Friday, July 11, 2014

Kongo Bancho, vol. 1 review

I've occasionally mentioned the White Comic video game, which had been released a few years ago as part of the shared 50th anniversary celebrations for Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magajin magazines. The game contained appearances from a couple hundred characters from both magazines, which was the majority of its appeal - it was one way to quickly sample a variety of manga titles all in one place. Two characters from one specific title did catch my eye, and I later discovered a few volumes of that manga at Book Off. But, at the time I hesitated at buying it, and then when I did want to pick up a copy I couldn't find it again. More recently, I was combing through the 100 yen shelves at Book Off for something more to read, and I came across it again.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Kongo Bancho, vol. 1, by Nakaba Suzuki. Grade: A
Suzuki debuted in 1994 with "Revenge", and has appeared in both Shonen Sunday and Shonen Jump. His other titles include Rising Impact, Ultra Red and Blizzard Axel. Kongo ran from 2007 to 2010 (12 vol. total) in Sunday, and his latest title, Nanatsu no Taizai (The Seven Deadly Sins), started in Magajin in 2012.

(Hinako discovers Kongo.)

Akira Kongo is a monster of a high school student, with an overly serious face and slicked hair with 3 spikes. He first arrives at Chiyoda Ward, in Tokyo, looking for something. At the same time, Hinako Sakura is out wandering the city in search of "futsu janai" ("not normal") things for her photo collection and she definitely considers Akira "not normal". They're accosted by an abusive old man that demands to know why they're both not in school right now. When Akira refuses to answer, the man dumps his ramen on the boy's head, but still no reaction. They're standing in front of a construction site and the crane above them is hauling a load of steel girders. The cable snaps and it looks like the old man is going to be killed. Akira steps over him and the girders bounce off his back. When the guy asks him why he'd been saved after dishing all that abuse, Akira just answers, "You have a family that would miss you, too, right?" Shamed, the guy just sits in the middle of the sidewalk. Later, a little lost girl is crying for her older sister, but all of the adults just walk on past her. Akira picks her up, and from the hulking vantage point of his shoulder quickly locates Hinako. Hinako, in return, is terrified that the monster is going to eat little Tsukimi, and they turn to run away before bumping into a yazuka. The yakuza guy sees the drawing Tsukimi had made of her and her sister, rips it up, steps on it, and tells them to watch where they're going next time. A few hours later, the yazuka guy is in his boss' house asking for permission to invade a rival gang's territory. Suddenly, there's the sound of fighting and the boss expects that it's the rival gang making the first move. Family members burst into the room screaming for help. The boss asks, "How many men is it?" "Just one guy!". "Then, what weapon is he carrying? A knife? A gun?" The panicked reply, "One of our cars!" Akira enters the room, fights the boss' strongest bodyguard, and then sets the car down. Hinako and Tsukimi get out and Akira demands that the previous yakuza beg for Tsukimi's forgiveness. Then they leave. The bodyguard identifies Akira as one of the old-school "bancho", delinquents with a strong sense of honor.

(Son of the school principal, Oyanana makes Akira a job offer.)

And thus starts Akira's plan to... to... to do whatever it is that he is doing. At the moment, we know nothing about him, or specifically why he's so unbelievably strong. But the artwork is great, the fighting scenes are great, the character designs aren't overly generic, and the jokes are great. It's worth reading this manga just for the bit about Akira's weapon being a car.

(Ouda versus Kongo.)

In the next chapter, Akira has decided to transfer schools. He gets into Hinako's class and ends up sitting right next to her, to her horror. Hikaru Oyanana is the classroom king, a spoiled brat that takes advantage of his position as son of the school principal to get whatever he wants. He tries to get Akira as his bodyguard, but Kongo's shout "let the teacher teach" is enough to completely humiliate him. Oyanana slinks out of the room, and everyone starts working on buttering up to Akira. Kongo, though, is checking the necks of all the students, but not finding what he's looking for. He meets Hinako outside of the classroom to ask if there's anyone with a red crescent-like tattoo on their neck. She comments that the school's boxing champ might have something like that, but it could just be a birthmark. A little later, Kongo visits the boxing club, where he meets Takeshi Ouda. Ouda's primed to be Japan's first world-class heavyweight boxer. The mark on his neck is just a winestain, but it turns out that he's been approached by Oyanana to beat up Kongo for revenge. Kongo lets the guy take a few swings at him, then replies, "Your fists are crying that this isn't what they've been trained for". Ouda stops, and Oyanana threatens to kill Ouda's chances at going pro if he doesn't get back to work. Not liking Oyanana's treatment of a fellow fighter, Kongo uses his "Hammer Punch" on him. The force of the wind from his fist is enough to make Oyanana black out. Kongo tells the brat to straighten up, then leaves.

