Martial arts aren’t my bag. I’ve never held an interest in them, but after a while of being told that I’d love History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi and the fact that I’m a complete shounen whore, I just had to give it a go.
With a nickname like ‘Weak legs’, high school boy Kenichi Shirahama has very little going for him. However with a desire to become stronger and a desire to learn martial arts techniques, he joins the karate club. Unfortunately, he quickly gets into a bout with a behemoth of a freshman that challenges him to a fight, leading Kenichi to seek further help from a nearby dojo – and home of his new friend Miu Fuurinji – named Ryouzanpaku. As he begins training and gaining strength, the scrawny lad manages to win the fight, but in doing so attracts the attention of stronger foes, in particular the delinquent gang known as Ragnarok. What follows is a series of increasingly tougher battles interspersed with hellish training from his new masters.
Sure, the show follows in its genre’s predictable tradition – I mean, it’s a pretty safe bet that when our young protagonist learns a new kick-ass move he’ll make apt use of it in his next spat with an impossibly skilled opponent – but, while his continuing battle with Ragnorok is important to the plot, HSDK’s real story follows Kenichi’s progression as a person, rather than the linear stream of events that he finds himself caught up in. Although the young disciple improves at an abnormally fast rate (come on, this is shounen, what do you expect?) his increasing power with each battle doesn’t conveniently appear out of thin air at a key moment – Ichigo, I’m looking at you – nor does he suddenly whip out a new move from God knows where – Luffy, I love you, but all of the Straw Hats are all guilty of this. No, Kenichi has to train; he has to grow in both physical strength and character to overcome his own fear and insecurities so that he can have any chance at beating the living shit out of his opponents.
Kenichi’s training is like watching one of those home video shows where people send in clips of themselves getting kicked in the crotch by their three-year old daughter, or bitten on the arse by their beloved family dog – only much, MUCH funnier. Throughout the course of the series the poor sod endures all manner of deranged exercises designed to build up both his stamina and muscle strength. From holding heavy loads at arm’s length for fear of being stabbed in the side if he lowers his limbs too far, to being used as a cheap and efficient source of energy for a massage chair, Ryouzanpaku’s disciple goes through the ringer time and time again; but miraculously his suffering never gets old and remains just as funny when the final credits roll as it is in episode two.
HSDK’s visuals fumble around somewhere between variable and meh. The show peppers standards such as dramatic action lines and panning still images throughout for full-on shounenrific goodness. Outside of that, there are occasional careless continuity errors, such as disappearing bags and colour-changing eyebrows, along with a few shoddy images, like Honoka’s legs ballooning out over the top of her socks. The movement itself suffers in a similar fashion, wavering between average and awkward. Most of the time the anime sways towards the former, however – much like a naughty child sneaking a look at daddy’s ‘Adult magazines’ – HSDK occasionally slips into the latter while thinking nobody will notice. Luckily the sloppier animation only tends to occur during everyday scenes rather than mid-battle. One scene in particular with Yuuka walking towards Kenichi at school sticks out for it’s clunky execution, where the reserved megane exhibits as much fluidity as a lolloping Lego figure.
Sound wise HSDK remains fairly standard. The musical score is pretty much what you’d expect from this kind of show: fast-paced beats during fight scenes, and various instrumental variations of the opening themes to accompany touching and emotional moments of friendship, camaraderie and tranquility. All together the background music works well to complement the plotline.
HSDK’s seiyuu perform well throughout the series. The vocal cast consistently manages to alter their inflections to represent each character’s multi-faceted personalities. Whether it’s the contrast between Kenichi’s whiny and nasal “I don’t want to do this/die” side and his more direct and commanding determination, or the difference between Ma’s serious martial artist and his light-hearted and scheming pervert natures, each actor brings their character to life in a more than satisfactory manner.
