In the world of anime shonen (a term to describe manga for males roughly 10 and 18) fighting series are considered to be a dime-a-dozen but every once in a while a unique gem gets caught in the web. Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is a rare fighting anime that focuses as much on the styles as the battles themselves.
Kinichi Shirahama is an average 16-year-old high school student who has been picked on his whole life. However, after a month into his freshman year, he meets and befriends the mysterious transfer student, Miu Fūrinji. Driven by his desire to become stronger and to protect those around him, he follows her to Ryōzanpaku, a dojo where those who are truly strong and have mastered their arts gather.
After being given a few pointers from Miu, Kenshi defeats a high ranking member of the school’s karate club, and becomes a target for all the delinquents in the school and the deadly gang Ragnarok.
Now in an effort to protect him and those he cares about Kenichi begins his hellish training under his six new ‘stereotypical’ masters. These include the scared bad boy karate master Shio; the humouredly dumb Muay Thai golem Apachai; The cold mysterious sexy weapons ninja Shigure; the lecherous master of all Chinese martial arts Kensei; The philosophical jujitsu master Akisame and the Superman with no equal monk Elder Hayato.
With a busty female and a cast of hilarious martial arts master The Mightiest Disciple seems identical to many shonen fighting series but where this anime differs is it attention to detail when dealing with the specific forms. The anime deals with numerous martial arts forms from kung fu, to muay thai, sumo wrestling all the way to karate, but each style sticks out in the animation. Unlike other anime the fighting style aren’t replaced with fictional styles (Shaman King), look identical to each other style (Knights of the Zodiac) or are lost behind magical attacks (Dragonball) animation studio TMS Entertainment and director Hajime Kamegaki spend a great deal of time animating each different stance, punch, kick and grapple both differently and accurately to the style. For example when Kenichi uses karate his punches are strong and powerful but when he switches to muay thai his punches become more rapid and are mixed in with elbow strikes.
Author Syun Matsuena has shown his love for the fighting arts and the great deal of studying he has done in his writing. During Kenichi’s tutelage the masters teach their disciple not only the techniques, but the reasoning and history behind most moves, an interesting tale in most cases, but never at the cost of the entertainment.
The story is solid with a couple of twist to keep fans on their toes, but feels like it ends to soon. The anime spans fifty episodes, completing the entire first mega-arc involving the Ragnorok gang but even after the ominous final warnings of greater threats ends before the new threat can come forth. A quirk I did have with the writing is that while Kenichi claims to have extensive training from all five masters, with the sixth master finally teaching near the end, Kenichi spends very little on screen time with the female martial arts master, and what time he does spend under her is never about martial arts, instead focusing on swimming or some other small task. This is leads into one of the major issues of the anime: the lack of on screen fight for anybody but Kenichi. The author does a great job of building up a resounding cast of characters, both good and bad, but the anime leaves very little time for anyone but Kenichi to fight. While this is not a major issue it does presents itself more strongly when the villainous females are introduced. Syun Matsuena has created a small group of female villains within Ragnorok, a feisty kicker, a hidden weapons master, and a small gang of Sailor moon wannabes with sticks and blades, but Kenichi has vowed never to strike a women (outside of the sparring done with Miu). This has led to a couple fights with Kenichi doing nothing but blocking for ten minutes. In the end these women, meant for Miu to fight, have been sped over leaving what could have been an entertaining and exciting battle to shadows of their former selves.
In short defiantly pick up this anime, available on dvd from Funimation, if you are a martial arts enthusiast, enjoy a good on screen fight, or want a decent story with a strong cast of characters.