Freakin’ finally – a sports anime you’ll believe will actually destroy you in an arm-wrestling contest. Burning Kabaddi is a conventional sports anime all the way through, but it earns massive points for itself with the unique sport it chose to spotlight and the way it chose to play it out for the unknowing masses. Kabaddi’s got no pads, no helmets, and not even balls. It’s just pure athleticism and strength in what you can oversimplify as the most intense game of tag ever.
Of course, there’s a lot more to kabaddi than being just this weird marriage between tag and dodgeball (minus the balls, remember). It’s a niche sport from India which takes its name from the cant the athletes have to recite as they’re playing. It’s okay to admit it sounds weird and goofy because the show acknowledges as much as well. In-series, the main character originally dismisses the sport as a joke until he inevitably warms up to it later on.
There’s a raw, manly appeal to the series that you’d be hard-pressed to find in most sports anime today. The characters are very noticeably beefed-up and when they compete, they really do mean they’ll pound your face in. But much like the show, they’re all fun and easy to get along with, which is pretty much the best you can ask for if most of them are dumb meatheads at the core.
It’s typical sports anime fare – main character hates sports, is actually a prodigy at sports, then ends up loving the spotlight sport anyway thanks to the power of teamwork and competition – but what’s great about Kabaddi is how it still manages to make itself interesting enough to follow. It could have coasted by on the sheer novelty of the sport, but it slams that notion face-down on the mat and decides to go all-in on everything else that would make it appealing for the casual viewer.
It’s not perfect, however. The show does invest in the most exaggerated reaction faces and Mortal Kombat “Finish him!”-type gameplay to make up for its limitations, but you can tell it didn’t get a big enough budget to begin with. There are some ill-timed flashbacks that kill the momentum, but the show at least knows how to bounce back instantly with some legitimate tension-filled in-game action.
The show ends just as the main team heads off for the national tournament, which means everything before the finale is just a series of practice matches and episodes of training the new members. But Kabaddi makes the prequel vibes work anyway, even if it doesn’t look like it’ll get a second season any time soon. Too bad about that, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that Kabaddi is legitimately one of the more fun sports anime to come out this year.
It's certainly the manliest, but this is more about heart than it is about the muscles – just like any good sports anime.