shows whose perpetrators- and THIS show's perpetrators seem included- know they're producing a piece of trash, and so try to throw in at least a little tasteless, or cynical, humor (as an act of contrition, perhaps?), so I'll take that into consideration and be merciful here.
Two stars, but BARELY. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: ADULTS ONLY. As naked as it can be without actually being hentai.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (23/23)
Maken-Ki! © 2011/2014 AIC
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