When it comes to anime and manga, there are titles that one inevitably forgets and ones that always linger in the back of one’s mind. The latter often leave that lasting impact because they look a little different or just don’t fit easily into the boxes assumed to house them. Back in 2016, I reviewed for this blog a Japanese manga app called MangaOne, and among the works I sampled was one such attention-grabbing sports series called Shakunetsu Kabaddi, or Burning Kabaddi. Now, almost five years later, it’s getting an anime TV series. Seeing it show up on the season schedule was certainly a surprise, but I welcomed the chance to see it in action on the screen.
Ever since I first heard about the sport of Kabaddi (through Durarara!! of all things), I’ve tried to learn how it works. I read about it, looked up the rules, and even watched highlight clips—which is also how I found out that it’s a very active spectator sport in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. However, it defies easy description, and the most I could understand is that it’s a sort of mix between tag and dodgeball where people say the word “Kabaddi” over and over to avoid taking deep breaths. With respect to the sport’s obtuse nature, Burning Kabaddi actually does a good job of explaining how everything works, and I think I might finally be able to follow along.
An Unorthodox Visual Style
Now, if the show were merely a Kabaddi tutorial, it wouldn’t be all that fun or interesting to follow. Thankfully, Burning Kabaddi also stands out in terms of its visual presentation. While many good and popular sports anime like Haikyu!, Free!, and Yuri!!! On Ice go for a prettier aesthetic full of handsome guys with muscular-yet-svelte bodies, Burning Kabaddi focuses on extremely muscular physiques and a kind of physical intensity that almost borders on parody—their school name, Noukin High, basically means "Meathead High." It’s not Baki the Grappler levels of hypermasculinity, but it falls somewhere between that and the unorthodox designs of Yowamushi Pedal. I’ve yet to see some of the really extreme imagery from the manga (that gigantic hand from the MangaOne review still sticks out in my mind all these years later), but the anime is, in a certain sense, refreshingly aggressive.
Eccentric Yet Charismatic Characters
The characters themselves and their bizarre personalities are born out of this look and feel. The protagonist is high schooler Tatsuya Yoigoshi, a former prodigy soccer player who has abandoned the sport because he believes that athletes are petty and jealous. Tatsuya has a bad attitude, but it’s likely that his anger comes from the resentment others have shown him in the past, and Burning Kabaddi is all about a guy discovering a world closer to his competitive ideal. The supporting characters are also all weirdos themselves, with the bald and stocky first-year Souma Azemichi (see below) making quite an impression in particular. His design is such that he straddles the line between boring background character and highly compelling main cast member, and I find that fascinating.