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DVD Review

DVD cover

Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
Collection Two (Episodes 27-50)


Starring (voice): Tomokazu Seki and Tomoko Kawakami
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
RRP: £34.99
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 05 August 2013

Kenichi's a lot tougher than he used to be - living in a dojo with six martial arts masters will do that to you. But thanks to his reputation as a skilled fighter, the guy's got more problems than ever. The goons in Ragnarok are gunning for him in a big way, especially the gang's leaders: the Eight Fists, a dangerously unpredictable crew known to play dirty. Luckily, Kenichi's got allies like Miu by his side. She's as tough as she is hot, and even if he still hasn't scored with the blonde brawler, her very presence makes Kenichi train harder to be the best. Yeah, he's come a long way - but Kenichi's fight to be the mightiest disciple isn't over yet...

Without pausing for breath, the second half of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple resumes in the middle of hard-working underdog martial artist Kenichi's conflict with his latest opponent, the duplicitous pretty-boy Natsu 'Hermit' Tanimoto, whose rather melodramatic past is laid bare later on as a not-unpredictable prelude to his switch from enemy to ally. It's not the first time we've seen such a plot twist in Kenichi and it won't be the last, but before that there's the matter of Hermit's unexpected connection to one of Kenichi's martial arts masters, the ever-perverted Chinese veteran Kensei Ma, who turns out to have some well-hidden secrets. Not least of them is a cute and feisty daughter who shows up to force her errant papa to deal with family affairs, stopping long enough to form a crush on Kenichi and a romantic rivalry with Miu; showcasing once again the less than spectacular character development for women in this determinedly male-oriented series.

As rival fighting syndicate Ragnarok move into focus – presumably grateful to finally be in the spotlight, since their initial appearances are mostly limited to standing around in darkened rooms muttering cryptic dialogue, the duty of all shounen anime bad guys whose turn is yet to come – Kenichi finds himself the unwilling figurehead of the opposition. In a witty aversion of the usual bull-headed male anime protagonist, diffident Kenichi is neither a natural leader nor burning with heroic fury to smite his foes: it's the underhanded work of his self-styled best friend Niijima in building the 'Shinpaku Federation' martial-arts group around him that forces him into a leadership role, while the kidnapping of Kenichi's sister by Ragnarok provides him with his first real taste of righteous ire.

As his masters note, Kenichi's choices as a fighter mould his character for better or worse, and a later sojourn in the wilderness, where he encounters a former student who succumbed to bloodlust, allows him to contemplate the direction he might take in life. Handily, it also clears some space in the increasingly crowded plot for other characters to receive some development, including, surprisingly, the lone female Ragnarok member seen to date, tomboyish taekwondo specialist Kisara 'Valkyrie' Nanjō. Not only does she form a strong friendship with Miu – one not centred on Kenichi, for a change – her conflict with her mentor Freya is solidly portrayed and all in all goes some way to countering the high levels of male chauvinism on display elsewhere. It would be great to leave it at that, but the animators seem determined to pour their best efforts into some highly exploitative shots during Valkyrie and Freya's fights with their female opponents, at once pointing up the relatively mundane animation in the rest of the show and detracting from the decent script. It's a commonplace in anime for well-written female characters to be undermined by voyeuristic depictions, but it's a shame to see it nonetheless.

With the series finale on the horizon, Kenichi returns from the wilderness to a bizarre state of affairs as one by one his friends have succeeded in winning almost all of Ragnarok's lower-tier fighters over to their side: hardly an uncommon pattern in fighting series, but it's usually the hero's charisma that does the trick rather than, as here, the scheming of his best friend. Unfortunately this leaves the most dangerous foes unconverted and itching for an apocalyptic confrontation: it's not giving much away to say that the final opponent has a very personal connection with Kenichi or that our hero will have to use everything he's learned throughout the series to win through.

Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is a show that's predictable to an almost comforting degree, yet has enough surprises and reversals to repay the audience's attention, and a certain winning charm despite its unpolished production. As fighting series go, compared with its intricately-plotted peers it's uncomplicated fun.


Richard Hunt

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