#1 Incomplete story
Beyond the Heavens is a 2009 anime adaptation of a manga that ran for over 11 years, which itself adapted the legendary story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th-century literary masterpiece about a war between three great factions over who would, ultimately, become ruler of China.
Despite having a full 26 episodes to work with, Beyond the Heavens is paced very sluggishly and gets so bogged down with every minor storyline that, by the end of the anime, it hasn’t even really started the war of the three kingdoms yet. In fact, one of the three kingdoms is barely in the anime at all. The Sun family makes a few brief appearances before vanishing and leaving the rest of the show to just Cao Cao and Liu Bei. As a result, the anime never gets around to some of the most amazing moments of the story, such as The Battle of the Red Cliffs.
The anime does start off well, chronicling Cao Cao’s early years and rise to power during the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Dong Zhuo’s reign of terror, but then slips into a tediously prolonged interwar period that lasts way too long. Without spoiling, the anime then ends kind of in the middle of one storyline and throws up some text on a black screen to summarize the rest of the entire novel. That’s a sign of quality right there.
#2 Annoying interpretations of the characters
The various great warlords of Romance of the Three Kingdoms make for amazing characters. These are heroes of their times, driven by fantastic ambitions and a firm belief in their ideals, which arguably somewhat aligns with the real-world people they are meant to represent.
Beyond the Heavens shoots for the same lofty goal as Hyouge Mono and tries to make all of these historical characters sympathetic and likable. We get to see Cao Cao grow up and it tries to nuance a lot of the villains of the story, only to end up with a bland cast that lacks believability and edge. Cao Cao is this boring anti-hero that is always 20 steps ahead of everybody else, Liu Bei is a cowardly hippy that doesn’t achieve anything and constantly depends on his brothers, Yuan Shao is such a generic antagonist I forget he’s there most of the time, and the Sun brothers literally aren’t there at all.
To top it all off, every side-character is constantly drooling all over these main heroes, which is especially tedious when it involves Liu Bei. I know the historical context for why he is so celebrated, but going by the anime, he is just some weird hobo without an army, domain, or goal to call his own, and who shamelessly runs away from every challenge, abandoning his friends and family without a second thought. You’re looking at the Jar Jar Binks of Chinese antiquity, but everybody around him insists he’s a dragon who will change the nation forever.
#3 Just play Dynasty Warriors
While the manga for Beyond the Heavens far preceded the rise of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, it’s clear that the anime took some serious inspiration from Omega Force’s hack & slash video game series.
It’s a flashy take on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it reinterprets statesmen and generals as unrivaled warriors with superpowers, and it has large-scale battles set to the tune of hilariously cheesy music. However, those large battles and even small skirmishes are rendered, largely, in ugly CGI and aren’t as lively and dynamic as those found in the Warriors games.
Beyond the Heavens also lacks actual battles between relevant characters. Most of the time, the actual heroes end up fighting peasant folk or the likes of Cao Cao is locked in combat with some C-tier, no-name enemy general given 2 lines of dialogue. Only Lu Bu gets a brief showdown with Guan Yu, followed sometime later with his revolt against Dong Zhuo, which is the only proper battle between major characters,