Igano Kabamaru is the very first anime that ever aired on Greece in 1988 and it also happens to be the firs anime I ever watched. It is very known and loved here as well as in Saudi Arabia for three reasons:
a) Because it was the very first taste of anime humour we had around these parts
b) Because it was the most insane comedy we had ever seen in animation (and for some, it still is)
c) Because it had such a bad translation and voice dubbing that simply stuck to your brain!
In my review I will try to judge the series without letting my evaluation be affected by joyous sentiments of childhood memories. After all, everyone who has grown up with it loves it without having to read this review. So, this review is supposed to be read by people who HAVEN’T seen it (although remarks even from Greek fans are welcomed).
The animation looks pathetic by today’s standards; the characters are drawn very simplistic and there was little consideration about keeping their proportions right while moving. Being a slapstick comedy, there is a lot of body deformity going around in the comic scenes (that’s like 80% of the total duration), so in a way, lame graphics are part of the joke and are thus excused. Anyway, you won’t watch a series like Kabamaru for its graphics. Think of Excel Saga. It doesn’t need to have realism in order to be hilariously funny.
I have no idea how good the Japanese voice acting is. All I ever heard was the terrible Greek voice acting, which I would rate with a zero if it were possible. Greek fans may find it as part of the whole joke but the rest of the world will most likely puke at the sound of it. So, the sound department is left without any remark.
For a slapstick comedy, there is a lot of scenario in it. Two old hags had loved the same ninja at their youths but none managed to have him. They blamed each other for the failure and a good friendship turned to a life-long rivalry. Both of them are now principals in rivaling schools and compete each other at the slightest thing. One of them manages to adopt the ninja’s grandson right after his death. This causes a new wave of violence over the possession of Kabamaru, the young ninja.
From what you read so far, it sounds more like a drama rather than a comedy. It’s because the story makes fun of a very dramatic backdrop. Everything turns from serious drama to hilarious comedy thanks to the meddling of Kabamaru, who is essentially an antisocial and hapless idiot that barges on everything without asking.
Most episodes have an ongoing scenario, a fact that most comedies don’t have. The plot is rather simple but is never predictable with the likes of Kabamaru. There is a lot of humor, most of which is good even by today’s standards. There is an ending, which is surreal and lighthearted, but at least gives a simple closure to a long story. As a whole the scenario is nothing special but definitely boosts the interest.
Again, for a comedy, there are many interesting characters in it.
The protagonist is, of course, Kabamaru. Unfamiliar with the civilized world and with bitter hatred for the harsh ninja training of his grandpa, he spends most of the time eating food and kicking the hell out of poor school bullies. He practically never thinks before he acts, is never responsible, has no manners, can break walls with bare hands but his heart is big as a mountain. Because he looks like his grandfather, Saizo, he is seen as trophy by the old principals. He becomes the center of attention, as both want to control him and use him on an upcoming battle that will get very bloody. Good luck to them, as he is a free spirit in soul, a saint in heart… and a complete idiot in mind! He is a great guy! He reminds me of Son Goku from Dragon Ball Z but without the whole “I want to get stronger and fight strong people” crap.
Hayate is Kabamaru’s adopted brother. He grew up with him, shared all the harsh training, the good and the bad. He is equally a good ninja as his brother but unlike him, he is very serious and always has a sad look on his face. He is adopted by the other principal but is never seen as trophy as he doesn’t look like Saizo. He is in fact considered a second rate underling. The poor soul is ordered to fight to the death his own brother, just to please the old hag’s bitter heart. A very dramatic character and the main rival of the protagonist.
Mai is a young girl, granddaughter of one of the principals and the opposite of Kabamaru. Frail, kind, shy, gentle, she is always nagging at him for his outrageous behavior. Yes, you imagine correct, she is falling in love with him but typically never admits it. She is the eye candy in the story and represents the status quo Kabamaru blows up all the time.
Sijune is the Bishounen of the story. Handsome as hell, athletic, gentle, girls dig him, men envy him. He is in secret the head of the organization that plans to destroy the rival school. Sort of a secret and ingenious bad guy in the story up to the point his bald, gay, cosplay making siblings ( ??? ) come and ruin his perfect image.
The two old women are the principals of the rivaling schools and are the cause of all the trouble in the story. Not really bad people but very emotionally driven, they turned a romantic disappointment into a reason for bloody conflict. You get to sympathize with them as the series progresses.
Saizo is the deceased ninja the two principals loved in their youths. Hated by his grandchildren for his inhumane behavior while training them as ninjas, he is half the time seen as a gorgeous Kabamaru alter ego and as a son of a bitch the other half. He constantly appears in flashbacks in the story and continuously affects the plot in ways I can’t mention without spoiling some mysteries.
There is a big cast of secondary characters that spice up the story and the main characters even more. So in general, there are many adorable characters in the series.
It is a cult important title in Greece and Saudi Arabia but totally forgotten by the rest of the world. Go figure… I give it a medium mark in value. Beyond that it is a very enjoyable retro comedy. The crude graphics and some pathetic episodes may discourage younger otakus from watching it to the end but for those who can endure it, it is very entertaining.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 1/2 (basic)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich in character motives)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (funny)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (everyone has some)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 3/4 (very well excecuted for its genre)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 0/1 (looks lazy)
Sound 1/2 (I liked the music score)
Story 1/3 (interesting themes but light presentation)
Characters 3/4 (they are hilarious)