While the Japanese voice acting fares well, ThePatches informed me that it is my duty to warn the general populace of HSDK’s toxic dub, so I gave in and tried it out. I didn’t last long before returning to the subs. Encompassing everything that I despise about dubbed anime in general, such as uber-cheesy vocals and the habit of adding extra letters into Japanese wordage (Ryouzanpaku becomes Reeyozarnparkoo), the American version also butchers some of the humorous content – in one case altering the script to make less sense of a relatively funny joke. But what I really want to know is why does Ma sound like Brain from Pinky and the Brain? “Gee Ma, what do you want to do tonight?” “The same thing we do every night, Kenichi – try to take photos of girls!”. Also, whoever thought that replacing Apachai’s high-pitched and naïve inflections with the gruff tones reminiscent of a lumbering Neanderthal should be shot. Twice. Then made to sing the theme tune to Lucky Star in a sailor uniform in front of all their macho friends while slowly bleeding out all over the carpet. *
The super-human central male protagonist generally tends to make or break any action filled anime, and they all have their own unique strength. Luffy is a rubber man, Naruto has the Kyuubi sealed within him, Natsu kicks wizard butt with his fire dragon magic, and Ichigo… well he has some awesome-assed power that has yet to be fully explained. Kenichi on the other hand varies from the typical hero. He isn’t inherently powerful and he possesses no hidden vigour; hell, he barely has any courage whatsoever. He’s just a regular guy who only becomes tough with genuinely hard work. Far from the cries of “I’m gonna kick your ass” that forms the basic mantra of any shounen lead, Kenichi whines, screams and wibbles his way through each obstacle, making a refreshing change from the norm.
As ever, it’s the supporting cast that steals the show. Though some of Kenichi’s enemies, such as the bizarre Siegfried – who feels the need to loudly hum Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain whenever he fights – provide a fair amount of interest, it’s the dojo masters who claim the spotlight for themselves. They break walls, punch sharks in the face, and regularly threaten Kenichi’s very survival with their rigorous training routines. My personal favourite, without a doubt, is Apachai. The juxtaposition between his incapacity for holding back his freakishly powerful Muay Thai techniques and his gentle, childlike, and dim-witted personality means that he alone generates a lot of humour. After all who could resist smiling when watching him answer the phone with the phrase “we have your children”, or earnestly hammering voodoo dolls to trees believing it to be a good luck charm? With this epitome of a gentle giant and the likes sake-swilling, karate-chopping Sakaki, snap-happy uber perv, Kensei, and the calm and intelligent – yet somewhat sadistic – Akisame making the young disciple’s life a living hell, the comedy shines brighter than the master’s devilishly terrifying eyes.
Though its timeline of events is nothing out of the ordinary, Kenichi’s personal journey makes for compelling viewing. Of course, while their number one disciple suffers at the hands of their training regime, the dojo masters keep the mood light and entertaining with their outlandish personalities. I certainly know that my day instantly brightens up when I hear a little cry of “Apa! Apapapa!” coming from my speakers.
* Please note, that I have awarded the above score for sound based on the Japanese version alone. To mark the audio on the dub as well would require me to subject myself to further aural rape, and I’d rather that my ears stopped bleeding.
History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi is a shounen anime about martial arts, with a dash of comedy. It's very cheesy and cliche at times. The plot is interesting, it features a weakling highschool freshman training up to be stronger so he can stand up to bullies and villians. Sounds very positive and all, but the execution could be improved. So many moments made me cringe and because this is a martial arts anime, many things are obviously exaggerated. One thing I must point out, the more this progresses, the more aspects of harem anime appear in this otherwise decent martial arts anime. There's nothing too outstanding about this anime, it's fairly predictable at times and therefore a bit boring at times. At certain points I felt regretful that I wasn't drinking for this anime. Towards the end however, the story really started to shine and that's the reason why anyone would want to watch this.
The animation quality isn't too great. Despite being made in 2006, it looks very aged and shoddy at times. While I was unable to find it in HD quality, I don't think higher resolution would have helped it look any better. The style wasn't too unique either. I feel like I've seen the main character a billion times before since the character designs are somewhat generic. However, the fighting style and choreography in the anime looks spectacular at times and kinda make up for the dodgy animation. However, at other times the fighting animation seems lazy and shoddy. The comedic facial expressions also add to the hilarity in some scenes which are actually funny. Not just facial expressions, there are also some funny motions and poses in this anime too, like when Kenichi wiggles like Jelly. However there are some aspects to the animation style which are unquestionably bad. Like Shigure's wierd eyebrows. While this isn't exactly an ecchi anime, there are things that seem a bit fan-servicey and most female characters have absurdly large breasts. The designs are a bit 'over-sexualised' to say the least and I swear there are jiggle physics. This is most noticeable in the intermission and first outro where Miu is wearing a tight spandex suit (or what looks like one). Of course, there is pervy shenanigans, mostly courtesy of a perverted/pedophillic (take your pick) character. This is somewhat characteristic of shounen anime, T&A appeals to young hormonal teenagers, thus they felt justified in its use. I'd argue otherwise. Overall, the animation is rather disappointing, even if it seems average at first.
