#1 A nonsensical edgelord plot
The Martial Hearts tournament is an urban myth. Word is that any woman with strong desires may suddenly find themselves being invited into the competition, where they are forced to fight other competitors in unregulated street fights. Winners are granted anything they wish for, while losers mysteriously vanish without a trace.
Aya Iseshima is a second year high school student, but her life changes when she one day walks in on a battle between Martial Hearts fighters. Aya and her friend rescue the young shrine maiden Miko from certain defeat and learn that her wish, in case she had won, was to finally have friends. Aya and Natsume promise to fulfill this wish, only for Miko to go missing right after; seemingly abducted from her home. Since the police don’t believe them, Aya vows to do everything she can to rescue Miko from whatever fate has befallen her. Her phone then rings and she’s formally invited to join the Martial Hearts tournament in Miko’s place.
While it doesn’t sound too bad when I describe it like that, the story begins to leak all-around once you zoom into the details. It’s a paper-thin plot that nevertheless requires constant info dumps to keep justifying why young women need to viscerally beat each other up, either until one is dead or with the full knowledge that the loser will “disappear into darkness” afterwards. Everything is always as cruel and horrendous as it could possibly be, with themes of prostitution, mind-break, mutilation, pedophilia, the list goes on. Ideas that are difficult to pull off well even in far better anime.
The final episode is particularly insulting. 95% of it is an overlong exposition dump detailing the entire backstory for Aya, giving her a last-minute character arc, explaining the entire mystery, providing the backstory for the villains, recapping previous events, and pulling off a few epic anime betrayals™ while juggling all of that. It’s painfully boring and then rushed to a bullshit conclusion that still leaves entire plot points unresolved, while also having the audacity to fit in a cliffhanger.
#2 Poorly-themed characters
Martial Hearts gets a kick out of completely abusing its characters, which may have worked if we were given any reason whatsoever to think of these characters as people. Instead, every fighter in the roster is a plain-looking young adult in a slutty Halloween costume, all of whom have basically the same “personality”.
The anime sets the bar below ground level almost immediately, as the first star opponent is a sexy stewardess who fights with a travel bag and constantly cracks airport-related jokes. Even more insulting is a later battle with a teacher, whose whole shtick is that she wears arm and shin guards with LED displays. She shouts a question before every attack and the answers appear on the LEDs, betraying what move she’ll make next. Why are we having primary school edutainment mechanics in my ecchi, grimdark fighting anime?
Every competitor feels more or less the same barring their theming, and Aya’s own arc is, again, mostly stuffed into the overcrowded final episode. Even then she is an uninteresting protagonist, flanked on all sides by forgettable friends and sidekicks.
#3 Boring fights
The plot is shit. The characters are boring. Can we at least count on some good fight scenes? Oooooooooooooh I wish.
The battle scenes are horrendously choreographed and lack any kind of excitement, unless you count the erotic kind. The techniques are simplistic and the animation barebones, so instead they make sure to throw in lots of shots where random kicks and punches tear clothing apart. Look at that screenshot above and tell me how you can take this seriously. A woman gets kneed into the stomach and her skirt just evaporates for no reason. Sometimes the hits don’t even connect and still rip away entire chunks of fabric. If even the movement of the wind is enough to strip women in this universe, then how does anybody manage to remain dressed throughout the day???
Even putting aside the actual choreography, the battles lack any kind of meaningful structure. They all play out basically the same: Aya gets her ass handed to her by a strong fighter, but then she gets angry and completely dominates her opponent. There is no back-and-forth between fighters to make these battles feel dynamic, which leaves every action scene lacking in suspense. By episode 3 it already felt like a chore to get through these fights, even though they were meant to be the show’s highlights.