Last December at Jump Festa 2011 (for some reason they're named after the coming year and not the year they happen in), Toei Animation announced the "Masami Kurumada Project", which was comprised of the announcement of a brand-new Saint Seiya movie that would be done in full-CG as well as the announcement that in April 2011 another season of the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime series, subtitled Sekai Taikai-hen/World Tournament Chapter, would air. Unlike the previous season, which aired on Animax PPV, this season aired on the Animax channel itself, though it would still only be six episodes spread out across three months. Being on the channel itself made it more easily available to people who wanted to watch it... Proof of this alone is the fact that "raws" for this new season actually came out not too long after the episodes aired, unlike Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow. Yeah, they weren't the greatest raws out there, but it was truly better than "the nothing" Shadow got. But enough about production and raws and all of that stuff we don't have to honestly care about... Let's get to the actual show!
The time has finally come: After being formed following the end of the Champion Carnival, defeating Black Shaft's makeshift Team USA in a challenge match, and proving their worth to the Shadow Clan the World Jr. Boxing Tournament is beginning and Team Golden Japan Jr. is ready to fulfill their goal of "World Conquest, Absolute Victory". They will not lose a single match and they will prove their strength to the rest of the world. After defeating Team Mexico in their first match Golden Japan Jr. will have to defeat the likes of Team Italy, Team France, Team Germany, and the mysterious and godlike Team Greece if they want to fulfill their goal.
It's not hard to feel excited for this season of Ring ni Kakero 1, as the World Tournament has been hyped up and talked about by every country's Jr. champion since the very first season. That's right, since Season 1 of this anime series aired back in late 2004 this newest season has, in a sense, been nearly seven years in the making. In terms of storyline this season is pretty simple in execution and is really the culmination of all the previous seasons. This season knows what it has to do, and that is showcase the fights between Golden Japan Jr. and the other countries that have been shown off since the beginning. From Don Juliano to Napoleon Baroa to the duo of Scorpion and Helga all of them get their times to shine. What about Black Shaft, you say? Well, the Nichibei Kessen was really his place to shine so he's "taken care of" early on so that Don Juliano can get his spot to shine in Shaft's place... Team Italy is made up of the Jr. Mafia, after all.
In the end, that's what this season if made up of: Fights. Literally, each episode has a minimum of two complete fights in them, with episode 3 maxing out with a total of four fights, so if you felt that the previous seasons, especially Nichibei Kessen-hen, didn't have enough fast-paced action in them then Sekai Taikai-hen should fit the bill nicely. Naturally, all of these fights end up with not as much time for story to be developed, and here is kind of the double-edged sword for this season. Admittedly, checking with the version of the manga that I have, there is a fair amount that the anime skips over in this season. For example, Black Shaft actually gets a page or two to shine during this story arc and even converses with Ryuji, Ishimatsu, and Team Italy's Dinobaze before getting taken out, but in the anime's first episode Black Shaft is taken out without even getting shown off outside of a image of him and his actual Team USA when Golden Japan talks about him. Also, before the fights with Team Germany and Team Greece the manga did have Golden Japan converse with members of each team (Helga and Apollon, respectively) before they all head to the ring, but the anime skips over them in their entirety.
It does suck to see stuff skipped over, but at the same time in the original manga the other Jr. champions, Black Shaft aside, aren't shown off or even referenced to until this very story arc happens. The anime, on the other hand, showcased these other characters right from Season 1, Season 2 in Don Juliano's case, and it allowed the viewers to get to understand these characters and it ends up in you really looking forward to these fights finally happening. The team this probably affects the most in a negative way is Team Greece, as they were only referenced to once at the end of Season 1, not to mention Apollon's cameo at the end of Season 3, so that one piece of the manga they got before the actual fight being skipped over does suck the most. However, in a nice touch of thinking ahead, the scene where Kenzaki met Napoleon while rehabilitating in the USA back in Season 1 is shown-off as a flashback in this season. In the original manga this scene wasn't shown until right before the fight with Team France, but the anime adapted this scene in real time, and it was a nice touch to see Season 1 footage shown here. There's also a similar scene where Helga and Catherine, Japan's informational second, meet up here. In the manga Catherine was introduced in this story arc and therefore the past these two had was explained at this moment, but since Catherine was introduced in the anime through Season 2 her and Helga's past was explained back then, which allows the anime to skip over that little bit of exposition and get straight to the point. Honestly, if the anime stayed 100% accurate to the manga we wouldn't have been able to grow to understand the other Jr. champions and see how they think and operate. Don Juliano especially would have been hurt the most by this, as he's only in Episode 1.
