Review: Burning Kabaddi (Season 1)

Hey guys! It’s Gray, and I’m here today to talk about a unique sports anime that came out recently called Burning Kabaddi!

This review is basically spoiler free because there aren’t many spoilers I could even tell you for a show like this. If you want to have a very quick spoiler-free summary and rating out of 10, then skip to the paragraph in bold at the very end.

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Burning Kabaddi is a twelve episode sports anime that revolves around a sport called, well, Kabaddi. The rules of Kabaddi seem complex, and to be honest, I don’t know all of them yet since all I know about the rules comes from the anime itself. However, to summarize, it seems like a mixture of tag, rugby, and capture the flag!

There are two teams with anywhere from 1 to 7 players on each team. The playing area is divided into two halves, and each teams take turns either “raiding” the other team, or “defending” from the other team’s raid. When a team raids, they send only one member into the other team’s half of the playing field and that player tries to make physical contact, i.e., tag or touch, a member of the opposite team. If they can tag someone and then run back safely to their half of the court, then they get a point!

However, if they are tackled by the enemy team before they can get back to their half, then the defending team gets a point. Raiders can tag multiple defenders and therefore get multiple points if they can get back safely, but that obviously is more difficult to do without getting tackled. Members who get tackled when raiding or touched when defending have to sit out and can come back into play when their team gets someone on the other team out (basically like dodgeball). The game runs on a time clock rather than a team having to score a certain number of points or something. There are more rules but those are the very bare essentials!

Our protagonist, Yoigoshi, is a very athletic, very cool, white-haired soccer prodigy who has achieved past success as being one of the best soccer players in Japan. He has just entered high school, but to everyone’s surprise, has renounced soccer and all other sports! Why? Still a bit unclear, but it appears that he had a bad experience in soccer due to differences with his teammates. I think he was bad with teamwork.

Since he no longer plays soccer, he is now taking the obvious secondary path of being a professional online streamer. He wears a mask over his face to hide his identity, but is basically subsequently forced to try Kabaddi due to blackmail (the vice-captain, a third year student, threatens to tell everyone that he is a streamer).

As a protagonist, I can’t say there is a whole lot wrong with Yoigoshi. I think when a sports anime attempts to tackle an unknown sport like Kabaddi, it is a great idea to have the protagonist be a newcomer to the sport. That way, the audience gets to gradually learn all the rules with the protagonist, which is a great way to convey the necessary information about Kabaddi and let us identify more with his struggle to improve! Yoigoshi is the type of character that I would normally expect to be a foil to the protagonist rather than a main character, since main characters are often loud, stupid, and overwhelmingly determined. Yoigoshi feels a lot like Furuya in Ace of Diamond or Kageyama from Haikyuu in that he is calm, cold, and highly athletically skilled. While Yoigoshi is determined like every sports anime protagonist, he is usually quiet and calculating about everything that he does, and I honestly prefer that. In any case, it is good to have a main character that is a bit different than the usual.

The team itself has some strengths and weaknesses among its cast. Many of the characters feel very flat at the moment in the sense that I feel very little emotional attachment to them or their growth as players. Their motivations in life and their personalities are still largely a mystery, and are still shallowly developed, making them feel more like props in the plot rather than fleshed out human beings. I feel this way about the three newcomers to the team who were introduced near the end of the season, the two strongman second-year defensive characters on the team, and even to a lesser extent the vice-captain and the small tough guy first year. We have gotten substantial glimpses into the lives and thoughts of a couple of those characters, but it wasn’t enough to really make me care about them. With only 12 episodes, there is still plenty of room for growth, though!

However, the main character and the team captain are fairly well-written and designed characters. Yoigoshi attempts to achieve his typical level of dominance in this new sport using his passionate, but analytical and focused style of self-improvement. He has a very strong desire to be the best at whatever sport he plays. He is also trying to understand his feelings toward Kabaddi and sports as a whole due to his past difficulties with soccer. These things make him compelling as a main character.

