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Monday, June 25, 2012

Kinniku Banzuke: Kongou-kun no Daibouken!: Makoto Nagano Ain't Got Nuthin' on These Guys

It's anime like this one that really defines what this blog is about. In fact, this anime is so obscure that there isn't even a listing for it on the ANN Encyclopedia, nor is there is a request for it to be added to the encyclopedia. Anyway, Kinniku Banzuke was a Japanese sports entertainment show that aired from 1995 to 2002 where people could enter seemingly unbeatable challenges, simply with the goal of attaining completion & victory over the challenge. The show eventually became a big hit and has since created spin-offs, the most well-known of which is the obstacle course show SASUKE, which was aired in North America on G4 under the name Ninja WarriorNorth American audiences later received Banzuke under the title Unbeatable Banzuke. Unfortunately, on May 5, 2002 two participants suffered cervical vertebrae injuries during two different events, and the show went on immediate hiatus, which then turned into outright cancellation. But shortly before this unfortunate couple of accidents a 3-episode OVA was made that starred Kongou-kun, the show's mascot (there was also a Game Boy Advance game to go with it), and, man, is this OVA just a sheer amount of pure sugar.

Kongou is a simple-minded boy who lives for two things: Athletic competition & playing fair. Along with his friends Yuka, Sasuke, & Habato, he dedicates every day to training with the hopes to eventually compete at Muscle Stadium, where the greatest athletes are crowned. One day, though, a group of kids appear outside of the the dojo that Kongou and the others train at. Made up of Randall, Jyogi, Pencil, & Tajiki, the four follow Dark Muscle, the mysterious man behind the games at Muscle Stadium, and offer an invitation to Kongou's group to compete at the legendary athletic competition. Though the games have gained an uncomfortable air to them since Dark Muscle took control, Taisou, Yuka's father & the head of the dojo, allows Kongou & the others to compete. What awaits them, though, are potentially dangerous "death matches" that might have some unfair elements to them.

Yes, you read that right: The anime based on fair, fun, & tough challenges features games that are potentially unfair, dangerous, & deadly, not to mention are done in a four-against-four team style (most Banzuke challenges were either one-on-one or a group effort). It's actually a bit silly, like with the first game, Strike Out, where the objective is to, on a wobbly pedestal above a seemingly bottomless pit & within a limited amount of pitches, knock out as many of nine panels from far away... But each panel that is eliminated corresponds to an area on the opposing team's pedestal, leaving the opposition with less space to gather on & also changing the center of balance for the pedestal. There's also Power Force, which is a one-on-one tug-of-war-style game, but with the rope being tethered to vests that each player wears and pulls against each other on... But when one player gets close enough to hit his/her buzzer and win the match the opposing player ends up being pulled back enough that he/she will fall into a pit of spikes. Naturally, since this OVA is obviously aimed at kids, there is no actual death portrayed, outside of one team of players falling to their assumed deaths during Strike Out, but it's just kind of awkward that these games are portrayed as death matches, especially when the actual Kinniku Banzuke got canceled due to injury.

Anyway, this OVA doesn't make any attempt at hiding anything or leaving you wondering too much; what you see is what you get here. Characters aren't highly developed (Kongou's crew is essentially what you see, & the members of Team Dark Muscle get a quick backstory in the last episode), the story only tells what it really needs to, & even Dark Muscle's reason for turning the Muscle Stadium games into potentially-rigged death matches isn't all too deep or even evil when you think about it (hell, his mask, which is meant to make him look kind of scary, is ruined by the small eyes he has). Still, the OVA's overall message of playing fair & trying your absolute hardest in every game is displayed very well, the characters, though simple, are fairly identifiable & even memorable (Kongou's sheer amount of muscle is kind of freaky), and the story that is told is enjoyable enough. This OVA is, quite literally, like a spoonful of sugar: It's nothing more than what you see and is an enjoyable-enough of a treat, but isn't exactly a long-lasting memory outside of that. Of course, since this is a three-episode OVA you can consider it to be like three spoonfuls of sugar, but the analogy still stays the same.

Since ANN's encyclopedia doesn't have a listing for this OVA I had to look for info regarding the cast & crew, and luckily enough I did find some info. The OVA is directed by Noriyuki Abe (Bleach, Flame of Recca, Yu Yu Hakusho), so it's understandable that the action works well here, as Abe generally knows how to deliver good action. Akatsuki Yamatoya (akitate!! Ja-Pan, To-Love-RuGintama) wrote the screenplay for the OVA, which also explains the moments that are genuinely funny. The music was done by Keisuke Kikuchi, whose only other anime credit is for the Power Stone anime, and though it's not exactly memorable by any means it also did a really good job for the scenes they were used for. The opening theme is "GIRL" by belly to belly, and it's easily the best song in the entire OVA, with a really good rock beat combined with the lead singer's high-pitched but enjoyable voice; the same can be said of the slower-paced ending theme, "Tears..." by belly to belly.

The voice cast is actually pretty well done, with some fairly recognizable names. Kongou is voiced by Rica Matsumoto, founding member of JAM Project & the voice of Pokemon's Satoshi/Ash Ketchum, Yu-Gi-Oh's Bakura, & Raijin-Oh's Jin, and Matsumoto pulls out her easily-recognizable hot-blooded male voice; in fact, she sometimes puts some men to shame when it comes to hot-blood. Yuka is voiced by Tomoe Hanba (Etna in Disgaea, Mikoto in GaoGaiGar), and she delivers another fine performance. Sasuke is voiced by Yumiko Kobayashi (Poemy in Puni Puni Poemy, Kazuma Azuma in Yakitate!! Ja-Pan), and if you're familiar with Kobayashi's high-pitched delivery, then you already know how Sasuke sounds. Habato is voiced by Takako Honda (Gimmy in Gurren Lagann, Anko in Naruto), and she does a great job with Habato's calm, cool, & collected demeanor. Rounding out the rest of the cast I could find is Seizou Katou (Taisou), Nao Nagasawa (Jyogi), Takehito Koyasu (Randall), & Kazuya Ichijou (Dark Muscle).

Like I said earlier, Kinniku Banzuke: Kongou-kun no Daibouken!/Kongou's Great Adventure is one of the best anime equivalents to eating a spoonful of sugar. You sure as hell won't really gain anything out of it, outside of Kongou's crazy, hot-blooded dedication to fair play, but at the same time there's nothing wrong with simply eating some sugar once in a while. Sugar tastes good, gives you energy, & is still essential to life to an extent, and similarly anime like this shouldn't be ignored just because they aren't high-art or offer anything "new". Yeah, in the end it's nothing but saccharine entertainment, but sometimes there's nothing wrong with sitting back and letting a short OVA like this take up some part of your life. This OVA is only about 75 minutes long, too, so it's not like you're life will suffer without that hour-or-so. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to "add an anime" to the ANN Encyclopedia...

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