Kenichi Shirahama has been training hard – really hard – to learn all the different martial arts styles of his exceptional (and eccentric) six masters at Ryozanpaku Dojo. But the threat posed by the Eight Fists of Ragnarok, the toughest young fighters in town, cannot be ignored. It’s not helped, of course, by the fact that Niijima, Kenichi’s scheming (and alien?) schoolfriend is winding them up by openly bragging about – and advertising – the Shinpaku Alliance that he’s somehow managed to trick Kenichi into joining. Kenichi finds himself in greater trouble than ever before.
The girls aren’t just watching demurely on the sidelines, either. Freya, the Third Fist of Ragnarok, takes on Kisara – once her most devoted disciple – as Kisara and Miu forget their differences and team up to save an abandoned kitten.
After a brief digression involving Chinese kung fu master Kensei Ma and his feisty daughter Renka, this final set of episodes (27-50) concentrates on the build-up to the epic final showdown between the Eight Fists and the Shinpaku boys. It all kicks off when the tricky Loki (living up to his nickname) kidnaps Kenichi’s little sister Honoka (who has been hanging around the antisocial Hermit) to spark off an explosive confrontation.
Enter purple-haired Odin, the First Fist of Ragnarok, who turns up at the end of the fight to make himself known to Kenichi. It seems that the two have a connection that goes way back to elementary school which is all to do with the Yin/Yang badge Kenichi always wears on his shirt collar. Odin is clearly riled that absent-minded Kenichi cannot remember the promise they made to each other when they were little boys. So when Odin wipes the floor with Kenichi and takes the badge off of him, Kenichi – who only wants to fight to protect his friends and loved ones – is left feeling doubly defeated and demotivated. Time for some hard special training and morale boosting in the mountains with ‘Grandpa’ Furinji! But while Kenichi’s away, things go horribly wrong for the Shinpaku Alliance as they are lured into a trap on an abandoned industrial estate by Loki of Ragnarok from which there seems no way of escape. Never have they needed Kenichi’s help more – yet never has he been so far away.
Kenichi is an entertaining martial arts series which kicks ass – and yet also manages to make you care about the characters. It’s worth noting that even though the animation budget wasn’t that generous (there are still frames in every episode) the seiyuu form an impressive line-up of the best of Japanese vocal acting talents, with, to name but two, Ryo Horikawa (the voice of Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z) playing Hermit and Atsuko Tanaka (Kusanagi from GitS) as the formidable Freya. The US dub team excel themselves too, with Chris Cason coping splendidly with the opera-singing Siegfried (yes, he really sings!), Eric Vale capably taking over from Jason Liebrecht as Hermit, and Jerry Jewel suitably menacing as the cold, unbeatable Odin.
Ok, so you have to suspend your disbelief around all these epic fights – and poor Kenichi survives more bruising poundings than most normal humans could endure without, at the very least, sustaining severe brain damage. And at one moment, Honoka, Kenichi’s feisty little sister even turns to the viewers and says, “Hey kids, don’t try this at home!” But Kenichi succeeds by tapping into the Dragon Ball Z spirit of all the best shounen series and doesn’t alienate its audience by deviating into endless filler. This show has a beginning, a middle and an end! (Although there are two 2012 OVAs, as yet unavailable in translation…)
Unusually, these days at least, Joe Rinoie, the composer of the soundtrack, is also responsible for the two Opening Songs and three Ending Songs and continues – cleverly – to work the melodies into the background score. (Although he also makes use of classical repertoire to lend Siegfried’s operatic outbursts weight, adapting Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain and Mozart’s Requiem.) Opening 2 is the lively “Yahhō!” by DIVA×DIVA [Miho Morikawa and Akira Asakura] and there are two new Endings: 3: “RunOver” by Joanna Koike (eps 26-45) and 4: “Kokoro Kara no Message” by Sakura (eps 46-49) with a return to the original Opening: “Be Strong” by Kana Yasumi to round off the final episode. These songs, textless, are the only extras.
Even after watching fifty episodes, I still love Kenichi and recommend it unashamedly to any anime fan who is on the lookout for a martial arts show with heart and a mischievous sense of humour.