When it comes to licensed anime, Kenichi: The Mighty Disciple is something of an enigma. The show doesn't have too much of a following here in the States, it originally came out in 2006, and it's a FUNimation license that didn't receive individual volume releases. Instead the publisher cut right to the chase and released the first 13 episodes of this 50 episode series in a two disc box, which comprises the first half of the premier season.
In case you're unfamiliar with it, Kenichi is a fighting anime firmly nestled into the genre. Unlike some of its competition, such as Fighting Spirit or Baki the Grappler, the tone in Kenichi is significantly lighter. It's a fighting show that knows how to have a good time and much of the series could easily be considered comedy. It's an interesting mix that goes together very well, but what sets this show aside from the rest is the charming cast of characters and an infectious attitude that just never gives up.
The show focuses on the life of Kenichi Shirahama. At the beginning of the show he's an unassuming, whiny wallflower who is viewed as one of the weakest kids in school and basically voted most likely to fail at life. Naturally there's an untapped potential inside of him and all he needs is someone to help him see that. While he has a love for many things, karate is something that inexplicably holds his interest as well. For being such a weakling it's kind of surprising to see him step into the Karate Club at his school, but Kenichi has a certain attitude that makes him do things like that. Unfortunately for him, the fact that he sucks and is holding back the club doesn't bode well. In the opening episode of the show a fellow member challenges Kenichi to a fight in order to determine who stays and who goes.
With the gauntlet slapped across his face, Kenichi doesn't quite know what he's going to do. Lucky for him he meets a girl named Miu who unleashes a can of whoop-ass on some punks before his very eyes. Upon seeing this Kenichi feels like he really doesn't have a choice in the matter and he goes with Miu to the Ryozanpaku Dojo for a little training for his upcoming fight. As Kenichi learns new things are the Dojo, people begin to see some potential in him, and when it comes time for his club battle he actually wins. Unfortunately he uses an unapproved technique during the fight and was ousted from the club by its members regardless of his victory. It does, however, catch the eye of the strongest member in the club who makes it his mission to test Kenichi's skills.
What transpires next is rather predictable by fighting anime standards. The strongest member in the club challenges Kenichi and beats him to a pulp. This prompts our plucky hero to head back to the dojo for some more training, only to have the same thing happen again. Yet another master steps forward to assist improving Kenichi's techniques, and wouldn't you know? It works! Kenichi beats up the strongest kid in school. Of course this backfires on him because now every creep in the woodwork is coming out to test his mettle.
From here on the rest of this installment of the show focuses on Kenichi's rise from the weakest kid in school to one of the strongest. Even though he's only had light training at the dojo up to a certain point, he's learned so much that the masters offer to teach him everything they know. This means he has to live with them 24/7 and dedicate himself to nothing but the mastery of kung fu. With the amount and severity of attacks from thugs on the rise for poor Kenichi, it's only naturally that he has to take the masters up on their offer to life.
Another thing that sways his decision is the fact that Miu lives at the dojo as well. Throughout the thirteen episodes here we see a budding relationship between the two and it's quite charming, I must admit. Since Miu isn't your normal high school girl she instantly stands out from the others and that makes Kenichi notice her. Throughout the show it's quite evident that his feelings develop for her, but Miu seems to only consider him a friend. It all comes together to make their relationship fun and innocent, but it's the lighthearted attitude of this show that makes it successful.
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple quite honestly isn't anything special. It's a straightforward and predictable show with plenty of cliché fighting genre moments. With that being said the characters make the series enjoyable, and all around the attitude is infectious. It's a fun adventure that is hilarious at times and if the first thirteen episodes are any indication of its quality I'd say this is a recommended series. If you're hankering for a fighting show, check this one out and you won't be disappointed.
Originally released in 2006, it's really no surprise that Kenichi is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. It's a shame though, because this is a show that would have definitely benefited from an anamorphic widescreen presentation. The artwork is attractive and bright, and comes across quite nicely on DVD. FUNimation's transfer is decent as well with an all around solid showing, though thirteen episodes on two discs doesn't give the compression rate a lot of room for breathing. There are some artifacts here and there, and you'll spot some grain at times. Interlacing isn't entirely predominant, but it's visible every now and then as well. Overall this is a decent looking show with a fine enough transfer, but it's nothing that's going to leave you with a strong impression.
The sound quality for Kenichi is pretty good as well, and in all honesty it comes across slightly better than the video. For audio tracks we have a Japanese 2.0 stereo selection, which is decent in the technical sense, but it's nowhere near as nice as the English 5.1 surround. FUNimation took advantage of this show's excessive amount of action and offered up a track that packs a little punch. It's nothing that's going to give your system a run for its money, but it does create a nice sense of immersion during key moments of the show. The dubbing tracks are both very good as well, with the English and Japanese voiceover teams performing admirably.
Some trailers and textless animation are all you're going to find on this release of Kenichi.
If you enjoy fighting anime then Kenichi is a no-brainer. It's a throwback to shows of a bygone era, and there's something about the series that feels familiar in a good way. These thirteen episodes are very entertaining and there really aren't any dry moments in between. If the show has any flaws it's that it feels cliché at times and things can feel a little too straightforward. Regardless, Kenichi is a solid show all around and it's easily recommended. Hopefully the series will do well enough for FUNimation to get the second season licensed as well!