The sound isn't terrible, nor is it outstanding. The intro music is okay, rather average in my eyes. The outro seems to be a bit more chilled out. However halfway through this 50 episode series, the intro and outros change. The second intro theme is pretty good and the second intro was a bit better too. None of the music was outstanding enough to warrant me getting the soundtrack. The background music was utilised somewhat well, serious slightly emotional music for the flashback scenes and whatnot. This anime is available in both English and Japanese audio. The dub is mostly okay, I found nothing to cringe about it. My only complaint is the 'Appa' noise often made by Apachai. I assume this was the same for the Japanese version and this quirk also got translated over to the English version. I hate it, personally. This anime also contains the occasional inappropriate language. The voice actor for Kenichi is Josh Grelle, who had roles as Armin from Attack on Titan and Tomohiko Kazami from Another. Miu's VA Carrie Savage also did the voices of Haruka Suzumiya from Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien, Satsuki Yumizuka from Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Nancy Makuhari from Read or Die and Rachel Boyd from Soul Eater. Honoka's VA Cherami Leigh did Elicia Hughes from FMA Brotherhood, Lunar from Seto No Hanayome (My Bride is a Mermaid), Asuna from SAO, Suzuka from Stein's Gate and many more. There are many more big names in voice acting in this anime that would take too long to list their roles, including J. Michael Tatum, Vic Mignogna and Colleen Clinkenbeard. Overall the sound is fairly decent.
The main character, Kenichi Shirahama. Looks average, power rating poor, grades low poor, popularity poor (rough quote from the anime itself). He's a nobody, a weakling bullied by others. But inside, he feels a strong sense of justice and righteousness. He wants to get stronger to protect the ones the weak and the ones he loves. He's your run of the mill shonen protagonist. But, boy can this kid take some punishment, he has to go through unrealistic and unfair training. He has no natural talent, yet he is able to improve his fighting skills as a disciple of multiple masters of the martial arts at the Ryuzanpaku dojo. He also has a sensitive side, shown by his participation in the gardening club. He has a crush on Miu Furinji, one that seems fruitless since Miu herself said they were no more than friends (FRIENDZONED! Ouch!). He even tries to peep on her, the hormonal pervert! One positive aspect of this character, is that he doesn't conform to the terrible high-school student protagonist trope in some ways. He actually has a family, even if it's a dysfuntional one. His mother is the typical unrealistic anime milf, his dad is an over-protective parent that loves to tote his beloved shotgun named Sebastian. But the worst is his little sister, Honoka. She hates it when Kenichi is hit on by girls like Miu and doesn't want her brother to be with any girl. While Kenichi is annoyingly generic at times, he is a complex character with strong positive beliefs. He has such charisma, that he even raises the morale of his masters, just by training at the dojo.
Miu Furinji could be said to be the female lead of this anime, an absurdly curvateous blonde high-school girl. As well as being the object of Kenichi's affections, she comes from a line of martial artists in particular her grandfather, whos power is rarely seen or needed. Once again, the situation of her parents is explained. Like her grandfather, she is unrealistically strong and agile, especially since she is a part of the gymnastics club. She completely wrecks Kenichi when they spar together. She's also rather two-faced, in school she acts like a model student and wears fake glasses and doesn't fight or show off her true power at all. Outside, she's a tough nut to crack. She's also a bit tsundere, since she denies having feelings for Kenichi, yet she gets competitive when other girls are after him. I personally hate this character.
Kenichi's five martial arts masters at Ryuzanpaku are Akisame Kouetsuji the master of Jiujitsu, Apachai Hopachai the master of Muay Boran and Muay Thai, Shio Sakaki the master of Karate, Kensei Ma the master of Kenpo and Shigure Kousaka the master of weapons. There is also Hayato Furinji, Miu's grandfather, the guy who owns the place. They are all unrealistically strong and unbeatable. Akisame is a doctor of sorts and owns a clinic where he heasls injuries, mostly those from fighting. This works to the dojo's advantage since challengers to the dojo must pay a fee and then they pay medical fees when they inevitably get defeated and healed at Akisame's clinic. Akisame is also a very smart and thoughtful individual, he is kind towards Kenichi in his own way. Did I mention his sweet trimmed moustache and ghostly eyes? He is also very artistic and makes statues and scriptures. Sakaki has bad habits like drinking and gambling and acts like a badass bodyguard. Apachai has no control over his strength when training Kenichi and is the gentle giant trope. He's rather dumb and soft, he plays with children and animals. Shigure is yet another big-boobed woman, yet silent and creepy. She is rarely seen training Kenichi and has a small mouse as a companion and she has those stupid, wierd eyebrows. Possibly the most bland and boring of the regular characters, even though she was designed to be that way.
