“Apapapa!” (Apachai Hopachai)
‘Weak knees’ Kenichi Shirayama is a good-natured, book-loving student with a big problem: everyone keeps picking on him. But his luck changes with the arrival of a new student at his high school: bespectacled blonde Miu Furinji. It just so happens that she lives at Ryozanpaku Dojo with her ‘family’ of six unusual martial arts masters. Kenichi finds himself the dojo’s newest (and only) student, determined to give his training all he’s got – and more. And he’s going to need that training because with there are plenty of punks at his school just itching to teach him a lesson.
The six masters are Miu’s grandfather Hayato Furinji; drunken karate expert Shio Sakaki; mysterious samurai and weapons mistress Shigure Kosaka; Chinese kung fu expert (and pervert) Kensei Ma; gentle giant and Muay Thai exponent Apachai Hopachai (who has no idea of his own immense strength) and wise guru Akisame Koetsuji (who is skilled at everything from sculpting to bone-setting.) At first it looks as if Kenichi will not survive their rigorous – and highly unorthodox – training methods. No way. But Kenichi is made of sterner stuff and his desire to improve (and impress Miu) is not to be underestimated, no matter how much of a wimp he may appear to be. It’s not going to be easy, though; caught between the killer training regime and the lurking bullies waiting for a chance to beat him up (not to mention his disapproving father), he also has to deal with the unwanted attentions of his ‘schoolfriend from hell’ Niijima. With his Vulcan ears and scheming expression, Niijima is always skulking in the shadows to capture the latest scandal in and around school for the school newspaper and Kenichi is his favourite subject matter. Time and again, poor Kenichi falls victim to Niijima’s meddling – and ends up being the latest news. Ragnarok is the name of the gang that gives him the most trouble; when their most skilled and vicious fighter, Kisara, becomes a member of the legendary Eight Fists, then things really start to hot up.
Over the course of the first twenty-six episodes (with another twenty-four to come) we get to see Kenichi grow in skills and stature as he faces off against increasingly tougher opponents. He’s the type of guy who when knocked down (and he’s frequently knocked down!) just gets up again. Above all, he’s that likeable type of shounen hero who has to learn the hard way how to overcome the troubles he encounters. He loves working in the gardening club (ah, bless…) He won’t fight a girl. He wants to learn to fight to protect himself – and, above all, those he cares about. He also wants to get closer to Miu (no slouch herself when it comes to the martial arts.) By the end of this first collection, he’s encountered his toughest opponent so far – and whereas his essential good nature has won the friendship and respect of some of his former adversaries, it looks as if this time he may have met his nemesis.
Based on the ongoing manga series (51 volumes and counting) by Shun Matsuena (available in French, but not in English so far) Kenichi is a well-paced action show, blessed with a cast of likeable characters and a generous seasoning of humour. Here I have to applaud the US writers who have produced a genuinely funny script – and the US cast who are a delight to listen to, especially Josh Grelle as Kenichi, Todd Haberkorn as the evil genius Niijima, Sonny Strait as giant Apachai, and Trina Nishimura as Shigure. This is one of those occasions when the US dub is way more fun than the original (apologies to purists.)
Quibbles? Well, the show does look a little dated; partly because of the character designs which are, after all, based on a manga that began in 2002, and partly because the animation budget probably wasn’t that big, so some fight scenes are not as action-packed as we’ve come to expect of late. There’s fan service all round from the impressively ripped muscles of Shio Sakaki to Miu’s impossibly pneumatic bust, but it’s not offensively done. The only extras are the textless opening and ending songs, so it’s fairly extra-light but with twenty-six episodes to enjoy (and little repetition) that’s not a problem.
Composer Joe Rinoie cleverly makes use of the theme of the Opening song, the gutsy “Be Strong” by Kana Yazumi, in the soundtrack, but often changes the character to a more reflective piano version; there’s no doubt that this likeable, upbeat number represents Kenichi’s fighting spirit. The two Ending songs are: “Kimi ga Iru kara” by Issei Eguchi (eps 1-15) and “Catch Your Dream” by Joanna Koike which is illustrated with stills from the manga. Both are tuneful and eminently hummable; no clumsy hint of hip-hop or rap is allowed to invade, unlike in other shounen series I could mention…
Kenichi – The Mightiest Disciple possesses the same unique shounen spark that illuminates other classic shows like Naruto, One Piece, and Dragon Ball Z. This show has energy in bucket-loads and – no matter what impossible new challenges Kenichi has to face up to – the lively pacing of the action and its goodhearted vibe will leave you with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. There’s still something irresistible about a true shounen show. Kenichi may look a little old-fashioned in its character design, animation, and frequent use of anime comic clichés – but you’ll soon forget the fact because it moves along at a fast pace and creates a sympathetic group of characters. In fact, it’s considerably more fun than certain other recent series that take themselves a tad too seriously. I’ll just come clean and confess that I love this show!