The return of Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is quite the welcome thing as the first season surprised us with how much fun it was with its mixed martial arts fighting. Focusing on a young man named Kenichi who wants to get stronger so he can protect a girl he likes, a girl who is a very powerful martial artist herself, the series keeps things moving right along with this set. Unlike some shows where there is a true seasonal break, this is just a continuation of what we've seen before so there isn't any sort of re-introduction or anything as we're just dropped right back in the middle of things.
One f the things that keeps events rolling right along when Kenichi would rather just train is Niijima. The devil-alien-bad-friend of Kenichi's is doing his best to build up his Shinpaku Federation and has amassed his Three Admirals in Kenichi, Takeda and Ukita at this point while having some people below them. Kenichi wants nothing to do with this but he keeps getting caught up in things as Niijima attracts that kind of attention. With the other two, Niijima has some amount of verbal brainwashing influence of them which is comical, such as when he manages to convince them to learn the greeting that he wants the Federation to have.
Niijima's attempts and building this group has him doing a lot of research on the Ragnarok group and he's really starting to draw attention to himself. His initial outlay has him conning the Three Admirals into meeting a fake girl at a cafe when he's really getting them there to take on one of the Eight Great Fists in a man named Loki. Though the trio really wants little to do with it, they are drawn into the fight and that brings the real Loki into play as he starts to see Shinpaku as at least a minor threat to their great justice that they want to promote via the Great Sage Fist of Ragnarok. Loki plays up his namesake well in manipulating things, which rubs against Niijima's own manipulations in amusing ways that ends up putting Kenichi right in the middle of danger again.
The big threat within this set of episodes, and the best of the fight sequences as well, is when Kenichi's little sister Honoka gets involved. Through an accident, Honoka makes friends with Natsu without knowing the history he has with her brother. Natsu's still intent on following his own path and isn't sure that Ragnarok is for him, but Loki starts working him over to set up a fight with Kenichi. When they both find out that Kenichi is Honoka's older brother, it sets the stage for a kidnapping and fight between them. It comes at an awkward time too as Kenichi had taken leave of Ryozanpaku for awhile because of the abuse he feels he suffers, but it does have a positive effect in that it again forces him to do things on his own.
Watched by a couple of his masters who are indeed missing him, the fight between Natsu and Kenichi is really very good. Natsu doesn't like that he's being used in this kidnapping event but he has such a grudge against Kenichi that he'll fight him any way possible. The fight itself is really good with interesting combinations and the animation for it is more detailed and fluid than most of the series in general which heightens the intensity of the fight. And with a fight like this, we get a lot of history on Natsu which has some gaping plot holes but adds a lot to his overall motivation and his method of fighting alone with no real ties. There's an interesting moment when he again forcefully puts himself on the path of being alone yet has Miu's grandfather warning him that the path is empty and that he knows it because he's walked it himself.
There is one moment that was unintentionally funny within the fight as the First Great Fist shows up to clear up a misunderstanding. When he had found out that there was a fight going on orchestrated by Loki and that it involved Kenichi, he headed down to it right away and has only a few brief words for him. A flashback to the past shows us a tease where the two of them are young boys that are making a promise and the first thing that I thought was that they must have promised to get married one day as so many flashback sequences to characters as children involves that. Now that would be a nice twist to the show, though I'm obviously assuming the real story will be something about getting stronger or protecting someone considering the path both men are on.
One story that makes its way through the set in a couple of different ways involves Master Kensei as he finds out that his older brother is in Japan looking for him. Sogetsu has a long time grudge against his brother for things from their past that deals with just differences in their personalities. Though Sogetsu is here to fight him, Kensei's daughter is also here and looking for him. She's intent on bringing him back to China where he's the master of a school of a hundred thousand students, something he turned over to his wife before leaving. Renka has little time for Kenichi during this but as the episodes go on and she gets more involved, she starts to see more in Kenichi because of how he's involved with everyone at Ryozanpake and that there simply must be something more to him. This leads to some competition between her and Miu that's comical, especially when Miu treats her like a kitty and skritches her chin.
One thing that makes me very happy about this show is the visible progress that Kenichi keeps showing. His fighting skills are definitely improving and his matches are getting more intense and brutal. His use of various types of martial arts is leading him down an interesting path where he's finding combinations that work exceedingly well and puts a lot of unpredictability to his style. And his style is something that he's trying to define as well, particularly as he looks for a killer move of his own. The physical representation is really nicely done as well, such as when the gang has a breather episode that has them going to an indoor pool. When Kenichi has his shirt off, he doesn't look like most lanky or thin male lead characters look. He's got some muscle definition to him that reminds you just who he is, something that's not always quite so apparent because of his normal and slightly goofy facial design he has.
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple was a show that really did surprise me in its first season by being more fun than I expected. Some aspects make me cringe a little, such as the ridiculous outfits that the women often have to wear or the large chest size of Miu in general that plays up the fanservice angle. But these are minor complaints and things that are, for better or worse, traditions in the genre. This season gets off to a very good start and is something that I'm glad to see doing well for FUNimation, It's a fun show that has found a good balance of seriousness to go with the humor and mildly outlandish story elements. The core idea is what's most appealing though as it has a group of masters putting one young man through a ton of training abuse to make him the strongest of the strongest. The mixed styles and the regular fights that don't feel like they're pulling punches as other shows do gives this an edge over them and leaves a lasting impression.
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