Wall Street Meets Bloodsport
- Episodes : 12
- Genre : Action, Martial Arts
- Airing Date : July 31, 2019
- Producers : Larx Entertainment
Kengan Ashura Season 1 Introduction
Kazuo Yamashita was just a meek and underachieving middle aged company worker. His life suddenly changes when the CEO of his company randomly selects him to be the manager for Ouma Tokita, their selected fighter for a special underground tournament called the Kengan Bouts. As for what the Kengan Bouts are, they’re underground MMA fights where Japan’s 1% uses as their method for mergers and acquisitions. In the world of this series, it goes back centuries. Thankfully, Ouma and Kazuo previously met the night before as Kazuo coincidentally saw Ouma win a street fight in the back alley of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red light district. Now stuck together, they’re in for the ride of their life!
1. Kick Ass Fights
If there’s any reason to watch Kengan Ashura, it’s for the action packed fights! Not only are they exciting, they’re uniquely technical despite how gimmicky they can get. For characters like Ouma, the series does a great job of how he positions his hands when he punches, and how he pivots and rotates his hips when he kicks. For other characters like Cosmo, despite being smaller than most of the cast, he shows he can defeat stronger and bigger opponents with submissions, which are the actual purpose of them. The fights are very fast and intricate with a dose of high impact. Even when they’re gimmicky, the series does a great job of explaining the principles of certain techniques and styles.
2. It’s an Excellent Critique on Corporatism
Kengan Ashura’s hook is that the tournament is backed by Japan’s biggest corporations, and the fights are used to settle disputes or acquisitions/mergers between them. As portrayed through this anime, audiences can get an idea that the fighters represent general laborers as they’re the ones doing all the physical work, while the CEOs are reaping all the benefits. Of course, the fighters do get a big cut but if they lose, they’re instantly cast aside like a laborer who got injured on the job. However, it does make some people wonder if Japan has any antitrust laws akin to the West due to the circumstances of how Kazuo can sponsor Ouma to join the tournament. In the end, despite being designated as a president of his own shell company, it’s clear that his boss still owns him and Ouma due to the debt he forces on Kazuo.
3. Kazuo’s Development
If any character develops throughout this season, it’s certainly Kazuo. At first, he’s just a yes man who’s afraid of any further failure due to his life experiences. Yeah, he has a house but his wife left him and his son wants nothing to do with him. After he meets Ouma, you see the positive influence he has on him. After he meets Ouma the first time, he goes out and gets a hooker (of course the anime does have an explanation for that)! As Ouma succeeds under Kazuo’s sponsorship, Kazuo slowly gains confidence, finds his own self-worth and genuinely starts to care for Ouma as if he were his own son.
In context to the martial arts genre, Ouma is a rather cliché character. His motivations have more or less been done before. He’s fighting to avenge his master who was killed by another martial artist and that’s been done many times. In addition, he’s always hungry, aloof to others, and he’s asexual, which are all traits we’ve see from martial arts media. In addition, some of the fights have “twists” that are also considered cliché in fighting anime such as “power ups” under desperate situations.
This has been a major controversy for the past decade (probably no thanks to Berserk 2016), but Kengan Ashura is largely cel-shaded, which has been negatively received throughout the industry. Granted it’s better than Berserk’s animation, but when it’s bad, it really stands out. In the way that it stands out is mostly in context to Ouma’s hair, which looks more like a wig since the animators don’t take the time to put any further detail into the strands. Thankfully, it’s better than most cel-shaded anime (which we’re going to further evaluate in the final thoughts).
3. Relationship Development
Yes, we totally get season 2 (or if you read the manga) is going to get to this, but if you watch this anime for just this season without any anticipation for a season 2 or if you choose not to read the manga, the relationship development between Ouma and Kazuo doesn’t start to develop until the last episode despite Kazuo’s individual development being a bi-product of Ouma’s success. Throughout most of the series, they’re just together and that’s it. Though they do have their interactions, but their interactions are just generic and situational, and only until the last episode, does it start to have any development or meaning.
We’ll admit that the cel-shading portrayed in Kengan Ashura is a good step in the right direction. When it comes to the criticism of cel-shading, we have to put in perspective that it’s still in its infancy and just like other forms of animation such as CGI, it has far evolved for when it was first implemented. When you look at how dogs are animated in Toy Story 1 to how they are in 4, they’ve come a long way. Cel-shading is still a young art form and unfortunately, certain hit mangas are being used to help develop it, and like Ultraman, the cel-shading in Kengan Ashura does shine when it counts as it does a great job of portraying the fights. Other than that, all we can ask from this is that we could use a season 2 right now!