Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
      ( 8/04/2009 09:17:00 PM ) Bill S.  


"ALL OF THIS IS FOR JINNOSUKE'S SAKE!" Though its title is unwieldy, Shoko Fukaki's "teen-plus" rated fight manga, The Battle of Genryu: Origin (CMX) moves along zippily enough in its opening volume. The story of a teen, Jinnosuke Tajimi, who gains strength and extraordinary fighting powers for one day every month, Origin opens with our hero showing off his process on one of his good days -- then falling on his face the next. "You were so cool yesterday," one of his schoolmates notes, "but that's you all over!"

A genial goof of a student, Jin is surrounded by the requisite cast of sharply typed peers: shapely Fusano is a serious-minded fighter capable of holding her own against a trio of street toughs even with one hand clasping a slashed blouse; bespectacled Tomonori is nerdy enough to recognize when a faux cop's badge is "slightly different from the real deal," while Jin's sparring buddy Choji has a history as the member of a street gang. More mysterious are the members of Jin's own family: his putative father vaguely worries about being unable to keep something "at bay," while his bodacious sister Toko is invited to a clandestine meeting with a sinister fighter named Soichiro, with whom she appears to have shared a onetime romantic thing. Soichiro claims to be Jin's older brother, leading the marginally attentive reader to conclude that there's something major our hero hasn't been told about his bio family.

How any of this relates to the series' title battle is anybody's guess. Is Genryu a place or, perhaps, some type of preternatural treasure? All we know for certain is it all revolves around Jin's undefined powers, which have been manifesting themselves more frequently over time. ("At first I had my 'good days' like twice a year," he tells his sis, "but now it's about once a month.") The fake cops sent to attack Jin were working for his nefarious older brother, though the reason behind this assault is kept vague. It looks as if Soichiro is invested in building up his brother's powers, however. When our hero later attempts to come to his girlfriend's rescue near the end of the first volume, the image of a tiger appears behind him. "Now there's my little brother," Soichiro says just before he kicks Jin's ass.

Okay, looks like what we've got here is your basic coming-of-age shonen martial arts story centered on a hero who's ignorant of his true past and the full-extent of his skills. Not much different from Naruto at heart, though Jin doesn't possess as much hyperkinetic impulsiveness as the fox-faced boy. Fukaki's art is generally serviceable -- particularly in the fight scenes -- but I regularly found myself getting distracted by his characters' cauliflower ears, of all things, which are too often penned with more detail than they need to be. I also didn't accept the book's occasional slapstick moments as readily as I do the ones in Naruto, perhaps because the artist didn't draw 'em with enough cartoony flair.

As shonen manga goes, Battle of Genryu doesn't try to cover any new ground, though I suspect it will have its followers much as many second tier American superhero comics also have their own devoted fans. If your idea of a good action sequence features characters pontificating between well-placed kicks about the reason and philosophy behind each individually titled move, you'll probably have fun with this fast-paced formulaic series.

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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