Let's say you want to make an anime series. You decide to base it off of a manga which is itself based on a collection of ancient stories set in the most action-packed and exciting period of Chinese history. Sounds like it would be a sure winner, right? Sounds like there couldn't be any possible way of screwing this premise up...
And yet, somehow, the makers of this series found a way...
Looking at the artwork, it seems very difficult to believe that it was animated in 1991. (About the same time that Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water was animated.) This is mostly because the animators decided to use the 1970's-era character designs from Yokoyama Mitsuteru's manga without updating them. It's also because the animators decided to rely heavily on Stock Footage and cheap shortcuts. (One web-reviewer has noted the ease in which the battling characters sliced each other in half —and that this was probably made easy by the fact that most of 2nd-century China seemed to be populated by cardboard cutouts).
Now as far as the plot itself is concerned, it runs thus: The Han Dynasty is corrupt and crumbling into chaos. Evil cultist Zhang Jiao and his Yellow Turban armies are sweeping across the countryside burning, pillaging, and generally doing whatever it is that evil cultists do. Stepping up to the plate on the side of good are Liu Bei Xuande (the virtuous fresh-faced Kid Hero) and his sworn brothers, Guan Yu Yunchang (The Stoic Big Guy), and Zhang Fei Yide (the Boisterous Bruiser). Liu Bei tries to put together a volunteer army to bring peace to all of China, but unfortunately for him, there are are other factions in the neighborhood vying for power. These include the ambitious Sun family, and the sinister "survival by any means necessary" Warlord Cao Cao. Now if all this kind of sounds familiar to you, then you've probably played one of the many video games inspired by this story, namely the Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy games or the Dynasty Warriors Hack and Slash battle games. (Notably, although the anime ends far earlier than both the novel and what the games cover, within that timeframe it actually hews to the novel itself a lot more than Dynasty Warriors does.) Or perhaps you've even read -GASP!— the original source novels this anime was based on or a shorter summary of the story.
If you're an Asian history buff or a Dynasty Warriors fan, you may get a kick out of watching this anime. You may find the cheap animation and the cartoony look of the characters detracts a lot from the seriousness of the story. (Or you may find it charmingly quaint and campy.) It's never been released in the West, but you should be able to find a Fan Sub of the series if you look a while.
To be fair, this is only the anime adaption, which ends a lot earlier than the manga that this was based on, which was both extremely famous and well-done. Also, it actually doesn't flanderize the characters much moreso than the source material, which it pretty faithfully follows. (For example, in taking a long detour away from the three brothers to concentrate on Cao Cao vs. Yuan Shao for a while.)
Provides examples of:
- Battle Aura
- Blood Brothers: Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Zhang Fei.
- Diagonal Cut: Although these tends to not be so gory since most of the soldier extras, as stated before, look like cardboard cutouts.
- Doing In the Wizard: Some of Zhuge Liang's moments of "omniscience," plus the "summoning" of the southeastern wind, from the novel are shown to instead be due to him and his sister secretly observing affairs.
- Gentle Giant: Guan Yu. He's the most even-tempered and diplomatic of the Three Sworn Brothers.
- Heel–Face Turn and Face–Heel Turn: These occur often as power shifts, causing most of the characters to switch loyalties at some point or other.
- Cao Cao toys with this trope by ending up somewhere in the middle, giving his advisor Cheng Yu hell when his scheme to force Xu Shu to leave Liu Bei succeeds but causes Xu Shu's mother to hang herself out of shame. On the one hand he may have called it despicable to have used a forged letter, on the other hand he probably realized that Xu Shu would refuse to advise him (thus negating the point somewhat), and at least Liu Bei's deprived too. too bad Xu Shu first told Liu Bei who "Sleeping Dragon" was...
- Kid Hero: Liu Bei, at the beginning.
- Power Trio: Liu Bei - Ego, Guan Yu - Superego, and Zhang Fei - Id.
- The Big Guy: Guan Yu.
- The Stoic: Guan Yu.
- The Strategist: Zhuge Liang a.k.a Kong Ming.