Kensei is the most interesting of the masters however. At first he seems like a pervert/pedophile who's always trying to take dodgy pictures of chicks and is often found reading porn. Later it turns out he has an interesting past and family life. He ran away from his family, his dojo and 1000's of disciplles in China to live a peaceful life at Ryuzanpaku. That and his deliquent older brother. But get this, he has a big-breasted daughter, Renka, the same age as Kenichi and Miu. Makes you wonder how this guy can perv on girls the same age as his own kid. Once again, this big-boobed girl is a love interest, turning the previous love triangle into more of a harem. Renka is still a bit tsundere as she initially treats Kenichi like dirt, always saying mean things about him, yet she fancies him deep down. Kensei wears a hat, is short and has a nice moustache. A real shame, Kensei could have been a cool character.
Among Kenichi's friends is the one girl in this anime who doesn't have big boobs. Izumi Yuka is the sweet nerdy girl trope, who has a crush on Kenichi and isn't tsundere about it, unlike the other girls. She seems to be the only other member of the gardening club too. Haruo Nijima is the supposedly alien wierdo friend of Kenichi, who at times seems like he's bullying Kenichi. This guy is just evil, he has his own interests in mind and uses Kenichi for his own gains. He often hypes up Kenichi's fights, over-exaggerating his wins to make Kenichi look scary. He's pretty stupid too.
There are so many other characters in this anime, especially the antagonists since they have deep story. To say much about those in Ragnarok, would be spoilery. They aren't exactly completely evil, some of them are rather realistic characters, since we find out their reasons join a crooked group such as Ragnarok. These villians are some of the best characters in this anime, especially the boxer Takeda, Natsu Tanimoto and the earliest of the major villians Kisara Nanjo.
The story goes that weakling Kenichi Shirahama is constantly being bullied and called names just for being himself. Starting high-school, he joins the karate club where he becomes the other club members' punch bag. Meeting with and making friends with Miu Fuurinji, he ends up undergoing ridiculous training at the Ryuzanpaku dojo where Miu lives. The unfair, unrealistic and down-right dangerous training he goes through, both enthuses the masters at the dojo and makes Kenichi stronger. Trouble is brewing behind the scenes however, with the gang of hoodlums known as Ragnarok, noticing Kenichi's strength and constantly attacking him and trying to recruit him into their band of goons. The martial arts appears to be so damn realistic, these techniques sound like they are genuine martial arts techniques. That must be commended, if not for the research, then for creating realistic martial arts.
Some of the story is very predictable, its so damn cliche and cheesy at times. It has quite a bit of decent comedy, not always funny, but it made me laugh on occasion. At one moment, I was reminded of my first taste of this anime. A funny scene that made me nostalgic for a top ten funny scenes in anime video I watched ages ago. Maybe it isn't worthy of the top ten, but it was funny nonetheless. It is also rather long and contrived, 50 episodes makes it rather stretched out. A disappointment then? Not entirely. The overall plot winds and turns, introducing new characters and events. The interesting characters are given much backstory through flashbacks and the like. It isn't exactly a simple good guys versus bad guys story either. One of the hidden themes of the story is the yin-yang sign. It symbolises the story and characters here rather well. There is both good and evil in the universe and both are intertwined. Each individual has aspects of both within them. To put it simply, the more this anime progresses, the less black and white the it seems. Deep down it's rather complex, with story that intertwines. I love this serious aspect of the anime, even if it requires thinking and effort to uncover it. The plot really picks up towards the end and I'm happy to say that this anime features a complete and conclusive story.
Unfortunately there is one little blemish on the surprisingly good story. As the story progresses, more and more female characters of Kenichi's age appear. And they all appear to have an interest in him. This means one thing: a harem. Something I absolutely despise, especially since harem plotlines are terrible and usually lack conclusions. Just like it does here. Why, add such a terrible subplot. Romance my arse, of course it goes SPOILER< nowhere >SPOILER. Thankfully it takes a backseat for most of the anime.
So the story has both it's advantages and disadvantages. Such as shame, since the good bits were very good, but they were brought down by occasionally cheesy and predictable plot progression. Thankfully, the overall plot makes up for some of the BS.
I'm glad I got to the end of this one instead of dropping it at 3 episodes like I originally had. If you really like shonen anime, martial arts and don't mind a sometimes predictable plot, then this anime is for you. I wouldn't recommend this anime for everyone though. It often annoyed me and was also rather boring at times. It ain't perfect and since it's so long, it takes some time for the plot to get to the interesting bits. I would normally say to give it time, but it needs so long. The overall plot is the best bit of this anime and it takes time to get to the good part. Good news, is that it actually concludes in a satisfactory manner. Those who watch it nonetheless, are likely to be the target audience and would enjoy it a lot.