Part of the reason this season is so good is due to very good production values and a true love to the old-school that the original manga came from. For example, at the end of Ryuji's fight with Don Juliano in Episode 1 there's a few frames where the animation goes into a very roughly-drawn black-and-white style, which helps accentuate what's happening at the moment. Probably the best example of this love of old-school is the opening itself, which features easily the best opening footage this anime has had and is one of those openings where repeated watching result in you finding little extra touches and finishes that you might have missed before. On the other half of the coin, though, this season does have a habit of re-using footage from Season 3, mainly for when Kawai and Ishimatsu do their superblows, but since those bits of animation were done so well I can't really complain. Episode 3, though, is the obvious example of an animation production holding back its budget so that later episodes could look even better; footage from the episode itself is re-used often and there are some easily-noticeable moments of saving money for later. Thankfully, the last three episodes all look great, so I can forgive that.
While Toshiaki Komura returned to direct Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow, Toei once again played musical director chairs with this series and gave directorial duties to first-timer Hiroshi Ikehata. Tough making his debut as "Series Director" here, Ikehata was already an infamous episode director and storyboarder with a flair fr the visual, with his resume has some very quality shows, such as Gurren Lagann, Big Windup!, Gosick, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The great news is that Ikehata fully delivers with his debut as the man in charge, with the show looking great from the first episode. Admittedly, though, his style is different from Komura's in that fights here, while not exactly taking a long time, do feel a little slower in execution than the fights in Season 3; in the end they still are nicely-done fights. They aren't drawn-out like Yukio Kaizawa's fights in Season 2, but rather you feel like you're enjoying every little second of it. Susumu Ueda created a lot of new music for this season, and it all sounds great, especially Team Greece's theme. In fact, there were about at least three or four new songs in the last two episode alone, which certainly surprised me. Sadly, only the first season ever received an OST, so any of Ueda's later compositions will seemingly remain inaccessible without voices & effects over them.
The voice cast is the same as usual, but you finally get to hear Takaya Kuroda (Juliano), Toshiyuki Morikawa (Napoleon), and Hikaru Midorikawa (Scorpion) belt out their respective characters' superblows, and none of them disappoint. Morikawa's voice in particular gets a little scratchy when saying "Devil... Propose!" a second time, in fact, a true indication that the actor is truly giving it his all at that moment. The only new voices of importance is for the members of Team Greece. Shinichiro Miki voices Apollon with his usual calm, cool, and collective style, but in Episode 6 you get a great reminder of how threatening Miki can sound when the situation calls for it. Kazuya Nakai voices Theseus, reprising the extremely minor role he had in the 2004 pilot film, and he brings out an appropriately cocky and hot-blooded performance. The other three, Hiro Shimono (Orpheus), Atsuchi Kisaichi (Icarus), and Tarusuke Shingaki (Ulysses), also deliver their characters very well, keeping the overall voice cast for this show excellent like always.
The opening theme is, for the fourth time, "Asu he no Toushi" by Marina del ray, but with the return of the first verse unlike Season 3. Allow me to focus on this for a second: Yes, "Asu he no Toushi" is now nearly seven years old and on the one hand I would have loved to hear a new opening theme (in fact, this song from the recent pachislot machine would have worked excellently). On the other hand, the total number of episodes this anime series is up to now is only 36, and there is plenty of anime out there that have used one opening theme across more episodes. The ending theme is "Niji no Kanata" by Marina del ray, and it's a really upbeat song that's very reminiscent of 90s anime actually; just one listen of this song instantly made it my favorite of the Ring ni Kakero 1 ending themes.
Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen is easily an excellent season of this anime series and is right up there with Seasons 1 & 3. Ever since Season 1 there were fights that we looked forward to one day watching, and this season made them happen. In that sense the anime finally delivered on what Season 1 was promising by showing off the World Tournament that everyone in the anime was looking forward to. In fact, unlike the previous three seasons which all indicated that a new season might one day be made Sekai Taikai-hen has no such hints or indications. This season ends off like this is the end of the story in the manga, though it certainly isn't the case in reality. There are three more story arcs left until the end of the manga, and hopefully one day we'll get anime adaptations of each of them. Hiroshi Kamiya actually said in a post-recording interview for this season that he would love to see the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime series go all the way to the end so that the prologue of the final battle, which was shown at the beginning of the very first episode of Season 1, would be shown once again and everything would come full circle. I certainly agree with him, and considering how this anime series always seem to survive when it looks like nothing more will ever come from it, I am hoping for the best and wishing for a Season 5. Until then I only have this to say:
LONG LIVE GOLDEN JAPAN JR.!!