Review for Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple Part 1
You might be feeling a twinge of déjà vu at this point. Don’t be concerned, that is to be expected when suddenly coming face to face with a title that ought to have been released here back in 2011. Manga Entertainment spent a fair amount of time early that year bigging up Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, setting a release date and tantalising fans with the wonders contained within, only for the series to unceremoniously vanish off the release schedules without another mention. We never did find out what happened back then, but whatever issues there were have apparently been resolved, as now, two years later, I have four discs of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple to review. Manga were almost too good at their marketing back then, as subsequently my finger hovered over the import button for this show on more than one occasion. Now that the discs are finally here, will the actual show live up to the legend my subconscious has created for it?
Kenichi Shirahama wants to be stronger. He’s a high school student who is at the bottom of the pecking order in school; the most bullied and most picked on boy there. His heart’s in the right place, and he has all the self-help books you can think of to help him stand up to his foes. Of course he doesn’t realise that turning pages is no aid to building muscle, and no shortcut to growing a spine. But the books do inadvertently set him on the right path, when absorbed in a tome he bumps into transfer student Miu Furinji, and winds up flat on his back for his trouble. Miu is strong, seriously strong, and well able to take care of herself. She’s also kind-hearted and takes pity on Kenichi, and quickly befriends him. She also invites him over to her place. Her place just happens to be the unconventional Ryozanpaku dojo, where a group of the toughest and most skilled martial artists train with Miu’s grandfather, and under whose tutelage she’s become adept as well. Now Kenichi can get the training he needs to stand up to the bullies, but this training turns out to be worse than any punishment any bully has handed out to him, and he doesn’t realise that once he’s able to stand up for himself, he’ll have started down a path from which there is no return.
26 episodes of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple Season 1 are presented across four discs by Manga Entertainment. Long episode titles, an excess of exclamation marks? It must be a shonen anime...
1. Ryozanpaku: Where the Powerful Gather!
2. The Beginning of the Fight!
3. Strength and Courage! For the Sake of Justice!
4. Fight to Survive! It’s Whether You Do It or You Don’t!
5. A Date!? You’d Better Score!
6. A Day at Ryozanpaku! The Rooftop Dream!
7. Hot Battle at the Gardening Club! A Return Match!
8. Amazing Bodies! The Mysterious Master!
9. Apapapa! Apachai’s Training!
10. Go, Kenichi! A Boxer’s Weakness!
11. The Fists of Betrayal! Takeda’s Sorrowful Past!
12. A New Enemy! Shinnosuke Tsuji!
13. The Way of the Fight! The Rules of the Real Fight!
14. Dedicated Training! And a Nearby Hot Spring Bath!
15. Honoka Infiltrates Ryozanpaku!
16. Ryozanpaku Faces the Greatest Crisis?!
17. Protect the Name! Attack of the Dojo Challengers!
18. Paradise? To the Mysterious Furinji Island!
19. The Strongest of the Ragnarok! Here Come the Eight Greatest Fists!
20. Takeda’s Crisis! The Law of Retribution!
21. Unforgiveable! Kenichi’s Fists of Fury!
22. Gather, Young Men! The New Shinpaku Alliance!
23. Assault! The Next Door Ryozanpaku!
24. The Captured Heart! Miu’s Juliet!
25. Stand Strong Kenichi! Miu’s Kiss!
26. The Stripped Mask! Hermit’s True Identity!
Kenichi The Mightiest Disciple gets a 4:3 regular transfer, which filtered through Australia’s Madman Entertainment hits UK shores in native PAL form. That might just be one benefit of the delay, as if we had got it two years ago as originally intended, it might well have been an NTSC-PAL standards conversion. Instead what we have here is bright, colourful, sharp and clear, with smooth animation free of judder and ghosting. Kenichi is a somewhat simplistic anime, with bright, colourful and simple character and world designs, and animation more limited compared to what we are now used to. It almost feels like a show from the late 1990s instead of the 2006 vintage that it is. Having said that, the action scenes come across with impact, and the intent of the story is always conveyed. Despite the episode per disc count, Kenichi also comes through with little in the way of compression artefacts, and it’s all a very pleasant watch.
Episode 19 does have a rather unpleasant judder to its pans and scrolls, but this is a problem isolated to that episode (and the recap of 19 at the start of 20).
You get the choice of DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track, as is the norm for a Funimation sourced title. It’s a fairly standard comedy action show, and that is evident in the run of the mill, if enthusiastic voice actor performances, both in the English and the Japanese versions, the latter of which I stuck with through the episodes. The music suits the story well, and the action comes across adequately enough given the quality of the show. I gave the English dub a quick try and found it to be quite watchable, with the voice cast suited to their roles. The subtitles are accurately timed, but do have more than their fair share of typos in. It isn’t detrimental to the show though. A bigger bugbear I had with this series was the placement of the layer changes on each disc, always in the middle of a scene, never between episodes.
