This Week in Anime
Is Kengan Ashura Worth Watching?

by Michelle Liu & Andy Pfeiffer,

Kengan Ashura is the latest hyperviolent martial arts tournament extravaganza to hit Netflix. This week, Micchy and Andy find out what sets this beefcake explosion apart from its peers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

Y'know Andy, when Netflix announced Kengan Ashura, my first reaction was, "Wait, didn't y'all just drop another hyperviolent cartoon starring absurdly swole men? What's the difference?" So I was pleased to find out that instead of having a Murder Santa like Baki, Kengan Ashura has Business Mogul Ronald McDonald.
Excuse me, that is Ronald Haraguchi, who's in no way related to any real life burger clown. Just like how Jerry Tyson is not here on behalf of 21st Century Fox.
Please explain to me why the president of Nintendo Nentendo is now literally Captain Olimar.
Anyway, it turns out the key to making Kengan Ashura stand out from that other Netflix cartoon about dudes punching each other to pieces in gruesome ways was to center the conflict on business deals and stupidly huge sums of money, tying one form of power to another.
Basically, if you wanted translated Jojo stand names of famous corporations and only the CGI part of Baki, then Kengan Ashura has you covered. There's a whole lotta setup about how ancient Japanese Merchants created one on one death fights to settle business arrangements that still carry on to this day and whatnot, but it's all an excuse to watch weirdos pummel each other, while finding just enough room to involve this lame dude as the worst Speedwagon ever.
Kazuo sucks so much ass, but I kind of love him though?
I'm sorry, but when I go into a Baki clone, I don't want to be hoodwinked with this dude as the actual main character. True Speedwagons know how to stay in their lane by shouting out descriptions of exactly what you just saw.
Yeah, but consider: Kazuo gets hilariously owned so hard at every turn.
On the tin, you might think this happy fella who does the actual punching is the protagonist, but he's got so few emotions beyond "fight!" that Yamashita is forced to be our audience insert and therefore take the majority
of screentime.
And while I agree watching Yamashita get owned is good, it never makes up for the fact that the very first thing we get in the show is him being so overwhelmed by witnessing Tokita's TRUE MASCULINE DOMINANCE that he's immediately overcome with the need to fuck a sex worker.

That is indeed CG 56-year old man sperm. Thanks Studio LARX.
I mean, he's the ultimate audience stand-in, right? A staggeringly average dude watching from the sidelines who's inspired by the unsullied masculinity of guys punching the crap out of each other without the shadow and smoke of corporate corruption. And what do people go to "manime" for if not the sheer joy of mashing beefy action figures together in a bloody mess of violence?
See, that part is exactly why I don't need a scrawny reminder in between me and the beef dolls! I'm all for the silly corporate overlord gimmick, but please get to the violence without the lame dude, because we're already the lame dude! Though I guess maybe this is another entry in the Birth Rate propaganda Anime because if this 56-year old can fuck after watching one fight, then you nerds better be manly enough to get out of the house and procreate after watching 12 episodes.
Funny that'd you bring that up, because aside from that opening scene, this show has a fascination with male bodies that's sometimes subtly homoerotic.

And often unsubtly homoerotic.
Ah yes, this guy.
Now sure, Kiryu's the villain, so his queerness is supposed to be threatening and deviant. But his advances aren't any weirder than those of the one girl who comes onto Tokita, so I dunno, I just think this show goes hard on the guy-guy sexual tension for something that's supposedly about masculine virility or whatever. I also think it's adorable that Kiryu has a huge Tokita plush that he cuddles with naked. Who cares if he's the villain, Kiryu is too pure.
Kiryu's plush made me laugh so hard. His stalker gayness is so off the charts it becomes pure camp. And on a homoeroticism scale, Kengan Ashura is way more upfront than Baki. I'm sorry for the continual comparison, but this show desperately wants to be MANLIER Baki. However that up-front nature of its homoeroticism is also a double-edged sword. Every moment this obvious aspect of the story is addressed directly, it's turned into a homophobic joke.

