Are you in the mood for a fight anime that's entirely over the top and a bit stupid, yet somehow brilliant in just how bombastically stupid it is? Look no further than the Netflix original series The Record of Ragnarok. I wasn't entirely sure I was down with it for the first episode, but once I got used to the pacing and the entire silly dumbness that they wholly embraced for good fun I was pretty sold.
The set up is that all of the pantheons of the gods are pretty fed up with humanity, so they put it to a vote on whether we deserve to exist or not. They unanimously decide to get rid of us, but the valkyrie Brunhilde intercedes and proposes a Contest of Champions like tournament where different key human figures from across our history will battle against the most powerful gods.
Season one starts us off with Thor VS Lü Bu and this is where it immediately became obvious that anything goes pacing wise in this series. For all intents and purposes this first fight feels like the climax of the series, leaving you wondering how they could possibly go harder.
Then round two rolls around and we get Zeus VS Adam. Yes, that Adam. And he fights with only a knuckleduster. Plus, they entirely redo the origin story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent, so really, anything goes.
Meanwhile Zues enters the arena like a wrestler with music and pyrotechnics, and evolves throughout the fight into different forms making this feel like a Dragonball Z marathon. It's at this point that I really fell in love with the series because like......what the hell.
The next match is between Poseidon, who is built up to be one of the scariest killers among all the gods, and swordsman Kojiro Sasaki, who's noted for never winning a fight in his life. And he is one of the most likeable characters and the way they use his character and story to just create an entirely different type of fight is one of the reasons I appreciate the series.
Each battle is entirely unique with its own sub-story. As the pacing of the series is basically one battle immediately followed by the other, the rest of the storytelling outside of the arena is told through flashbacks. Additional exposition is a mix of the ring announcer Heimdall giving us intros plus other gods such as Shiva, Ares, Aphrodite, Loki, and others adding commentary. In addition, we also get a changing chorus in the human audience as people relevant to the warrior's life watch on. So for Adam we get an audience and commentary from Eve, Cain, Abel, and even Michelangelo.
The plot is fairly light as the show embraces being a big fight anime, so just know that going in. The dialogue is over the top, and everything is exaggerated to the upteenth degree. Aphrodite is so voluptuous that she's a parody of the sexy anime babe trope, so much so that she requires two attendants to constantly hold up her breasteses. It's consistently as ridiculous as it sounds and has birthed plenty of internet memes as you might expect.
The aspect that helps elevate the show just a little bit for me is that there is some heart to it in regard to depicting the struggle of mankind to push on. That sounds a bit out of place for something so overtly dumb, but they manage to hit the note plenty of times when it comes to the chorus voices in the crowd of humanity. Whether it's Lü Bu's soldiers being happy for him to achieve some sort of warrior's nirvana, all of humanity realizing Adam defends us because he views us all as his children, or Kojiro Sasaki's teachers and rivals all rooting for him as he realizes they are a part of him, the series definitely has some feel good moments.
The animation is a lot of fun as well, mostly utilizing traditional animated art with bits of CGI animation tossed in for certain spots. It makes a lot of sense, especially for showing Lü Bu's army and for filling other odd sequences. There is a truly weird mixed sequence though where a normally animated Zues dances to the techno-fiddling of a 3D animated Hermes, creating a visually dissonant scene.
If you don't care for fight manga and anime then you'll most likely not care much for this and can easily avoid it. And as I mentioned, the pacing is a bit odd, so you have that to work through as well. Plus, besides the Valkyries (who are generally relegated to a side role as living weapons for the humans) we don't get any female warriors. There are negative reviews focusing on sexism or a lack of plotting, and there's a validity to those complaints. On the other hand though, the show is simply too dumb to take that seriously. At no point did I switch this on thinking the point would be anything else than a big stupid brawl akin to Celebrity Death Match, so I think as long as you adjust your expectations you'll be fine.
Also, season 1 ends with the next match being announced as Hercules VS Jack The Ripper and I just wanna see how that plays out.