Ouma Tokita, nicknamed “The Ashura”, is a young fighter looking to prove himself on the world stage. This leads Tokita to enter a fighting tournament held by the Kengan Association. The tournament is driven by corporate greed as corporations invest fortunes in the lives of their fighters.
There is a trend with many of the Netflix original content to embrace more 3D heavy anime, a style which used to be more niche, is now becoming more prevalent within the genre, but still feels like it has yet to be fully realized (whether it be an issue of technology or experience). Kengan Ashura showcases both limitations as well as progress within favoring the 3D anime style.
Firstly, to point out the major faults, the characters when resting in static motion, look very unnatural and uncomfortable. To add to this, the backgrounds don’t often blend well with the fighters, often relying on more blurred and less lively sets to ensure there is not too much of a stark contrast between combatants and the background.
Where the animation does really shine in Kengan Ashura, is within the fighting sequences themselves. Ignoring the dull and muddied backdrops, when the action picks up and becomes high paced, the fighters look very sharp, and the combat flows smoothly, it is the fighting sequences that help overcome the, otherwise harsh, visual presentation. Given the success of many fighting anime series laying in being able to create memorable fights, the production does succeed in creating engaging battles. The anime will sometimes switch to a more traditional style, often in the way of flashbacks, where it seems they needed more detail in background environments. These moments are always really well animated and add some much needed style outside of the fighting sequences.
The character design becomes rather reminiscent of a long term established series in “Baki the Grappler“, which was recently revitalized through Netflix. The most notable comparison will be drawn to the character design itself, with many of the fighters containing unrealistic body proportions, (muscles on top of muscles), and able to utilize bulky figures in extremely unconventional ways. “Kengan Ashura” also looks to a lot of traditional forms of mixed martial arts to create a background profile of each fighter and the trails and sacrifices they made in order to become the best. Perhaps, the most notable comparison will lie within it’s violent nature, with the fights being no holds barred and the characters coming back from wounds that would normally render death. “Kengan Ashura” does not hold back on the blood and violence, and will hold a lot of appeal to those who can stomach the graphic violence.
The script itself can be a bit hard to follow, and having not read the manga, I did feel a bit left out of some of the story. The amount of personas introduced in each episode can be in the dozens, and whether they will play a major role in the tournament, or exist just to prop up other fighters, at times, can be hard to determine. Thankfully, even short lived characters seem fully realized, and do add more intrigue into each match. However, to some it will be a bit of a deterrent to have such a huge cast, with a lot of the story focused on fighters who just disappear. Deeper plot development feels like it will be relegated to later seasons, as even the title character only gets one match within the massive tournament. It does not help that throughout the first season, our main character often appears distant, often falling asleep during matches instead of having any running commentary. Thankfully his manager, Kazuo Yamashita, acts as a strong voice to help tell the narrative, even if Yamishita himself is a bit neurotic and bumbling.
Both the English and Original Japanese voice actors do a comparable job of bringing the each character to life. I found myself favoring the English dub in the series, though both are serviceable. The rest of the sound design is rather generic, with no real music tracks standing out. The soundtrack does not deter either, but really feels like just white noise on top of the fighting sequences.
Kengan Ashura stands as one of the greater attempts to embrace the insanity and attention to detail that other anime and manga has set the ground work for. It really takes the time to build the world of every fighter, making all interactions a fascinating watch. Having been a long time fan of mixed martial arts, I have always appreciated series such as “Baki The Grappler” and “Ippo no Hajime” and I believe fans who give the, at times, rough anime style a chance, will embrace the anarchy that Kengan Asura showcases so competently.