Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: June 2011
Synopsis: “Soichiro Nagi and Bob Makihara were always the meanest street brawlers around. When they enter Todo High they plan on carving out a reputation as th strongest fighters in their new school – easier said than done in a place that’s dedicated to training its students in the art of combat! After realizing they’re the new fish, swimming in a tank full of sharks, Soichiro and Bob enter the Juken fight club as rookie members. However, the Executive Council – the archrival of the Juken Club – soon launches a surprise attack. Soichiro and Bob have a chance to show their stuff, as long as they don’t get curb-kicked in the process!”
Shiny new packaging, pages of full colour artwork and a brand new translation – Viz Media has done fantastic work on bringing Tenjo Tenge back to the North American market. But how does the story hold up today when we feel like we’ve already had our share of series like it before? Martial artist high school students vye for the top spot as strongest there is with busty girls, punked-out guys and a flurry of action to keep your eyes glued to the page along the way. Tenjo Tenge was brought back for a reason and despite its questionable (but fully intact) content, it’s a manga series worth a revisit or a first time trial.
Soichiro Nagi and Bob Makihara have just begun their first year in high school and they waste no time challenging every student to a fight in order to prove themselves as the toughest pair there. They hit a snag when confronted by the childlike-in-appearance Mayu who is actually captain of the school’s Juken fight club. The other members include Mayu’s younger sister, Aya, and the seemingly average but super-powerful Takayanagi. As the four students’ lives collide, they face the trials of meeting eachother (which is a fight in itself), getting engaged (starting a not-so-strong character trend for Aya), training in the woods together (opportunity for emotional misunderstandings!) and most dangerous of all, fighting the Juken’s club archrivals the Executive Council.
There are no kiddy gloves in this story and when the two opposing groups face off, it’s literally a bloody mess. There are fights all throughout the book, from one on ones to group brawls. They all lead up to a perfect finish for the omnibus that makes the two in one set-up all the sweeter. The final chapter is a series of fights between members of the Juken fight club and the Executive Council and it’s clear these are fights to death. While some characters have supernatural abilities, such as Mayu’s ability to transform her body to look like that of a child, most of the fighting is done with hands, fists and occasionally something very sharp. Suffice to say then there’re plenty of battle scenes in Tenjo Tenge and fortunately it does them all well.
What I like most about Tenjo Tenge however is the balanced focus on a variety of characters. While Oh!Great (the author) does make a point to inform us the main character is Nagi, he shares about equal page time with his best friend Bob and the members of the Juken fight club. We follow them all whether they’re together or alone so the story not only gets a variety of locations but character perspectives’ as well. It makes the whole thing feel like a much more emersive experience than the tunnel-vision focus on a single main character the permeates most shonen series. Attention spent on some characters is more enjoyable than others of course – such as I’d much rather follow Nagi questioning his purpose to get stronger than I give a care about Aya’s romantic feelings for him.
When this series was licensed, Viz Media promised an uncensored experience. While I haven’t read the original Japanese edition, I find it hard to believe anything in this volume was censored so from my perspective they kept to their word. Violence, nudity, sex and rape – this is a series that earns its plastic wrap and 18+ rating and all readers should heed the warnings before reading. Admirably uncensored as it is, I felt the whole way through that this adult material wasn’t neccessary to the story, excluding the violence (seeing as how it is a story dedicated to fighting). You take out the sex and the nudity and you’ll still have a strong story. But I suppose that just describes fan-service to a tee, so those who like big-breasts and in your face asses need look no further. One scene though, where Bob’s girlfriend is raped – or not because the guy only went part-way in (excuse me?!) – simply felt like it was in bad taste, especially with the girl’s resulting explanation how it wasn’t a big deal.
Oh!Great’s artwork here is dated compared to his more recent work, Air Gear (currently published by Kodansha Comics) but it still works great for the story he’s telling. Obvious flaws are inconsistencies in the designs with details such as eyes and ears are often misplaced or mishapen. This can be really distracting when they’re especially off, two really far spread eyes here and a giant ear on the neck there. Anatomy-wise though the art is fantastic, exagerated in one way or another like any comic series but with a sense of movement and energy that makes every action sequence come alive. I especially liked seeing Takayanagi fight with the heavy emphasis on kicks though every character shines in this two-book omnibus’s final chapter which is a multiple character free-for-all.
Overall Tenjo Tenge was a much more fun experience than I remember from the last time I read it. That’s not to say it’s neccessarily the fault of the editions themselves (though Viz Media undoubtedly offers a significantly better packaged release) but with the story itself I was surprised to find that I liked it far more than my memory suggested I would. I find I liked more characters than not and the fight scenes were done so well that I couldn’t put the book down when they started up, so, for a series that’s entirely based around multiple characters fighting eachother, Tenjo Tenge is off to a very strong start despite its flaws.
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Book provided by Viz Media for review purposes