Shirahama Kenichi is popular with the big shots – as a punching bag. Nicknamed ‘weak legs’ (a pun on his name in Japanese), he’s pretty much bottom of the barrel. And now he is entering high school – which from some perspectives more closely resembles a school of piranhas. Attempts to change his image in the school’s Karate Club are a disastrous failure…and then a new friend tells him a secret. There is a special dojo in town called Ryouzanpaku, and if he is willing to do what they say, he cannot fail to become stronger. The catch? ‘I can’t guarantee you’ll survive it.’ And thus begins a lesson in human nature – and the dividing line between talent and determination. Kenichi’s body may be weak, but he has depths of willpower that few would expect. And the dojo knows just what to do with it. They are history’s strongest masters. And if he lets them, they will make him history’s strongest disciple.
Seki Tomokazu as Shirahama Kenichi
Kawakami Tomoko as Furinji Miu
Ishimaru Hiroya as Apachai Hophachai
Futamata Issei as Ma Kensei
Kosugi Juurouta as Koetsuji Akisame
Noto Mamiko as Kosaka Shigure
Ishizuka Unshou as Sakaki Shio
Arikawa Hiroshi as Furinji Hayato (The Elder)
Yamazaki Takumi as Haruo Niijima
Action, Comedy, Romance.
Fifty. There is a strong possibility of a sequel when the manga is completed.
Ah, the fighting shounen series. Young boys will discover unsuspected extraordinary powers within themselves, be trained by the equally unsuspected neighbor, and go on to vanquish a sequence of opponents with unlikely signature moves more reminiscent of x-men powers. Well…not here. Firstly, Kenichi does not have superb untapped talent. He’s just stubborn. Secondly, he’s never heard of the guys who train him before, and would have run like the dickens if he had: there’s no mistaking these fellas for harmless garden hobbyists. And most of all, there are no ‘powers’ here. The level of strength does begin to stretch the definition of human, but not the type. This, combined with a few other things, such as a buxom lead female whose screen shots focus on the head, and comedic moments that manage not to undermine the characters serious sides, make this series a four, and I am very strongly hoping for that sequel.
Kenichi actually doesn’t fit any cookie cutter type. He’s kind and protective, and he isn’t inherently strong or fast. But he really isn’t anti-macho either. He’s someone who at first is inclined to run away – but suddenly finds that he can’t stand that anymore. He wants to be able to protect, and he wants to respect himself. In short, he wants to change, and Ryouzanpaku gives him a way – the hard way. Though it takes a while, he becomes someone you can really respect, as his training and experience change and mature him. The transformation is suitably satisfying. Miu is similar, in that she isn’t a type – she’s Furinji Miu, both one of the nicest, kindest, friendliest females you could hope to find, and one of the best martial artists you could have misfortune to encounter. As expected of the girl whose grandfather is both the founder and undisputed master of the Ryouzanpaku dojo. Her character as a desirable female is in wonderful good taste, something hard enough to find in and of itself. In lots of little way, using little things, the kind of things most series forget altogether, this anime quickly puts her above your average shonen action love interest, showing her as a kind and loyal friend, someone really worth knowing – and possibly loving. She’s also endearing and occasionally silly. Gotta love that girl, though for me it was more fondness than fawning. Third of the original trio: Nijima, who cannot seem to decide whether he is an alien or a demon but is either way definitely evil, and the world’s worst best friend. Originally one of Kenichi’s bullies, he quickly catches on to the change and attaches himself for the benefits his cunning, manipulative intellect can extract. The masters at the dojo make an interesting group. There are five masters, each with their own chosen field of specialty. There’s Apachai, the Muay Thai master. A simplistic giant who loves children, talks to birds, and doesn’t understand the meaning of the words ‘take it easy on him’. Shigure, the weapons master. A dark haired woman with a tendency to hang from the rafters and speak syllable by syllable, she hangs out quite a bit with Apachai. There’s a certain quaintness to the couple I liked, though ‘quaint’ might seem the wrong word when one can fell trees by kicking them and one could give you a shave and a haircut with a katana. Shio is the karate master. One of those big, gruff guys that seem a lot meaner than they actually are – though he’s good at fooling you sometimes. He actually isn’t interested in training anyone at first, but he can’t seem to resist hanging around while the other masters are teaching him. Hmmm. Ma Kensai, the Chinese martial artist, master of all it’s forms. Also know around the dojo as the master of H-type picture taking – though since all the females in Ryouzanpaku are martial artists, this could also be thought of as a kind of training. His skills are undeniable however, and he is actually one of the more patient and dependable of the masters. Finally, Akisame, the philosophical Judo master. His official teacher and primary instructor, though he also seems to have a suspicious affinity for sculpture and almost everything else culture. Oh, and he’s a doctor. Lucky for Kenichi. For villains, we have the local power gang: Ragnarok, whose strongest fighters are known as the Fists and, with a few exceptions, take their names from the Norse gods, whose mythos contains the origin of Ragnarok. We go through quite a sequence with them, as Kenichi works his way from the local thugs to the Fists and then through them, but suffice to say they are all as individual and interesting as their screen time demands, encompassing an interesting range of individual fighting styles, once again without ever slipping into ‘powers’ or, g-d help us, Abilities.
