Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kenka Bancho Otome: Girl Beats Boys
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
Hinako was raised in a group home and always assumed she was an orphan, but then one day she bumps into a stranger on the street with her exact same face! He's Hikaru Onigashima, and he claims to be her long-lost twin brother. Since colliding with her “injured” him, Hikaru has a proposal for her: if Hinako will pretend to be Hikaru and go to Shishiku Academy, he'll go to her school in her place while providing her with a home and the family experience she never had. The one condition? Hinako has to rise to the top of Shishiku's hierarchy…with her fists!
If ever there was a series that deserved slightly longer episodes, it's Kenka Banchō Otome: Girl Beats Boys. Made up of twelve eight-minute shorts, there's just enough here to deliver a nice dose of silliness while only barely hinting at character development and the romantic subplot customary in reverse harem stories, and while that's fine on the surface, it's also a little too bad. Although it really is a comedy, giving the story a little more room to breathe could have made it even more entertaining, so in some ways this really does feel like a slightly missed opportunity.
The basic premise, however, makes it clear that the main goal here is to poke fun at both otome games and the original fighting game that this was spun off from. Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble is a series of brawlers, featuring a delinquent protagonist who is busy fighting his way to the top of his school, followed by a showdown between multiple banchos (leaders in a gang sense). In that game, the player can name the school themselves, so there Shishiku Academy is largely a product of this particular spin-off. The ultimate goal is, however, basically the same: heroine Hinako has to fight her way into prominence. The difference is that she's disguised as her long-lost twin brother Hikaru and all of her allies are very clearly also her potential love interests – smart guy Totomaru, family man (boy) Konparu, childhood friend Kira, pop star Yuta, and older brother Houou. It isn't clear whether or not Hikaru and Hinako are truly blood-related, so this last may not be the potential problem for some viewers that it seems; regardless, the anime series largely eschews the romance aspect to focus on the friendship angle and the general weirdness of the situation Hinako finds herself in. In fact, there's a discernable effort made to keep from depicting any one character's route or favoring one over the others in terms of how close Hinako is to them, which is an interesting decision.
It's also a choice that won't sit well with all reverse harem fans, but luckily the series has enough going for it that it feels like a mild annoyance rather than a make-or-break situation. There are plenty of moments of absurdity throughout that make this a very funny show, ranging from the subtle to the absolutely not. Among the former is the way that each class at Shishiku is named after a flower – none of this “Class 1-2” nonsense for this show; each one is something like “Year 1 Class Hydrangea,” which is what you'd expect of a Class S yuri story, not a testosterone-fueled brawler. There's also a group of three boys who function as pseudo-narrators who are almost always shown talking in the bathroom while engaging in various toilet activities, and the scene where “Hikaru” is suspected of being a girl is accented in the English dub by a very clear voice bawling through crowd scene, “Show us yer junk!”
Other interesting choices in presentation include the almost Parks and Rec style bookending – at various points, primarily at the top and bottom of the episodes, the characters talk to an unseen camera or perhaps person (as several of these incidents take place in a room full of monitors) that ups the absurdity of the overall series. These segments don't have much, if any, connection to what's actually going on in the show, although they do largely summarize events, so their inclusion is a bit baffling. Visually unimportant characters are relegated to gray-scale outlines with some details, mostly in terms of what they're wearing so we can see when they're in a rival school's uniform; not even their mouths move when they're speaking. This doesn't always work well in fight scenes, but since the focus there is on how awesome Hinako and her compatriots are, it does help to emphasize that. More on point in terms of (otome) game visuals is the way that all of the potential love interests are color-coded, so if you can't remember their names, you can at least know them by orange, green, purple, blue, and red. The art isn't great in general, nor is the animation, but it more than gets the job done.
As might be reasonably expected at this point, both the dub and sub tracks are quite good. The dub's Hinako (Apphia Yu) can be a little too quiet at times, making the sound feel uneven, but both casts manage to capture the humor of the show well. The sub feels a little less cheesy than the dub, particularly in terms of attempts to show Hinako's backstory (which is a token effort, but at least still there), but this is a fun watch no matter which language you choose. There are also nods to game lingo, such as proclamations of “Fight!”, that work well in both tracks, particularly in terms of the style of humor the series is going for.
Kenka Bancho Otome's source game is sadly, as of this writing, unlicensed, and the pared-down feel of the story necessitated by the eight-minute episodes really does make that unfortunate. But it's still a very fun, goofy show about a girl kicking serious ass, and if you just need something light to make you laugh, this is an easy story to recommend.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ A lot of silly fun, nice nods to game origins. Strong in both languages.
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