The team captain, Oujou, is also a great character. Oujou is a third-year who is extremely sickly, thin, and weak. He has none of the physical attributes that would make a player good at Kabaddi. However, he is amazing at it. Despite his weakness, he has developed a powerful technique that still allows him to dominate even people with superior physical attributes. This technique is used in combination with his sheer love of the sport. His abilities are unique and fun to watch. I won’t explain more specifically about his technique because I want to allow you the pleasure of seeing it in action yourself if you choose to watch the show!

As I mentioned before, the rest of the team is weakly developed. This weakness extends to the sport itself, since I feel like Yoigoshi and Oujou are the only ones on the Kabaddi court (field? pitch?) who actually matter and can do anything substantial in a match. Only one person can be a “raider” at once, and Yoigoshi and Oujou are raiders, so every time the team raids, the action is necessarily focused on one of them. They also defend (the whole team does). These two characters are also good at evasion, and thus stay in longer than other characters, meaning that they also hog a lot of the action when others are eliminated. Although a couple other players on the team have decent skill, they cannot effectively stand up to the key rivals who face them in the scrimmage matches — only Yoigoshi and Oujou can. Maybe this will change, but right now the real team just feels like those two alone.

Speaking of the rivals, they were a strong okay. It all seems pretty generic. We have a man with overwhelming strength with emotional baggage with Oujou. He is paired with a rookie character fired up like a wild animal and having fun being strong. Their motivations are not that complex or deep, but they are good enough in terms of their skill at Kabaddi. The rivals during the other scrimmage were less interesting, but also had a couple defined strengths that spiced up the match a bit. Another weakness is that we didn’t get to know any other characters on the rival teams aside from two key ones. This doesn’t seem realistic and makes the action less compelling due to fewer strategic factors and “micro-battles” going on within the scrimmages.

Rokugen Ayumu: the rival with overwhelming strength

Unfortunately, a lot of the dialogue and characters just seem very simple and canned. I don’t feel like the characters are real people, and a series needs that in order for a viewer to be strongly attached to the characters. I have seen enough sports anime to know all the tropes about fighting, rivalry, improvement, teamwork. and all that. I need it to be more complex than the bare minimum sports anime formula to give it a lot of respect and be more invested in it.

But what did deviate from the standard formula was the fact that they chose such a fresh sport to make the anime about. Kabaddi is something that many people will not have experienced or heard of (unless they are from India, or other south Asian countries who commonly play the sport). I don’t know of any anime centered around a sport like this. That has inherent value, and it made watching the show a lot of fun! I got to learn the rules of a new game and, as Yoigoshi explored the different ways he could strategize and improve, I got to think about it along with him.

The show did other things well. I thought the characters were funny, and particularly laughable was that the soccer coach kept trying to recruit Yoigoshi, dragging other soccer players into his shenanigans. The action in the sport was exciting and well-executed. I was able to follow along with each “raid” and feel the impact and momentum of the game as the points went back and forth. The series is set up well for the future as well, because they will be working towards a tournament together and will face someone much stronger than the rivals they faced in the scrimmages (this was hinted at). I have a lot of hope that they will introduce more rivals and will give the key team members more development both in terms of their personalities and their Kabaddi skills. The other team members need to become assets to the team so that the Kabaddi battles will stay interesting. The series definitely has potential!

Summary: As it is right now, the series is pretty middle of the pack. It was fun to watch, and I really enjoyed exploring a fresh sport. It had funny moments and a couple of the characters were cool and interesting to watch. There were weaknesses in the development and strength of the rest of the team, and a lot of the dialogue and rivals were fairly generic. I have a lot of hope for the future of the anime if it can shore up the current shortcomings in another season. I would say that people who are new to anime should watch other shows before spending time on this. However, if you like sports anime a lot and have seen many of them, this anime is something worth seeing!

Final Score: 6.5/10

Thanks for reading!