I find it funny how this was such a controversial first episode. You’d think people wouldn’t equate a character with unlikable traits or flaws to a poorly written one, but I guess not.
I guess I’ve come to expect too much from anime fans when I saw the intense backlash for this one. Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou, a 70’s wrestling manga by Tetsuya Chiba of Ashita no Joe fame has already received a ton of unjustified flack for its brutish lead character, Matsutarou. Although I can see why people would dislike the guy, I feel as though harping excessively on negative character traits woefully underpins this episode’s strengths in goofy, cartoonish comedy – which while not great, turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me.
The object of hatred by many, Sakaguchi Matsutarou is the story’s token big guy, minus the heart of gold. It would be an understatement to call Matsutarou a jerk, because really, his whole existence revolves around leeching off others, behaving crudely and intimidating people to get his way. Now obviously, this makes him a very detestable being, but does this necessarily mean he’s a bad character and the sole reason not to watch this show?
I can’t say for certain at the present moment, being the first episode and all, but from my impressions at this point in time, I would like to say no. As RMNDolphy points out in his insightful post, Matsutarou is a horrible guy and the type of person you wouldn’t want to hang around with, lest you’re looking to get your lunch money stolen. But here’s the loophole, this is a silly Chinese cartoon and not an insertion point for the viewer to feel threatened by Matsutarou’s actions. Matsutarou’s impositions and lack of decency are meant to drive the comedy forward, while also serving as a basis for his character’s initial disposition – which I’m betting will benefit him greatly when the plot shifts towards his sumo wrestling career. Thus, it’s not so much a question of whether Matsutarou being an asshole wrecks the show but rather how that personality is used to effectively instigate hilarious situations.
And speaking of which, I’d say this episode did a damn fine job of achieving that, for the most part anyway. It could just be that I’m more fond of visual gags involving goofs stirring up trouble, but I felt quite a few of the scenarios were scripted-well – hilarity ensuing from Matsutarou’s thoughtless behaviour. This is where I differ the most in my stance, as a number of people have already voiced their dissatisfaction with the show trying to crack jokes at other characters’ misfortune.
But really, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of viewer sadism, especially in Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou’s case. The episode was so chock-full of deliberate comic mischief and visual exaggerations that it was almost impossible to take completely seriously (though once again, anime fans found a way to do so). In one scene, a famished Matsutarou spins his little baby brother around to snatch a lollipop, which fellow rocket scientists will know is basically playing off the age-old saying of “taking candy from a baby”. I mean really, Matsutarou’s ludicrous pettiness is something straight out of a 70’s era cartoon, and I felt the production did a good job at capturing that tone. For instance, a scene towards the end of the episode features a drunken Matsutarou and his entourage speeding through some narrow streets and causing massive mayhem along the way. What really made this scene was the intentional choppy animation; emulating the frantic and jovial nature of the ride and making it appear harmless, despite the apparent destruction.
The only part of the episode that I felt pushed the envelope a bit far was Matsutarou making advances on his female teacher, who had passed out from the shock of the car ride. Despite the obvious implications, it was still played up to be nothing more than a silly crush, with Matsutarou making a gross fish face in an attempt to kiss her – a gag fairly common in slapstick cartoons. Hopefully they don’t attempt to cross any other lines with this stuff, but compared to what we see in modern ecchi anime, this was incredibly tame.
Finally, in spite of all I’ve said about Matsutarou being the world’s biggest asshole, I surprisingly felt his character was portrayed with a small shred of humanity. Obviously I’m not trying to paint him as a saint here, but the below examples that otherwise depict Matsutarou as a jerk can be looked at more in terms of his relationship with the other characters.
“But he stole that nice old man’s food”
Though partly out of sheer greed, upon closer look at the pair’s relationship, Matsutarou and the old geezer pull plenty of punches at each other. Seeing as the old man isn’t above using Matsutarou’s physical strength for his own manual labour and tries to cheat him out of his pay at the end of the episode, squeezing a few meals out of him seems fair. The two obviously have an odd sort of repoire with one another, which is why I wasn’t bothered by Matsutarou’s mistreatment of him.
“But he almost ran over his siblings!”
Yes, but it’s not done out of malice. And most importantly of all, if he really was such a despicable person, why would his siblings come running up to him, overjoyed to see him? I saw this more as Matsutarou being an irresponsible and annoying older sibling, though obviously it’s blown up for comedic effect rather than realism.
So overall, I can actually say that I enjoyed this one. From the response on the internet, this isn’t going to be a show for everyone, especially given its crude humour and almost guaranteed long-running nature (the manga is 36 volumes and it’s replacing Saint Seiya Omega, which ran for two years, in its timeslot). The real question is whether or not Toei-san can maintain the energy of Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou. Either way, I’d encourage more open-minded audiences and fans of 70’s style anime to give this one a shot, despite the bad rep.