US Distributor: FUNimation
Production Studio: TMS Entertainment
Was this provided by the publisher? No
More Info: Anime News Network

Kenichi Boxart 01 - 20140130Why is it that I’m filled mixed emotions every time I scour Netflix for anime? “Why is your anime collection so limited,” I ask. Seriously, it seems that every tiem I find something that tickles my fancy, it gets yanked! In its place, I find countless mainstream titles I’ve already seen, or random titles I’ve never heard of, never mind considered watching. Rather than play the role of the angry fanboy, though, I decided to focus on the positive, and try something new for a change! And this time around, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple made its umpteenth appearance in my Top 10 Recommendations lists, so I figured it’d be worth a look.

The series revolves around a boy named Kenichi, who is constantly picked on by the school’s bully brigade. He earned the nickname “weak knees Kenichi,” thanks to the fact that he starts to shake like a leaf at the slightest hint of confrontation. His life is forever changed one day, when he learns that his friend and classmate Miu is a martial artist. Kenichi, wanting to learn the secrets of combat, agrees to train with Miu at her dojo. The road to greatness is far from easy, as Kenichi must fight for his dignity with each passing day. It’s difficult, but something that he must do, as Kenichi vowed to never use his skills in the martial arts to exact vengeance. Instead, he will use his skills to protect those he cares about the most.

Kenichi 001 - 20140130Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple follows a formula that should seem familiar to fans who are familiar to shows like Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, or Naruto. The plot moves from one fight to the next, with each saga continually escalating as new challengers seem to appear from nowhere. Unfortunately, the show’s format does grow repetitive, which will inevitably lead to viewers feeling “stuck” while watching Kenichi fight his way through the same set of villains over and over again. To make matters worse, the show is laden with juvenile humor that relies on distracting fan-service. The cheesy sense of humor takes away from what the show does well, and generally serves to ruin the mood. Seriously, there’s something wrong when a female fighter’s clothes are ripped to shreds, only to have her try to cover up instead of finishing the fight. Similarly, it’s groan-worthy to see a male character see the spectacle unfold, only to have the stereotypical “Oh my god, a naked girl!” brand of aneurism.

Kenichi 002 - 20140130Since Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is a fifty-episode series with a simple premise, one could easily be led to believe that the show’s budget was instead used to make a slickly animated show with breath-taking fight scenes! Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Character movements are stiff, and the majority of the show’s fight scenes are little more than still images with speed lines. The entire experience feels cheap and generally boring, as it rips the viewer out of the show. The show’s latter half does improve on the animation somewhat, as the actions scenes tend to actually have motion. The show’s final battle is arguably the best-looking of the bunch, and does a fantastic job of showing the uniqueness of Kenichi’s martial arts style. Still, this is but a bright spot on a generally unimpressive overall presentation.

The show’s saving grace rests in the cast. Specifically, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple’s voice actors prop up what would be a generally lame experience. The cast for the show is great, with an experienced batch of actors giving their all in what is possibly FUNimation’s best dubs. Josh Grelle’s portrayal of Kenichi is perfect: he’s annoying when he needs to be, and bad-ass when the situation calls for it. Likewise, the acting for the martial arts teachers is simply fantastic. Each actor captures the uniqueness of the teacher he plays, while avoiding the “same teacher, different voice” vibe that seems to plague shows of this type. This becomes especially apparent when the teachers bicker over which technique Kenichi should learn next. These scenes are fun to watch, and show that no one fighting style is really preferred over the others. When the jokes begin flying, the acting simply shines, with spot-on delivery and timing. The actors never feel like they’re exaggerating, but instead make their roles feel just right.

Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is a series that knows what it is, and what it’s supposed to accomplish. Unfortunately, it’s not able to reach its potential due to a combination of lackluster animation, and a gross over-reliance on fan-service humor. If there were any bright spots, they would have to be the acting, which is simply sublime, and the fights, which do have their brighter moments. It’s by no means a must-watch, but there are worse ways to spend a weekend.