Around 1800 years ago in China, the ruling power of the Han dynasty became weakened and the flames of war spread throughout the land.
Liu Bei was a young, poor straw-mat seller from the countryside of Hebai Hsing. After pledging eternal brotherhood with the two heroes, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, Liu began building his idea of a righteous kingdom that would aid citizens who suffered from persecution.
Romance of Three Kingdoms, for those not versed in Asian cultures, is the Illiad of the East, A giant epic set around the fall of the Han dynasty in 189 A.D...
This particular version of Three Kingdoms is not a straight adaptation of the novel, but a version based upon Sangokushi, a manga by the famed mangaka Yokoyama Mitsuteru (Gigantor, Little Witch Sally, Giant Robo) in a whopping 60 volumes of tankoban between 1981 and 1987. Despite this, the story remains the same, much to the series' benefit. Yokoyama's designs are generally good, if somewhat 'old-fashioned' in comparison to character designs of the period. The characters
are more archtypes then fully fleshed out people, but this also occurs in the novel. The only bonefide standouts are Cao Cao and Zhuge Liang, who chew screen time with great aplomb. The series becomes a bit of a slog towards the end just before the 'last battle', which hurts on a certain level. Unfortunatly the story is 'unfinished', with this particular anime series ending around chapter 50 of the novel. Yokoyama never finished his manga version of Three Kingdoms anyway, ending it about three-quarters of the way through the novel. A good series that could have been truely great with better execution, the strength of the source material still stands out nonetheless.
An interesting curio for any anime collection, and should be of particular interest to anime fans of Chinese descent. Also provides a distinct cultural flavor as well.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms has the deserved reputation as being one of, if not the, greatest historical epics of all time due to it's large cast of historical figures, no single side being portrayed as purely good or evil (despite the novel's Shu bias) and having some of the most intelligent military tactics. Sangokushi captures many of these, but not completely.
To start off, the anime covers the events from the end of the Yellow Turban Rebellion up until the Battle of Chibi, at which point the Three Kingdoms finally became close to formation. In this incomplete manner, a more honest title for the series
would be "Prelude of the Three Kingdoms" as it only starts to scratch the surface on the conflict between Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, though what material it adapts of the original novel is fairly well done with it's political machinations and military strategies.
As for it's characters, whilst many are accurate to what historical records and the novel present them as, they and the story suffer from the main flaw of the series, being mediocre presentation. All of the cast only get enough attention to show their core traits, making even some of the more established names fairly one note. The focus it places upon primarily the Shu faction also heavily limits character appeal for the other sides. For instance, the Wu faction becomes absent after the campaign against Dong Zhuo up until their alliance with Shu, leaving a lot of their history and character drama to simply be infodumped. Despite this, I wouldn't say their presentation is bad when considering it's characters at least remain consistent and logical in their goals (something absent from the majority of most series nowadays), but I have simply seen the same characters be presented better in alternate adaptions.
The superficial aspects of art and sound are fine, with the refinement and colourisation of the art allowing it's characters to be more recognisable than the manga which lacks distinctive designs for many of it's support cast. Voice acting is fairly good with some well known seiyuu in it's cast and the music is quite a treat to listen to with it's imitation of classical Chinese music to fit the setting of the series. Animation is fairly minimal, however, with limited movement and quite fairly limited imagery for the battles.
As for comparing it to the manga, it stands inferior in all but art and some character appeal. The manga covers up until the actual end of the Three Kingdoms era, thus making it a far more complete story. The anime does provide additional character appeal through direction of various emotional moments, whereas the manga focuses primarily on telling the history of the tale rather than providing great character introspection. Still, a complete story is a decisive factor for such a tale, which makes reading the manga a far better alternative.
Overall, Sangokushi can at least hold the title of being the best anime adaption of the tale of the Three Kingdoms due to it's historical accuracy and consistency, yet it's bland presentation and incomplete nature make reading the manga a far better option. Better yet, either watch the 2010 live action series Three Kingdoms or read the original Chinese epic all of these are based on.
Yokoyama Mitsuteru Sangokushi 横山光輝 三国志 Romance of the Three Kingdoms Review
Story (10/10) Masterpiece
The story follows the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story rather well as I would consider myself really knowledgeable on the story. If you don't know the story of RToK before watching this you are definitely not going to appreciate is as much as some who is well knowledgeable is. The accuracy and adaptation quality and pacing all for a anime that came out in the earlier 90s, I can't help but praise the efforts of Studio behind adapting Yokoyama Mitsuteru's manga.
Art and Animation (6/10) Fine
More Specifically (6.75/10)
Obviously almost everything back in the 90s that went for over 35+ episode isn't going to look amazing and the art style and animation for the anime is definitely dated and didn't age well. Certain scenes although the art style would drastically increase looking really really nice but majority of of was obviously dated so nothing much can be said when it comes to this, it wasn't ugly just dated and it didn't really bother since I already know what I was getting myself into, I wasn't here for this category.
Sound (7/10) Good
More Specifically (7.5/10) Good
The opening, BGM and JP VA all were good in the anime adaptation it fit the Sangoku era really well and I really don't have any complaints about it. It didn't blow my mind but it fit this type of anime well.
Characters (10/10) Masterpiece
These are based off of ancient Chinese characters of history and their personality where definitely portrayed perfectly as far as we remembered. Liu Bei is virtuous, Zhang Fei is hot headed and rash, Guan Yu is loyal and strong, Cao Cao is ambitious and courageous, Zhuge Liang is a genius and laid back it's all here. I didn't feel anything wrong, inaccurate or out of place.
Enjoyment (8/10) Very Good
As a fan of the Sangoku era I am glad I took the time to sit down and watch this classical anime right here. It definitely refreshed my memory of have great the story of RoTK is and I wish it continued. It went from the Yellow Turbans Rebellion and to the end of the Chi Bi battle. The version obviously focus majority of it's time on the rise of Shu and I don't mind that because when it came to that aspect I didn't felt they missed anything.
Overall (8/10) Very Good
More Specifically (8.45/10) Very Good
The anime really make me want to just watch a bunch of war related anime which I indeed will. Souten Kuoro and Kingdom are next on my list. Sangoku lore will never get old to me so no matter the time the anime came out I didn't matter because I know if they stayed accurate to it I'll love it and I did. I definitely recommend this anime to any Sangoku fans out there everyone else it depends on if you like War anime because other than that I can't recommend it for it. There's a lot of politics and talking behind this one so if you aren't engrossed or knowledgeable about Sangoku history before diving in you most likely will get bored fast.