Master of Martial Hearts is the epitome of fan service. In anime, the term "fan service" means gratuitous sexual content that doesn't fit in with the storyline. I have to define the term because it will appear a lot in this review. This DVD release includes the entire five episode OVA release on one disc.
If frontal nudity in cartoons offends you in any way, then you will hate this series. Personally, I have no issues with fan service as long as there is more to the actual show than just generous bouncing and sneak peeks. Unfortunately, Master of Martial Hearts is not good, even by fan service standards.
The two main characters, Aya and Natsume, are walking along one day, minding their own business, when they happen upon a battle between an airline stewardess and a priestess. Aya learns that they are fighting as part of a tournament for the Martial Heart--a prize that will grant the winner her greatest desire. The priestess, who is called Miko, only wants a friend. Aya, who just so happens to have superior fighting skills, interferes in the fight and easily disposes of the evil airline stewardess.
Miko, who now counts Aya and Natsume as first true friends, seemingly has her greatest wish granted. Later that night, however, she mysteriously vanishes. It is said that the losers of a battle for the Martial Heart are sent to a dark realm. Is this what happened to poor Miko? Aya makes it her mission to find out and she enters herself in the tournament with the desire to bring Miko back from the dark realm. The remainder of the series focuses on Aya's progress through the tournament as she faces off against a variety of female opponents. The fights are supposed to be conducted in secret. Aya finds out about each fight only a few hours beforehand when she is given a location and time to show up via text message.
The fights in Master of Martial Hearts basically serve as an excuse to get the female characters out of their clothes. Every fight involves the girls losing their clothes, offering a brief glimpse of full-frontal, cartoon nudity. In a typical fight, the random enemy girl gets an early edge over Aya. Some of Aya's clothing gets shredded with each strike. Aya then figures out the random enemy girl's weakness and lands a haymaker on her chin. Somehow the force of that blow causes the random enemy girl's top to completely disintegrate, exposing her bare chest. Then Aya kicks the random enemy girl in the stomach. This causes the back of the random enemy girl's skirt to shred to pieces, revealing her panties. At the end of the fight, the camera slowly pans across the bloodied, beaten, half-naked random enemy girl who was knocked out, as if this image is somehow supposed to be a sexy.
The enemy fighters in Master of Martial Hearts are awful. They all rely on some gimmick, which is most often their day job. There's a nurse, a cop, a teacher, a pop idol, a mechanic, and an airline stewardess. Not only do they dress the part, but their professions completely encompass their personalities and are worked into their fighting styles. The mechanic attacks with wrenches. The teacher uses chemistry to somehow foreshadow her combos. It's absurd. If you watched professional wrestling in the late 80's and early 90's, when wrestlers had gimmicks such as an IRS agent or a garbage man, then you know what to expect here. The enemies are lame. All of them.
The plot of Master of Martial Hearts was lacking, but at least serviceable through most of the series. However, the poorly executed ending killed even that serviceable plot. What could have been a wild and twisted conclusion came off as an unlikely, convoluted blame-game. The main villains in the series reveal themselves in the final episode. They let Aya in on every detail of their intricate scheme in a drawn-out, half-episode long information dump before they finally make a move to kill her. It smacks of a Scooby-Doo ending or even worse, Austin Powers. Only this series is not really a parody. Or maybe it is and the joke's on me.
Audio: The audio tracks include an English 5.1 mix and a Japanese 2.0 stereo track. I listened to the English dub for the entire series. The surrounds are not used often, but the sound quality was good and sufficiently loud. The English cast does a good job with the script and none of the characters sound annoying.
Video: The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The video quality is average for a modern anime OVA release. The colors are nice and bright, but there is line noise present throughout the series and the image is not as crisp as it should be. The art sometimes features a bizarre blurring effect, which is supposed to be the sun shining through a window. The camera pans look cheap and distract from the show.
For a fan service anime, you would think more effort would be put into designing the characters' bodies. From the neck down, every female character looks exactly the same. If the main purpose of a series is to get the female characters in as little clothing as possible, then maybe a little variety is in order.
Extras: There is a video commentary with Japanese voice actors, Kaori Nazuka, Ai Nonako, and Satome Akesaka for the first episode. I welcome any extras that are included with anime releases, which typically feature only a few trailers and perhaps some textless credits. The video commentary hardly focuses on the on-screen action. Instead the three voice actors discuss things such as fast food, fights they had as kids, and which enemy's profession they would like to try. The conversation is fun and interesting through most of the commentary.
Also included are a few FUNimation trailers.
Final Thoughts: I love breasts as much as any other guy and take no offense to seeing them in anime. The main draw of Master of Martial Hearts is the topless fighting women. However, this series does everything wrong. The storyline follows a standard fighting video game plot until the silly, convoluted ending. The action is subpar, the enemies' gimmicks are dumb, and the way the girls' clothes fall apart upon impact is absurd. There is nothing redeeming about Master of Martial Hearts. It's pure fan service and even the fan service is bad. Skip It.