On the streets of Tokyo, various types of fighters test themselves in street fights to determine who is the strongest of all. A new fighter has appeared who is rumored to be undefeated. Many have yet to even seen this new fighter, the Air Master, who is in reality a high school girl and former gymnast by the name of Maki.
As an eleven-year old, I loved fight-styled anime. Perhaps my love was a consequence of my affinity for fight-centered video games such as Double Dragon or the phenomenal Super Street Fighter II. Or then again it might have simply been the overly simple rowdiness of any typical pre-teen boy. Whatever the reason, it was a time in which shows like Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho, among the first anime I ever viewed (back in the late 80s/early 90s), fit the bill of my personality to a tee. As such, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for these action-laden shows. It is from this place in my heart that I desire to view a new fight-styled title that rekindles the interest and power that the previously mentioned titles held over me. It was with that optimism that I eagerly watched Air Master. Sadly, my hopes were handedly dashed yet again.
My examination of this title's profound lack of virility begins with its plot, presupposing the one could even say, with a straight face, that Air Master has such a thing. To put it plainly, the plot of Air Master is a thin mesh that barely holds together what is primarily a long string of fights. The fights begin interestingly enough, but gradually fall flaccid by series end. After all, one can only be amazed at how Maki "flies" through the air during her fights for but so long. Additionally, the series leaves the viewer with a daunting number of unresolved issues. One example lies with Tokita Shinno, the fighter with whom Maki battles in episode three. After his defeat, Shinno trains with the purpose of not only beating Maki in battle but also winning her heart. He goes to great ends to do so, traveling far and wide to strengthen himself, making himself scarce through the vast majority of the latter half of the series except for the occasional filler to let us know what new task he is undertaking in his training. The series ends without he and Maki ever again laying eyes upon one another, of course begging the question of why the series spent any time on him at all after the third episode. The conclusion makes for the most disappointing segment of the series as not only is there no sense of closure but nothing is revealed that doesn't require twice as many questions asked as were answered. The particulars of this disappointment revolve primarily around the final battle between Maki and a mystery opponent known only as the Eternal. With just a little more backstory regarding the final conflict, which was in some vague way central to this anime, the narrative of Air Master might have been bearable.
Thinner than even the plot of Air Master is its characterization. Most of the players here are not even bearable, mush less memorable. Maki, the show's lead, is bland, stupid, and fails to grow as a character more than minutely. From the beginning she has no clear goals save for fighting successively stronger opponents and consequently getting stronger herself. Only toward the end does she become more endearing as, in the final episode, we finally fill in the pieces that led her to become the "Air Master". And, as dull as she is, Maki is among the show's most noteworthy characters. On the grossly agitating side of things we have Renge, a scratchy voiced, annoying little brat who, instead of bringing comedy, brings torment. And then there is Sakiyama Kaori, a being that deserves her own category of vexation analogous to the 9th level of Hell. For some ungodly reason she is obsessed with getting her ass kicked by Maki. When she is not getting her ass kicked, Sakiyama occupies her time by yelling constantly, mostly about how she is about to kick Maki's ass. It is a vicious cycle of poor characterization. And that is just the women. The men aren't much better, as many of them seem to be sadists of the receptive variety, falling in love with Maki as she beats them to finer a pulp than even the most brutal dominatrix.
Luckily, this title isn't all bad. True to its genre, Air Master finds itself most at home when action is flashing across the screen. The fight scenes are fluid and interesting, often showcasing a wide variety of marital arts styles that, while not at all realistic, are at least devoid of the conventional energy-blasting, super-speed nonsense that tends to be most common in this style of show. The fights can be severely brutal though, involving many broken bones and countless gallons of spilled blood. Even then, fight scenes still stand among the show's scant high points, though even they wane in impact by series end. Beyond the fight scenes though, the animation is mostly just a big can of ugly.
The timbre of Air Master lies somewhere between the extremes of rather juvenile comedy and intense, deadly battle. That might make it sound like it spans a wide demographic but the only people that I can imagine enjoying this puerile brand of funny are the same kids that laughed every time the words "penis" or "vagina" were uttered in their 9th grade sex education class. Yes, the comedy is that lame, focusing mostly on childish homosexual humor and big-breast jiggling to get its laughs. And though the action is fairly good, there are titles that do it better, many with cuter girls and better fan-service to boot.
On some level, the eleven-year-old in me really wants to like Air Master, to laud it with the same respect that earlier fight/action shows garnered from me. But my time spent viewing anime in the last decade and a half has changed my view enough that I cannot shower so mediocre a show with favor. My conclusion: this show narrowly misses being among the worst titles of the fight/action slant, even if only because Tekken was made well before Air Master made it to the drawing board.
Nothing can be done to raise the grade on this show. However, if your tolerance for bad characterization or lame attempts at comedy is weak, drop this rating by one star. This title is very nearly worthless. — Derrick L Tucker
Recommended Audience: While no one has died (well yet at least), the fights tend to be rather brutal. Additionally, there is a pretty wide demographic involved in the fighting that some people might find upsetting. Many of the fighters are women or younger characters, and on a few occasions random innocent citizens are assaulted. Sexual content is fairly minimal, but there is an strong lesbian attraction plot element and the show in general does spend an inordinate amount of time drawing attention to the, ahem, attributes of one Maki's overly endowed friends. Overall, appropriate for teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source.
Review Status: Full (27/27)
Air Master © 2003 Shibata Yokusaru / Hakusensha / Toei Animation / VAP / NTV
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