Like Eiken, Ikki Tousen was another series that had gained a noteriety for its flagrant use of fanservice--and ironically, was also another series by J.C.STAFF. Aside from these facts, the large-chested (nowhere near Eiken standards) and scantly-clad female character designs, and my wanting to see how a show as villified as this one would play out, the similarities end here.
Ikki Tousen is a based on a manga (well, there's another similarity...) called Battle Vixens, which itself was based on the classic and often-retold Chinese tale Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The concept of history being replayed with fanservice-magnet girls was another tag that piqued my interests, in seeing how exactly that would all work together (Hint: It really doesn't). The anime itself centers on a teen girl who becomes involved in a multi-school war influenced by magical earrings containing the spirits of those from the Three Kingdom era. The events that take place mirror what actually happened in that time and has done so for generation after generation. As such, the girl's destiny is to unite the quarrling high schools--and die at the hands of an assassin.
Novel the concept of transplanting a story like Three Kingdoms into such a new, different setting may be, Ikki Tousen more than squanders the potential and drowns in its own flesh (and blood) fest. There are very few other shows that have managed to fit in conveniently- and easily-torn clothing (mainly the girls'), anatomically-suggestive flowers, out-of-the-blue lesbian relationships, panty and bra shots, S&M, groping/fondling, jiggling, barely-there or ever-so-skin-tight clothes and undergarments, hot springs/bathhouse/beach action, "suggestive" situations, sexually-fueled (or -"arousing") violence, cleavage shots, nudity of all (female) sorts, and a main antagonist shown in the opening and eyecatches in provocative or sensual poses--who is actually a guy (and you couldn't tell it was if it were not for him actually being in the show). That's only off the top of my head. Include wall-breaking, ground-cracking, bloody combat have you have Ikki Tousen in a nutshell.
While the show is certainly not lacking in the service department, it is in terms of story and characters. The story itself is ambitious, but with so many characters and machinations, it comes off as a convoluted mishmash of people and events. In respect to the characters, they are one of the other major reasons why the show fails. None are well-defined outside of their given traits (closer to caricatures) and none of them are too consistant either, which leads to general apathy and disinterest when something apparently meaningful occurs. One moment someone could be a great, untouchable fighter and the next they are a completely inept newbie, or one could be introduced as a crazed psycotic and act totally different for much of the rest of the show, save for a glimmer or two. The charcaters only act accordingly when the story calls for it, so if a strong fighter is shown or one of them is getting beaten to a pulp, they can't do much about it, even if they would have been to be able to when they were introduced.
With Ikki Tousen more interested in fifty ways to rip off a girl's clothes than achieving a competant storyline, one doesn't need to wonder where the staff's attentions were in making this. A good number of them, aside from being used as eyecandy, are seen being either subservient to the guys (mainly for sexual reasons), doing things to them that put the two of them in "compromising positions", or as mentioned earlier, having their clothes ripped so easily by each other and the guys. It doesn't help matters when most of the girls are either ditzy (or in the lead's case, ultra-ditzy, if not clinically "brain dead"), sensual/frisky, manupulative, or listless/unremarkable (personality-wise). This sort of content is nothing new in fanservice-heavy shows, but Ikki Tousen's use gives it a decidedly more sexist aura in its portrayal. As uncomfortable it was, the violence in the show was sometimes just as gratuitous and unappealing. Perhaps they were attempting to give it a rough edge, but there were instances where the beatings and blood content seemed to go unnecessarily far or just too long. Being a fight fan and someone none-too-squimish about blood, there were times where even I was finding myself wondering why certain scenes were being dragged out and rolling my eyes at the more overboard sequences.
A serious lack of balance, tact, and a good story and characters are only further compounded by the production values of the show. The animation quality is more inconsistant than the characters themselves, with faces and bodies varying in proportions and appearence across scenes (the chests so vaunted in the show manage to waffle in size, but still all look same). The musical score is certainly nothing worth writing home about either, as nearly all of the compositions are terribly average and mediocre in sound and tune. The English dub, which I viewed this with, was not well-acted or compelling to listen to. This is a bit surprising, as the overall dull performances came from one of the best dub groups, New Generations Pictures, which could either be indicative of their time doing the show or of the show being too bad to be raised upwards by their effort (well, at least Wendee Lee seemed to be having fun as the main lead's mother).
Compared to Eiken, Ikki Tousen is a far worse body of work. While the former had its air of sexism, questionable content, and quite-less-than realistic female forms, it was not as notably offensive as the other. Perhaps this has slightly to do with Eiken being a comedy and something of a parody (heavy emphasis on "something"), whereas Ikki Tousen plays itself as an action show with comedy bits and integrates its content in a more serious or dramatic light at times. Thus, the flaunting and use of females comes off as less than a joke and more an attempt at true content in such moments (not that this excuses Eiken...). They may be a part of it, but with the sort of show it is, it is hard to take any of it seriously. Even moments that were in "light-hearted fun" weren't very fun at all. The dullness of Ikki Tousen, reflective of its lack of concrete or coherent story, extra focus on fanservice and sexed-up women, and poorly-utilizied violence, seeps into its production quality--an unimaginitive effort on all fronts, including writing and direction. And when compared with other shows with sizable fanservice, it ranks among the worst.