Manga-ka: Shouko Fukaki
Publisher: CMX Manga
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “Jin’s a happy, irresponsible high school kid with extraordinary powers. The problem is, they only show up once a month. He’s got a great group of friends, including the attractive Fusano, who takes her own fighting skills way more seriously than Jin does. But that all changes when some tough guys challenge him on one of the days when he isn’t powered up. Turns out they were hired by his estranged brother Soichiro, who is after something that Jin possesses. And when Soichiro later attacks Fusano, the war between brothers is on.”
With this entry into martial arts manga, CMX’s Flex Comics offers a fairly solid, action-oriented series to its readers. While similar to many “teen randomly has extreme natural talent in beating people up“ plots, an air of mystery and a blend of kinetic, distinctive artwork puts this title slightly ahead of the pack.
Opening with the usual high school setting, at first you might expect some sort of tournament or regimented training. Instead, Jin is a seemingly normal student whose talent in martial arts varies from super-human to below average at different times of the month. The mystery of Jin’s prowess, weaknesses and where he gained this knowledge create an compelling atmosphere for the reader. As Jin is stalked by his estranged brother, some facts about the family come to light but much is still unknown. Fukaki wisely chooses to keep many of her cards away from readers, dropping hints here and there such as the fairly shocking opening scenes of a younger Jin. Doing away with the usual aspects of shonen martial arts manga makes for a vastly different feel from more formulaic approaches, and one hopes the approach isn’t abandoned later on.
This atmosphere is complimented by a core family cast and an atypical female friend for the lead. Jin’s father and sister Toko play key roles in the mystery, and one wonders what skills they might be hiding given Jin’s talents. Toko is the picture of the big sister, helping to raise her little brother, friendly and supportive, yet is in truth hiding many secrets. Meanwhile, serious and strong friend Fusano makes for a fun counter to Jin‘s seemingly happy-go-lucky nature, engaging him in practice combat. Later developments don’t present her as strongly as she could be seen, so she does fall slightly into the “talented but not as good as the boys” trap of some Shonen Jump female supporting characters. Still, it was interesting what a core role both play in this initial outing, and made for a change of pace from some shonen manga I’ve read where girls can seem like wallpaper. His male friends get little screen time, though the pastry and Toko-obsessed ex-gangster Choji is a highlight. While much information on the cast has yet to be revealed, the reader is given a generally strong feel for the core cast of Toko, Fukaki, Jin and his psychotic older brother through their actions. The focus on the core group helps pull the plot along.
One thing to enjoy about CMX’s Flex offerings is how varied the art is. Sometimes you’ll have a magazine with a house-style its artists root themselves in like Hana to Yume, but Flex seems to enjoy publishing a fairly varied number of series on their assorted websites in Japan that are later collected in print. While Broken Blade is classic mecha anime stylings, The World I Create uses a cutesy, kid friendly style, and Genghis Khan went for a fairly illustrative look not typical of fan oriented comics, Genryu Origin delivers yet another flavour to the table. Characters are tall and lanky like in shojo manga, yet the action also draws from shonen manga roots. As they get beaten and bruised in a slightly sketchy art style, one is reminded of superhero comics, as characters have been given more weight and anatomical attention than in cartoonier fare. The fight scenes are fairly brutal, a blur of speed lines and crushed limbs, though only mild amounts of blood due to their superhuman nature. Grounding it a little in real world martial arts, Fukaki creates kinetic fight scenes that occur naturally in the story, keeping the reader involved, while also dropping enough information to avoid having them be a purely visual exercise.
CMX’s presentation is fairly solid with some rather vivid colour pieces that make good use of their space, and compliment the oriental themes of the cover art, suiting the martial arts genre of the work. Sound effects are replaced with translations where possible, and when not are accompanied by translations in similar fonts, something I appreciate whenever I see it. I am often under whelmed when publishers opt for just a generic translation note but this sort of translation keeps the action going and doesn’t draw you out of the stories aesthetic, blending in fairly well with its surroundings.
I’d easily recommend The Battle of Genryu to fans of fighting manga. Though a little formulaic in some respects, an intriguing cast and their correspondingly mysterious pasts keeps ones’ attention. It’s well-polished shonen manga fare with some potential to grow into something more, or at least competently keep the reader entertained. I was fairly enthralled by the series as it operates somewhere between the nebulous areas of kids combat manga like Naruto and more violent and overdramatic fare like Tough, with a sleek polished art style and a more character-oriented approach then most.