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Real Bout High School Volume 1: Enter the Samurai Girl
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2002

Format: Anime
By:   TokyoPop
Released:   May 21, 2002
Review Date:   June 22, 2002
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

High-schooler Ryoko Mitsurugi is adored by her fellow students. Her female classmates make box lunches for her, and her male classmates slobber over her pictures (especially ones taken while she's just waking up). Why is she so popular? Well, Ryoko's the K-Fight champion at Daimon High, giving her a cachet like Tiger Woods, Anna Kournikova, and Lennox Lewis all rolled into one.

And what is a K-Fight, you ask? Well, as is exhaustively explained in at least half of the episodes on this DVD, a K-Fight is a special competition established by the principal of Daimon High to allow students to work out their differences in a gigantic arena fight, attended by the entire school. And so, Ryoko's days are filled with an interminable series of these bouts, as she fends off challengers ranging from a cliched bitchy rival to the school's Amateur Ninja Club.

And that's this anime's biggest problem. It tries to be dramatic and serious, with a plot involving Ryoko's destiny as an interdimensional monster slayer, a subplot involving Daimon High's previous K-Fight champion who disappeared after Ryoko beat him, and supporting characters like a serious-minded, laconic shrine maiden and a reclusive swordmaster. But the entire K-Fight concept is so goofy-ass and nonsensical that any attempts to build tension are defused right from the start. The sudden shifts from dramatic to silly that work so well in anime like Nadesico just don't work here. It's not wacky enough to be funny by itself, but it's too wacky to provide any kind of grounding for the audience.

Worse, there's no emotional investment in any of the characters. The personalities of everyone involved are bland, by-the-numbers, and all too obviously the artificial constructions of lazy scriptwriters. Ryoko herself is every bubble-headed anime heroine you've ever seen: not too bright, kind of clumsy, but with a heart of gold, and a lot more interesting when she was called Usagi Tsukino (or Yurika Misumaru, or Naru Narusegawa, or Miaka Yuuki). Her best friend is bespectacled and shy, her rivals are arrogant and insulting, her school's principal is mean and conniving, the supernatural being urging her on to her destiny is mysterious and cryptic, and all are about as deep as a puddle on the sidewalk. There's no reason to care about any of them, much less their Important Destiny.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot else to care about here, either. The character designs, despite being done by Nadesico's Kenji Gotoh, are weirdly unattractive. The males are gangly, while the females are chunky, and everyone's faces look misshapen. The voice work isn't all that good, either in the dub or the sub. Not even the presence of the supremely talented Wendee Lee and David Lucas (who played the leads in the fantastic Cowboy Bebop dub) can save this. To be fair, though, they aren't given all that much to work with, and they do make the dub more than watchable.

Still, Real Bout High School isn't ALL bad. The DVD's menu designs are fantastic, with a fighting videogame look and feel (right down to power bars and joystick combos). The extras are also fairly exhaustive, with some original Japanese TV trailers and a few making-of interviews with the cute-as-a-button Japanese voice actresses (apparently, Japanese girls REALLY sound like that). The animation itself, while limited in spots, is tightly choreographed and appropriately kinetic for the all-important fight scenes. The colors are nice and bright (gotta love Ryoko's hair). And while Ryoko herself isn't as cute as she should be, the abbreviated nature of her school uniform means that her panties are on display as often as her martial arts skills.

In the final reckoning, though, there's nothing in Real Bout High School that some other anime doesn't do better. Perhaps the most notable thing about it is that one of the English adaptation's writers was Tony Oliver ( who played Rick Hunter in the original Robotech dub that made anime fans out of so many of my generation), and the laconic little shrine-maiden is voiced by Reba West (who was Minmei in the same Robotech dub). Still, it's not a good sign when sole spark of interest in your anime comes from the nostalgic presence of some classic voice actors. This anime won't insult you, but neither will it leave you satisfied. It tries too hard to be like other anime, and fails miserably.

If I were you, I'd skip Real Bout High School and go pick up one of those other anime.

Kevin Pezzano is anime editor for RevolutionSF.

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