Family-friendliness Rating: 2/5 Occasional inappropriate language, over-sexualised character designs and perverted antics (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 7/10 (higher is better)
HSDK has the dubious distinction of being my #1 anime of all time. It's the only anime series I've watched more than 10 times now and continue to do so as time goes on. It never fails to bring a smile to my eyes, yes eyes, a task infinitely harder to do than just making me smile with my mouth alone. It's an anime who's sum does not equal it's parts since the only thing I rated at a perfect ten here was it's characters.
Truth be told there's not a huge amount of story here. Boy meets girl, boy gets beaten up by girl, boy falls in love and tries to become a martial artist to protect a girl that really needs absolutely no protection at all. Eventually it devolves into fighting increasingly harder opponents as it progresses, not something most people haven't seen already in an action show.
As things go, this wasn't really much better than your average show of it's time or since. It also didn't really get any worse other than a single episode that always bothered me but ultimately ignored as a fluke (guess the backup crew was called in that day or something).
Nothing to write home about, it was pretty standard fair, didn't annoy me or ruin the flow so it got my standard rating of seven. Just not a category I pay much attention to since ultimately it's anime, not audiome...
Now we come to the part of the show that frequently and totally wowed me. The characters, some typical some not, were a joy to watch and root for. Even the enemies weren't entirely beyond this scope. The best part is that the sheer amount of them and yet they were all mostly lovable.
I think where the show faltered in it's popularity is that it was billed as a Slice of Life/Martial Arts series when it really should have tacked on a bit of Supernatural or Super Powers on the end of it. Really, most of the things these people can do are beyond the scope of reality or at least the documented capabilities of humans in general. But honestly, how often does one go to anime for realism? The one down side of the anime is that the story continues on in manga but the show just kind of ends after the first arc.
While I'd love to recommend this show to just about anyone, being that I'm overly biased about it I tend to shy away from doing so. It's a decent fight series, with a lot of great and diverse characters mixed in with a light sprinkling of romance (and I do mean light). Watch it, enjoy it, hate it, tell me what ya think.
I really did enjoy a lot this anime. The story was very well put togheter. At the end it does give you a kind of feeling that the story could keep on going.But it could end there, which it did in the anime. I liked how the characters life connected with the other characters. The animation made the anime very funny and fun to watch. I really enjoyed watching how the battels carried out.The sound effects mached quite nice with what was going on. I absolutely loved the music they played specially the one that they played in the last battel. The characters where all very funny and had there soft spot. Some characters sadlly you did not find out a lot about. Over all I really do love this anime it was very funny and hear warming.
(originally posted as a blog entry on 18 Sept 2009)
At first Kenichi seemed like your regular shounen/sport crossover when the chosen sport kind is shown not only with the gaming/competing aspect, but also with winning/protecting one typical for shounen. You know, like Hajime no Ippo. Like Tenjou Tenge. I'm a big fan of shounen, not a fan of sports, but I was prepared to tolerate some stuff and enjoy the rest. I was up for a big surprise.
The main char starts training in order to protect the girl he likes. Ok, this is pretty cliché, you might think. The trick is: she doesn't need protecting. Like, at all. She is uncomparably stronger than him even at the end of the series after all he went through. Most of the battle scenes follow the scheme "1 bad guy vs the main char [tough fight]; all other bad guys vs the girl [she wins single-handedly]". Seriously, she never loses even against the toughest opponents.
Ok, does he care about training a lot? Hell no. He hates it, all forms of it. If he weren't trying to be so goody-goody, I'd say he hates his teachers' guts. They all teach him different forms of fighting, waiting for him to either choose his way or to come up with his own combined style. He doesn't understand what is expected from him, he doesn't make a choice, he barely manages to copycat their tricks and mix them randomly in a mess some might call style. In the final fight, he even role-plays his teachers one by one — a big self-reference by mangaka, a big clue for all of us. In short, he doesn't give a damn about becoming stronger, overcoming the enemies, protecting others, achieving justive, getting revence, etc. He just doesn't care.
What does he care about then? The girl. He loves her and wants to be close to her, even if it means doing stuff he doesn't really want to be doing and has no talent in doing. When he's training, she's with him, so he says let's train! The hero of this anime pretends to be a shounen hero because that's the type of guy that his girl wants. At this angle, I have found this anime truly unique.