All four discs get static menus and also jacket pictures for compatible players. The only extras are on disc 4, the two textless opening sequences, and two of the three textless closings.
I’m trying to collect my thoughts and organise an opinion or two about Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, but I keep coming up blank. This isn’t actually a bad thing, as what Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is about, what it delivers in excess, is pure and simple fun. It’s the sort of animated silliness that you want in your player when you need to unwind, when you need to watch something that doesn’t tax the intellect but feeds the funnybone. It’s utterly disposable nonsense, and having watched a good ten hours of it over the last week for this review, I find that much of it has already vacated my brain, not really staying long enough to register. What I do remember is that I enjoyed watching the episodes, which for a show like Kenichi is the most important thing.
It’s a shonen parody, a mickey-take of all those long running shows that have initially (and comparatively) wimpy characters, that become heroes and progressively stronger through powering up, a procession of one-on-one battles, and succeeding through superior willpower. It’s your Naruto, Bleach, One Piece and Dragonball all gently ridiculed, and it’s wholly entertaining as a result. Kenichi is the hapless teen male, the wimpy punch-bag and constant target of every bully in school. The difference between him and the average wimp is that he aspires to strength, and becoming a champion of justice. His problem is that he’s trying to do this through self-help books. While the average tome might have some weight to it, it’s never going to be enough to build any muscle.
All of that changes when he tries to come to the aid of busty student Miu Furinji, who’s being accosted by some thugs. While he falls flat on his face, she can take perfect care of herself, and unleashes some martial arts that make her attackers think twice. But, Kenichi’s chivalry doesn’t go unnoticed, and they become friends. Of course with a figure like Miu’s, Kenichi would like it to be more than just friendship, but the real benefit comes in Miu’s connections, in this case her grandfather. He runs the Ryozanpaku dojo, and Miu suggest that Kenichi learns how to protect himself there.
Ryozanpaku is no ordinary dojo though. The first thing that it reminded me of was Kung Fu Hustle, the Stephen Chow movie where a bunch of kung-fu masters had retired to a nondescript slum where they were living in anonymity. Ryozanpaku’s faculty of martial arts teachers are actually the meanest, toughest streetfighters around, and the kind of intimidating training that they are willing to impart to Kenichi is worse than any of the bullying he’s had to endure at school. As well as Miu’s grandfather, a kindly pillar of steel, Kenichi winds up learning karate from Sakaki, who looks as if he’s escaped from Fist of the North Star, likes to drink and refuses to take a disciple, and the enigmatic Koetsuji, an artisan who thinks that muscles are best built by swinging around stone statues. Kung-fu is taught by the perverted Kensei Ma, who spends more time trying to get up-skirt shots of the females in the dojo, than actual teaching. Muay Thai is taught by the likeable Apachai, but sparring against him means taking one’s life in one’s own hands. The shy and retiring Shigure is a master of weaponry and ninjutsu, and if that isn’t enough, Miu offers to train Kenichi as well.
While Kenichi doesn’t have much in the way of natural talent, he makes up for that with perseverance and a strong set of principles. But his problems begin once he starts using his newly acquired self defence skills. He catches the attention of the big delinquent gang in the area, Ragnarok, which is made all the worse when Ragnarok mistake some of Miu’s handiwork for his. A couple of lucky hits get him on their radar, and soon he’s the target of Ragnarok’s delinquents, who for some reason want to recruit him, after testing his abilities of course. It sets up a vicious cycle. The more he feels threatened, the more he needs to learn, the more he learns, the more Ragnarok become interested in him. It isn’t helped by his arch-bugbear in school, the snivelling, scheming Haruo Niijima, who keeps tabs on everyone’s strengths, and once he sees the coward Kenichi stand up for himself, decides to use him to advance his own agenda. Soon Niijima is spreading rumours about Kenichi that only enhance his reputation as a delinquent in his own right.
But Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple isn’t all about the delinquent battles, far from it. The show is more weighted towards the comic aspect of things, whether it is Kenichi’s tortuous training, his overprotective father always on the verge of pulling out a shotgun and marching down to the dojo, before being battered into submission by his mother, as well as his own kid sister’s fears for her older brother. Miu makes a splash in the rhythmic gymnastics club, much to the consternation of the club captain. Kenichi tries to find some solace in the Gardening Club, and picks up an admirer of his own in Izumi. Naturally there’s a hot springs episode, a beach episode, with plenty of opportunities for Kenichi to try and impress Miu, only for her to carry on oblivious to his attention. It’s a nice balance of comedy and action that always remains interesting and watchable.
Well, for my protestations of Kenichi not really registering, it seems the Mightiest Disciple has made more of an impact than I thought. I still feel that it is disposable nonsense, but it is the best kind of disposable nonsense, that which is entertaining and fun, and that which doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s popcorn anime, and perfect when you don’t really want to exercise that grey matter. Even better, this is just the first half of it, and Manga Entertainment should be releasing Season 2 in due course.