What is this?
At the height of the Roman Empire, Cestvs is a boy who is enslaved and placed in a training school for boxers to fight in the Colosseum.
Cestvs: The Roman Fighter is based on Shizuya Wazarai's Kentō Ankoku Den Cestvs and Kendo Shitō Den Cestvs manga and streams on Crunchyroll on Tuesdays.
How was the first episode?
I know exactly one thing about boxing: it's really, really helpful as therapy for my father's Parkinson's Disease. That, however, is next to useless knowledge when it comes to this show, because, despite his abiding love for Roman history, my father is not, in fact, an ancient Roman. (Just as well given that whole Masada thing and the fact that the first Jewish-Roman war happened during the reign of Emperor Nero, i.e. the guy in charge during the time period this show is set in.) Fortunately for those of us who aren't boxing experts, the form the sport took in its early years doesn't necessarily appear to have much in common with its modern incarnation – for one thing, no one has spikes on their gloves anymore.
As far as settings go, it's hard to beat this episode for historical interest. The story opens in the first year of Nero's reign, 54 C.E., and a lot of the details are really neat, especially the costuming and look of the city. (If you prefer you mostly-naked guys buff and scarred, forget Fairy Ranmaru – this is your show.) Regrettably, the animation is in no way up to the same standards, and that goes double for the ghastly CG in the opening moments. But in terms of history, Agrippina the Younger, Nero's somewhat infamous mother, also appears to be in line with surviving ancient texts, meaning she's portrayed as violent and aggressive in her attempts to rule over her seventeen-year-old son. Nero also seems to fall in line with history, which is to say that we see more of the person who opened his palaces to the people after the Great Fire of Rome rather than the man who supposedly fiddled while it burned – which would have been quite a feat since fiddles didn't get invented until about 1400 years after Nero's death.
The story, on the other hand, isn't looking like it has much appeal outside of its target audience. Things are grim, violent (though not bloody), and in this episode strictly focus on how Cestvs, a fifteen-year-old slave, is preternaturally gifted at boxing. We don't know how he got so good or why he's able to take down opponents who are much larger and older than he is, though, so you need to be ready to take it as given that he's awesome strictly because he's the protagonist. We get only the briefest of training sessions with his coach, Zafar the Numidian (Numidia is now Algeria), and most of what we know about Cestvs is that he wants to earn his freedom and he really, really doesn't want his opponents to be killed. Also the way his name is written is intensely irritating – why is he “Cestvs” when the other characters aren't “Rvska” and “Demetrivs?”
Apart from the history, this just feels like it's going through the motions. It may improve now that Ruska and pankration have been introduced, but I think I'd rather go re-read the SPQR mysteries.