Reviewby Jacob Chapman, Apr 28th 2010
KenIchi the Mightiest Disciple
DVD - Season 2 Part 1
Now that Hermit has declared Kenichi his sworn enemy, the scrawny champion will have to enter a new round of trials to master all the various branches of martial arts and combine them into his own new secret technique. Ragnarok's gang doesn't plan on waiting around for him to get stronger, however, and sends ruthless juggernaut Loki out to kidnap his sister and force him into a showdown. Other combatants like loopy, opera-belting Siegfried and Thor, sumo master, are a force to be reckoned with as well, particularly when Kenichi must fight on their terms despite knowing nothing about sumo. Things are so dire that Kenichi might have to start relying on a demon (of sorts) for help…the obnoxious, foot-kissing alien, Niijima.
Curse his insight, but Theron hit the nail on the head in his review of the series. This is more of the classic Karate Kid, except that there are six Mr. Miyagis that are each ten times as insane as Larusso's mentor in their training regimens. A myriad of quick flashbacks during these episodes show Kenichi combining fighting styles that have almost nothing in common in unique, albeit slightly implausible, ways. (Karate plus Kung Fu? How, pray tell? Karate relies on sharp, focused motion and the soft-form Kung Fu seen here is based on wide, fluid arcs.) Kenichi still manages to make it work, and be entertaining for one key reason.
It's incredibly stupid. I mean that as a high compliment.
It's hard to believe that this premise could take itself seriously, almost based on Loki's costume alone, and it's quite a relief that it doesn't. Granted, the execution of the various styles of martial arts have some solid bases in reality, and a lot of the principles they cover are genuine staples of the various disciplines, but parting the waters of the local pool with the force from one punch or swimming up a waterfall like an eel are…not. One minute they'll be convincingly explaining ways for Kenichi to improve his fighting, the next they'll have created a resistance training machine that gets the whippersnapper to power a massage chair for them as he weeps in protest. This happens so often that the series practically becomes an exercise in schadenfreude. It's just impossible not to laugh when Kenichi protests his training so vehemently you can see a sad face on his uvula, and it's also a very good thing that both Josh Grelle and Tomokazu Seki are genuinely funny punching bags instead of being shrill and annoying, or Kenichi's numerous temper tantrums would be torturous rather than riotous.
The villains are no better, more foppish spectacles than threats, with such evil aspirations as making sumo the most popular sport in the world, (even amongst the girls!) Between sitting around in their basement of evil plotting and snapping at one another to dangling Kenichi's sister from atop a building in triumph, these bigbads are one “Bwa ha” away from finding a more comfortable home fighting the Scoobies or the Wonder Twins in a clifftop mansion somewhere. Is this bad? No, it's just good shameless fun, should that be your sort of thing. The onslaught of martial antics are goofy to the point of self-parody, and the action is constant, even if the budget has trouble keeping up on occasion. (It is unnerving how often Miu's breasts change shapes and sizes. She can be at the very edge of the frame and it's still laughably noticeable.) Despite the dearth of brains in its plot or characters, Kenichi can at least never be accused of being boring or unimaginative.
In fact, the series' low points are always found in its attempts to take itself seriously, as in Hermit's dark, tortured backstory. The writing itself isn't bad, but the level of angst carried by our anti-hero is horribly out of place and by the time he's flashing back to a tearjerking deathbed moment from the past, the schadenfreude has circled back around to the viewers again and it's a lot funnier than it is sad.
Nothing punches up the silly factor quite like the increasing presence of Haruo Niijima, previously a more minor annoyance and now a loud, ubiquitous driving force getting Kenichi into jams with the Ragnarok and, oddly enough, being more of a help than a villain. Unfortunately this means he shows up a lot, and while Kenichi and Miu are abnormally likable leads, Niijima is purposely repulsive and obnoxious. Whether you find his antics funny or disturbing is both up to the viewer and the episode, but he's only getting more screentime as the series progresses. Like most characters in this series, he's probably a lot funnier when he's being beat senseless…or shipped overseas in a barrel.
Production-wise, the series maintains its track record of “barely above average.” Now and again it seems like the visuals are dipping too low to tolerate, but when it really matters, the reverse occurs and the one-on-one duels are sharp, varied and a blast to watch, particularly Kenichi's fight with the singing Siegfied. It may be full of shortcuts, but it's hardly noticeable because the direction is clever and the dialogue is outrageous. The music is just as forgettable as it always was, but the vocal cast is not. The comedy has improved, (as has the drama, despite the fact it's still deficient,) and the entire cast is hammier, wilder, and stronger in the best way possible. Even to the alien ear, the Japanese cast is appropriately bombastic, but the dub holds nothing back either, cartoony but not shrill, and spot-on from gag to gag. Siegfried is again the showstopper vocally for reasons that just have to be heard to be believed. The exception to the aural appeal would be Niijima once again, but this is intentional and expected of the freakish demon/alien/rat-person.
Extras are pretty nonexistent apart from clean opener and closer, customary for these half-season releases.
Contrary to its appearance, Kenichi is not disposable or forgettable in the grand swath of shonen fighting anime if for no other reason than it has no shame. Fans of the first season should definitely pick it up provided they're not allergic to Niijima's unsettling presence, and the usual heaping helpings of ham and cheese. It's those elements of unabashed fun that also make this series worth checking out to newcomers. It's easy to forget that behind all the angst, dark backstories, and extreme violence associated with shonen, there's a genre based on camp, energy, and cartoony, childish fun and Kenichi is a welcome reminder of this to anyone with a hunkering for lovable nonsense.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Light, fun, and hammy to the point of self-parody, imaginative uses of various martial arts
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