Yeah, almost every explicitly queer moment in the show is marred by slurs or indelicate portrayals of cross-dressning characters or things like that, but I think there's something to be said for the sincere fixation on ripped dudes that persists anyway. All that aside, the appeal of Kengan Ashura definitely lies in its hyperviolence, so in that respect?
If you recall back to Baki's Deadliest Convicts, one of the letdowns of the series was that we started strong with Spec and Dorian, but then got downgraded to "pinches really strong" Sikorsky and what are the odds, but sure enough Kengan Ashura decides to start there.
When it comes to raising the stakes over the course of a long-running manga, you gotta start small lest you run out of ways to up the ante later. So yeah, beginning with off-brand Sikorsky seems totally reasonable to me.
I do want to shout out the art style that's used for these fighter backstories and weird existential moments. They're mostly a series of still shots, but it does a lot to break up the overwhelming amount of CG bodies. I honestly didn't realize how much I appreciated Baki only using them for fight scenes until I was forced to look at way too many of them standing around talking.
Y'know, I didn't mind the CG fight scenes too much! There's enough care in the direction to add some impact to every blow, even if the models tend to look like meat puppets more than anything else.
Oh they're put to great effect in motion! The wrestling fight is actually my favorite so far, because it shows off the style so well, playing around with how little impact their potato bodies usually have when you don't put enough weight into the animation.
I just know I was sold when Tokita got suplexed two or three times in a row. That's the delicious thrashing I come to these cartoons for, baby.
I love that Sekibayashi looks and fights exactly like Hugo from Street Fighter, a good reference for anyone who liked another Netflix anime, Hi-Score Girl.
All the different fighters in Kengan Ashura are a lot of fun, from the human missile to the ballet dancer to the world's greatest threat, the Gamer.
The true harnessed power of Gamer Baby Rage is terrifying to behold.
Once respected in the world of war, now he's only known for World of Warcraft.
Development on the Nintendo Switch was a lot more intense than we thought.
Everyone who plays the new Fire Emblem has blood on their hands. Though actual corporate shenanigans involve less physical violence and more human misery, that's more or less an accurate description of how business is done. Meanwhile, those at the bottom rung live blissfully unaware of the bullshit that happens behind the scenes.

Kazuo's slowing becoming King from One-Punch Man. You just know at some point he's gonna be put in an actual fight, and for some reason his opponent will concede out of misattributed fear.
Low-key my favorite part of the show is how everyone mistakes Kazuo for a cunning businessman with balls of steel when he's really such a weenie that his brain already shorted out ages ago. Like, same. I hate your teeth, but same.
Kazuo is such concentrated failure that he thinks his hikikomori son, who he hasn't seen leave his room in forever, is proof of him being a bad father. In actuality, the kid is some weird corporate puppet master controlling a gigantic evil corporation from behind the scenes, literally hiring a clan of assassins that will put his dad into debt hell forever without a care.

Kazuo mentioned that his other son is a run-of-the-mill delinquent who never comes home, so I'm waiting for him to somehow be a super-fighter at this rate. And I live in fear of the future of whatever he conceived back in the first episode.
When not even Tokita wants to be Kazuo's surrogate son, I can't see any of that going well for him. Our protagonist is cursed to forever be a lame loser dad that his kids are embarrassed to be seen with.
Speaking of embarrassing kids:
No wait, I meant this one. Boy, this assassin family tree sure is messy.
The Kure family sure has a bunch of interesting people!
Okita with the correct response. Apparently, the Kure clan is maintained by reproducing with only the strongest of fighters to continue their warrior bloodline, and I'm guessing this is the type of ability that makes Okita such a catch.
I think everyone in this show is just horny for Tokita. Everyone wants a piece of that ass.
I love the assistant girl who's just horny for everyone. Live your best life, you little gremlin.

I suppose that's the other audience for this show. It's part people who want to see hot men in action and part aging men looking for spice in their lives. This guy's the cutest of the bunch in my opinion.
Ryo's good, but you can't tell me the Death Ship captain who loves cosplaying Space Battleship Yamato isn't the most moe.

How about Jerry Tyson, who appoints himself a commentator for no reason at all? Let's be real, they're all good!
Okay, I absolutely love Jerry's idea that Kenpo copying from animals is too weak, so he invents his own Kenpo that copies something stronger than animals. Galaxy Brain your way to the top, and if that fails, steal a mic and become the best announcer instead.

It's a shame he got eliminated from the actual tournament so early, but Kengan Ashura knows what we want. Smart move keeping him around, he's too good to leave behind.
Hey, we needed him in the booth so that when we got to this guy, we had a fellow American to tell us that Adam is a Texan Cowboy Ice Hockey Player.

Hey, considering how bad the Detroit Red Wings have been lately, "Texan hockey player" doesn't sound much worse than "Michigander hockey player". Also I've just learned hockey is only about beating people up.
Clearly your best players have jumped ship to the more lucrative Japanese underground capitalism hell pits.
What has the NHL come to?
If there's one complaint I have so far, it's that despite all these fun characters, it still feels like we've yet to see many real fights. We're 12 episodes in, and most of these fun backstories just end up coming from jobbers who are instantly defeated or have yet to start their match, as the season runs out before the first prelim block even finishes. The cast is aesthetically diverse, but when those distinct characters designs get sidelined after a single blow, you begin to wonder if there's any purpose to having such a large roster.
A more carefully-told story would be more deliberate about introducing new characters when they're going to be most effective. Kengan Ashura is great in the moment-to-moment of individual battles, knowing just when to flip the balance on each fight, but it's not great with those larger structural choices. So yeah, you wind up with a bunch of scattered fights and not much direction towards an overall goal. Tournament arcs do be like that.
It's got a simple philosophy, and it sticks to it.
Pretty much! And I gotta respect its gleeful commitment to masculine extremes. Whatever its flaws, Kengan Ashura is absolutely in love with an image of manliness that forgoes facades of power in favor of unvarnished face-punching, and that's kinda neat. So yeah, own the corporate sleazes of the world with skull-bashings, I'm not gonna complain.

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