Hinako wants to know exactly what's going on, and forces Kongo to meet her at a coffee shop. She tries to humiliate him into eating a very tiny cream pudding, but he just keeps acting like a gentleman at the table. He tells her that there's a secret conspiracy that he wants to stop. A group of powerful people plan on turning Japan into a "great nation" again, and to do this they need the right kind of leaders from the youngest generation. They've taken 23 of their top candidates, all insanely strong high school students, and assigned each one to the 23 wards in Tokyo. These candidates have been labeled as "Bancho", and given Phoenix tattoos on their necks. Eventually, there's going to be a battle royale and the one Bancho left standing will be the one that goes on to reunite Japan. As he's talking, Hinako panics, because people have been calling him "Kongo Bancho" as a silly nickname. She thinks that Akira is admitting to being part of the conspiracy, so she runs out of the cafe and heads for a police box. She tells the beat cop about the conspiracy, which is bad because the cop is in on it.


A few minutes pass, then a thug wearing a catcher's mask and wielding a baseball bat comes flying in through the window. He shows Akira a cellphone with a photo of Hinako on it, saying that if he lifts a finger, the thug - Homerun - will make a call that will cause her to be hurt. Akira allows Homerun to attack him with the bat for a while, then headbutts him. The police are called, but a passing jogger helps Akira escape. The jogger, Ouda, was just out doing some roadwork when he saw the fight in the cafe. Akira needs help in figuring out how to use cellphones, but eventually gets in contact with Homerun's boss. The boss gives instructions to his estate, and both Kongo and Ouda go there to save Hinako.

(Iai Bancho slices and dices a boulder.)

Actually, Hinako's captor, Iai Bancho (Sword Arts Master) is a gentleman who sees his calling as a Bancho as proof that what Japan needs is a superior, cultured leader. He asks how Kongo knows about the "Japan Reunification Plan", and Akira just says that it's his goal to crush it. Ouda attempts to face Iai first, but the swordsman moves so fast that the boxer is nearly cut in two before noticing that anything is wrong. Kongo tries to fight as well, but everything he throws at his opponent gets cut to shreds (trees, statues, boulders). Eventually, Kongo gets serious and uses his "Double Hammer" punch, which shatters Iai's katana, and most of the bones in his body. Iai points out the security cameras in the yard that just transmitted the results of the battle to the other Plan members. "Congratulations, 'Kongo Bancho'", you're now officially the owner of Chiyoda Ward". Hinako emerges from the house, and Kongo carries Ouda to the hospital.

The volume wraps up with a school principal in Sumida Ward having a nightmare about being terrorized by some of his meaner students. But, when he gets to school he's surprised that most of the students are behaving like Buddhist disciples. The last remaining punk is betrayed by his friends and punished by the new disciplinarian in the class - Nenbutsu Bancho (Buddhist Prayer).

Comments: Ignore the sillier aspects - this manga is funny. It's a throwback to the older school rumble genre, where gangs fought each other while trying to avoid impacting innocent outsiders, when Japan seemed to have more integrity as a nation. But, it's played for laughs as much as being a message vehicle ("Do what you can with what you've got. Don't expect other people to fight your fights for you. You may lose, but at least you'll have tried.") Like I mentioned above, the artwork is very good. The attack names are jokes as well. One example, Akira's attack is pronounced "Double Hammer", but is written with the kanji "Da bu ru ha ma-" (Hit, dance, flow, rebel, grind). Kongo's own name translates to "diamond" or "adamantine", meaning that he's tough. I like this book, and I recommend it pretty highly.

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