Plot is mostly guided by Kenichi’s progress. We are introduced to him and given a sense of his life and present status while he meets Miu. He’s introduced to the dojo and begins to train, at first with only one fight in mind…only to discover that the strong seek the strong, and now that he has ‘come out’, he can only continue to do so. His growth from pathetic weakling to formidable disciple is conveniently paced by the progressively stronger, higher ranked Ragnarok members that come after him. All of this is, in essence, typical, but it’s execution is not. I have never seen anime so reliably turn staple anime situations that normally make me wince into something worth seeing. All the usual types of scenes and behaviors are here – but they cannot be compared to other examples. They consistently change their approach just enough to make them enjoyable, or more honest, or just better. Every time I thought I was going to groan, they suddenly pulled some shift and proved me wrong. It was an enjoyable and refreshing experience. It takes a while for the comedy to really become second to the plot, but at least the comedy is funny and, most of all, does not undermine the characters in serious mode. You know how anime often seem to have this thing that if it happened while the animation went blocky then it doesn’t count? Not this one. There are limits, of course, but all in all I felt the comedy managed both to amuse and to be true to character. Kenichi’s growth in strength is also more real than many examples I could think of, by showing what he goes through to get it. To get faster results, you do more brutal training, and after seeing what his masters have him do, his power-ups make perfect sense. And that kind of training takes guts. Sure, he screams a lot at first – and at intervals throughout – but in the end, he never really quits, and he could have if he’d really wanted. Miu was even more refreshing than the plot handling. Somewhere in the making of this some director made an unprecedented and rejuvenating decision. Okay, he said, we’ve made a character with incredibly large ‘attributes’ and a cute face, so now we can just leave it to the audience to notice them by themselves, without tasteless close ups, boing boing scenes, pointed ogling, or panty flashes. Hormones will do it without our help. Thank you, whoever you are, you have made my watching experience. He was right of course; guys don’t need the help and I personally enjoyed her much more for the tactful handling. In fact, it may be the first time I have enjoyed watching an over endowed character. The only time the screen focuses on ‘them’ is through the eyes of girls ‘sizing up’ the competition. Even the training itself, when we are shown lessons, are real. They work; they can be done, if you practiced you could actually learn the lessons they teach him. Through and through, this anime manages to be both extreme and grounded in reality, if you’ll excuse what sounds like patent self-contradiction.
This particular anime, as far as strength of story went, took time to build. At first it was more funny than anything else, though you could see potential coming. I decided to continue watching because something about the delivery of the first few made me think that when they got serious, they’d do a damn good job, and I was right. It takes a while, but the strength of the anime could definitely be said to be a constant uphill slope. By twenty, I was really enjoying it (the serious parts, not the anime as a whole – you’re always entertained). By thirty, I was amazed, and the series had actually managed to pull a tear or two from me. I’m not that hard to make cry – I don’t have this macho thing against it – but I’m no fountain either. It has to be good. The ending is an ideal of the genre. Once again, they took something many anime of its type do and did it best. You see, Kenichi, like many other anime, was based on part of an ongoing manga. Timed right, this works well for the companies. If it doesn’t sell, well that’s always a risk anyway and they only invested in half. If it does though, then they can count on a turnout producing the rest of it eventually. But of course they need to end it right: it must both satisfy and entice. Once again I say, Kenichi pulled this perfectly, giving you closure with a strong taste of what could come, if more were to be made. I walked away satisfied…and remain fully prepared to walk eagerly back if and when they animate the rest. The anime covered about one hundred thirty chapters of the manga; it is now up to the hundred eighties or so. In other words, if they were going to make a sequel, it wouldn’t be yet. So, I hold out hope – but there’s no call to push seeing this part off. It really is perfectly gauged.
Kenichi rates a four for simply being an enjoyable, tasteful, and refreshing watch in a genre often none of the three. Hope you feel the same.
Final Rating: 4/5
This review was brought to you by Z.N. Singer
Info such as cast and airtime are courtesy of ANN’s encyclopedia listing. All else is and always will be the origination of the author
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