Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple – Collection One (Episodes 1-26) (Cert 15)
4 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 614 minutes approx.
Kenichi Shirahama is your average “unlucky in life” high school boy who has to consult books in order to achieve simple things such as making friends or talking to girls. On his way to school he (literally) collides with transfer student Miu Fūrinji and naturally comes of worst but Miu seems to like Kenichi and sticks by him. Later at karate club, Kenichi upsets a larger and better student, Daimonji, who challenges him to a fight.
After seeing Miu entering a dojo called Ryōzanpaku one night, Kenichi decides to investigate, discovering it is home to an assortment of highly skilled but wildly eccentric masters of various martial arts. It transpires the dojo is run by Miu’s grandfather Hayato Fūrinji, the strongest man in the world, so Kenichi asks for training in order to defeat Daimonji.
This martial arts comedy is the creation of Syun Matsuena, whose manga is still running to this day and despite containing just about every anime cliché under the sun is a huge bundle of fun. Made in 2006 this series from Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS) has been sitting patiently in the shadows awaiting a UK release, and as a result there is a slightly dated feel in the artwork and character designs, along with the 4:3 picture ratio. But these are minor issues that should be forgotten post haste as they do little to hamper any enjoyment this show engenders.
While essentially your bog standard “zero to hero” story, the refreshing change is that Kenichi is not a helpless super wimp that hides behind burly protectors thus infuriating the audience with his ineffectiveness. He is already aware of needing to improve his lot in life hence his constantly being buried in his seemingly endless supply of self help books that cover every subject.
He is already taking karate classes, an indication that self defence and self esteem through his defence against bullies is high on his agenda, but his inability to progress beyond being a human punching bag means progress is slow. Bumping into Miu and her crazy cohorts looks to have been the most fortuitous accident Kenichi could have had.
Aside from grandpa Hayato, Kenichi counts among his tutors the man mountain with the childlike personality Mauy Tai boxer Apachai Hopachai, sexy but dour weapons ace Shigure Kōsaka, 100 Dan karate king Shio Sakaki, slight but dangerous jujitsu specialist Akisame Kōetsuji and pervy Chinese master Kensei Ma. Each one of these formidable fighters is as kooky as a box of frogs, providing much merriment and hilarity with their outrageous behaviour and well meaning but senselessly violent treatment of poor Kenichi. In fact, in one scene Kenichi – who later graduates to become a full time student of the dojo – even remarks that one of Akisame’s training techniques was attempted murder!
With fifty episodes to spare, Kenichi’s development as both a martial artists and a person isn’t rushed, thus he doesn’t inexplicably become a master overnight as we have seen in similar fighting based shows. His growth is gradual and he wins his first fight against Daimonji by a fluke albeit using a technique Miu showed him. However his new tutors have unusual ways to toughen Kenichi up, including publicly declaring him a tough guy, which upsets the local fighting gang known as Ragnarok, home to Kisara Nanjō, one of the fearsome fighters known as the Eight Fists.
This sets up a sub plot which runs throughout the series to set up a feud between Ragnarok, the Fists and the Ryōzanpaku dojo. Some of the new faces remain deadly foes while others become friends to Kenichi, acting as handy measuring sticks for his progress along his personal journey.
Being a largely comic affair, the characters are well defined and developed, while their designs are on occasion quite outrageous, outside of the leads who are standard anime fare – especially Miu whose busty charms are actually serve as a plot device to fuel dissension between her and Kisara, who bestows upon Miu the unflattering sobriquet “Cow Tits”!
One character whose appearance defies convention but fits his slimy personality, is that of Haruo Niijima, the pointy eared, fork tongued, fang toothed troublemaker who, unsurprisingly, everyone believes is an alien. He is a member of the school paper and has information on everybody but his greatest skill is sycophancy which prevents many a beating from the school bullies.
Despite its vintage, this is a jam packed show and the action scenes may exhibit the usual shortcuts and economic animation practices, when needed they do deliver some solid examples of dynamic duelling as the stakes behind the fights gets higher. The story also has its moments of slice-of-life drama, looking into the backgrounds of why so many skilled fighters became delinquents and how clashing with Kenichi and co. helped them turn their lives around.
There is even room for some extra curricular frivolity including Kenichi’s clinging kid sister Honoka and Kenichi’s fellow school gardening club member Izumi who is in love with Kenichi but sees Miu as competition. Even if the humour is largely predictable, there is a genuine energy to the presentation that makes it difficult to indulge in the odd audible giggle or two.
Stopping at the halfway stage, one has to wonder what is in store for us when Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple resumes in the next volume. Judging by this release, the signs are positive for more of the same whacky, well developed action packed, hijinks as presented here. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in sheer exuberance and non-stop entertainment. For a show that looks to be a hackneyed underachiever, it might just surprise you with its witty, madcap charm and fun characters that are quick to catch your imagination. The sleeper hit of the year perhaps?
English Language 5.1 Surround Sound
Japanese Language Stereo
Disc 4 only:
Textless Opening 1 – “Be Strong”
Textless Opening 2 – “Yahhoo”
Textless Closing 1 – “Catch Your Dream”
Textless Closing 2 – “Run Over”
Rating – ****
Man In Black