First Look: Cestvs: The Roman Fighter

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Manga Adaptation by Bandai Namco Pictures
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Cestvs is a slave in the Roman Empire, drafted as a boxer to fight other slaves for the entertainment of the high class. Due to his owner being a “merciful man”, he will gain his freedom upon winning 100 fights, though a single loss will guarantee his demise.

Euri’s verdict: Cestvs: The Budget Fighter

Even before I watched the first episode of Cestvs, I had seen people compare it to similar-looking Netflix shows like Baki and Kengan Ashura. As much as it was definitely not being said as a positive, to me that way a-okay – I binged the shit out of both those shows during lockdown and heck yeah am I up for more. Except it’s not more of that, or at least not yet.

Cestvs starts off terribly – easily the worst first impression to an anime I’ve seen in a long time. We get a flash-forward to a fight between Cestvs and an unnamed fighter, sporting some awful CG that’s very reminiscent of the recent Berserk shows. It doesn’t look so bad in stills, but the animation is where it truly falls over; dead expressions, flapping jaws galore and an atrocious sense of impact for a show that is meant to be about fighting.

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This lasts a little over three minutes, where the show then transitions completely into a 2D anime. Listen, it’s absolutely fine to mix and match 2D and 3D if you can do it well, but you’re meant to put your best work up front. If that’s what they were most proud of here, then boy do I not have hope for the remainder of the show. Despite the intro, OP and ED sequences all being in 3D, the rest of the episode and the snippets of episode two we see are all in 2D.

Unfortunately, the 2D animation isn’t much to write home about either. It certainly does the job as far as the scenes surrounding the fights go, but there’s a finesse that’s lacking in the combat scenes. Cestvs’ first fight featured many quick shots of static imagery, interspersed with second-long bursts of animation. Few of these shots looked good, and there was a heavy reliance on camera movements and drawn-in speed lines that screamed of bad storyboarding.

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To top it all off, the first episode doesn’t make a good case for why we should be caring about Cestvs’ story outside of the fights. If there’s a focus on the Roman Empire and Nero (who does appear in this episode as a child), that would certainly give a bit more reason to follow along, but the show hasn’t hinted at it. Beyond Cestvs’ 100 fights, we establish a rivalry with another young boy who uses pankration instead of boxing, which is all set-up for another fight down the road. Resting on the fights as the major draw is fine of course – I certainly wasn’t watching Kengan Ashura for its story – but unless there’s a sharp improvement in future episodes I really don’t see what the draw is.

I’m at a loss, honestly. Cestvs: The Roman Fighter is clearly a beloved series to some – it’s produced 24 volumes of manga across two stories and has been published since 1997 – but I can’t imagine diehard fans will have been pleased with this opener. I hope it improves, but I won’t be sticking around to find out.

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