Ah, shounen-fighting series. How many of them have fallen into the pit of mediocrity? Probably too many to count. Still, once in a while a series appears in the genre that actually delivers. The cream of the crop is for me the Law of Ueki, and even though Kekkaishi couldn’t come to that same level, it’s still a good example of a well-developed series in a genre that overall consists out of lazy manga-adaptations and toy-commercials.
For once our lead heroes (Yoshimori and Tokine) don’t have offensive powers. In fact, the entire concept of Kekkaishi is based around defence; all they can do is block, nothing more. The first twenty episodes are basically just reserved for random stories that let the viewer get familiarized with both the characters, and how they make use of their own powers in their own way. The creators manage to keep these episodes more than interesting through lots and lots of quirky characters, who’ll put a smile on your face.
Then when the story comes, this series has the advantage that it can work with characters that are already pretty well fleshed out, and the creators make perfect use for that. Keep a lookout for when Gen appears, because he’s without a doubt the best character of the series. Throughout its run of 52 episodes, Kekkaishi isn’t afraid to do things that usual series of the genre try to avoid.
There are a few problems with this series, though. Fighting-series should NEVER play with hidden powers, and yet every single one seems to have them. Although Kekkaishi uses them in enough moderation, they do pop up at the worst possible moments. This is the cause that the final three episodes will feel rather meh, which is a shame because the episodes that lead up to them are excellent.
It also feels that a part of this series does feel needlessly drawn out, though. I believe that this would have been the perfect series for 39 episodes (my personal favourite series-length). Apparently, this series was dropped by its sponsor and had to be drawn out to a 52-episode format so that it could be sold overseas, though this is why I’m of the opinion that series should just use the amount of episodes that fits for their story, and not make the story fit its amount of episodes.
On a semi-unrelated side-note, I think that this is a good place to voice some complaints about Sunrise that I’ve been having. I personally consider four animation-studios as “the big four” for television-series: Nippon Animation, Production IG, Madhouse and Studio Deen with as runners up Gonzo and Bones. I don’t think of Sunrise at all when I think of my favourite series, and yet they have been behind some interesting series as Freedom, Mai Hime, Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto and Gintama.
I think that I finally know the reason: it’s a bit harder to see, but they’re just like Kyoani and Makoto Shinkai. They may be great in their own way, but they’re too afraid to try out new things. Makoto Shinkai has his male main characters, Kyoani has its high-school settings, and for Sunrise, everything has to be epic and everything has to be a commercial success. Concepts that work get needlessly drawn out, which is probably why Kekkaishi went on for too long.
At the moment, I’m still hoping that Gintama won’t run out of jokes, now that it’s already passed its ninety-episode mark. Sunrise has produced a lot of noteworthy anime, but they’re just not like Gonzo, who can churn out a Master of Epic once in a while from out of nowhere. Come on, why not try a slice-of-life series next time?