Friday, July 25, 2014

Kongo Bancho, vol. 3 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Kongo Bancho, vol. 3 (2008), by Nakaba Suzuki. Grade: A
Things get pretty serious fast, but there's still a lot of humor and silliness here, too. Kongo is about to get a little whooping revenge on Hikyou Bancho when a small boy, holding a pipe and wearing a mask, yells at him not to bully his big brother. Hikyou is convinced that the kid is going to die, and when Kongo approaches the boy, he's met with a flurry of pipe swings. But, all Kongo wants to do is remove the mask so Hikyou has to acknowledge who the kid is. Then, Shirobara (White Rose, the one betrayed by Hikyou in the last volume) sweeps in to grab the boy and use him as a hostage.

Shiro claims to know all about Hikyou now, such as the fact that he's running a kind of orphanage for 13 abandoned children, and that because he's a high school student unable to get enough part-time jobs, he preys on criminals to extort or steal money for supporting the kids. Shiro puts Hikyou in the same position Kongo had just been in - Kill himself and Kongo in return for the boy's life. Hikyou does this willingly, but in his own case, he's carrying a pouch of fake blood under his jacket and he tries to attack Shiro from behind. The other guy was expecting this, and dices up Hikyou's chest with his rapier before announcing that he'll go kill everyone in the orphange now. At this point, Kongo stands up, saying that it'll take more than a tiny knife to stop him, then uses Double Hammer on Shirobara (the camera cuts away before the impact so we don't know what condition Shiro is in now).

(Shirobara's last stand.)

Tsukimi is safe and has been playing with the other children. Kongo arrives to take her home, and Hikyou asks why Kongo saved him. Akira replies, "If you died, who'd take care of them?" Hikyou is shaken, then vows to still use all of his cowardly tricks to become the one to reunite Japan. Kongo says, "That's fair." Later, at the school, Hinako wants to thank Akira for saving her sister, but he just blows her off, saying that he has plans that afternoon. Since she'd worked the night before to make puddings as a "thank you" gift, she is miffed and decides to follow him. Kongo takes the bullet train to the countryside, then Hokkaido, Yokohama, another village in the mountains, and then back to Tokyo. Along the way, he picks up a wrapped parcel, a bag of white powder, and a small vial of liquid. Hinako suspects that he's buying and selling drugs, until the final stop at a farm, where Kongo fights a 20-foot tall "Grendel cow" and takes some of the milk. In Tokyo, he goes to a cooking school to use the "world's rarest and best ingredients" to learn how to make pudding himself. He's a lousy student-chef, and only manages to make enough pudding for one small cup. Hinako is upset that her own work is unnecessary now. However, on the way home Kongo encounters a starving puppy and ends up giving his day's efforts to the dog. Hinako is now happy to give the pudding she made to Kongo at lunch at school the next day.

(Tsukimi plays with chibi-Kondo.)

In the next chapter, a desperate pair of parents plead for Kongo to help them in dealing with their shut-in son. The teenage hikikomori has locked himself up in his room for 5 years, attacking his parents if they get too close, and spending all his time making plastic figurines and chatting on the computer. He refuses to let Akira in through the door, so Kongo simply punches his way in through the next wall. After the kid complains about how everyone is trying to control him, saying what schools he has to go to, what he has to study, and what company he's supposed to work at, Kongo tells him that he's being too self-centered. "You do what you can with what you've got." He drags the boy outside then creates a carving in the stone wall of the house with his bare hands. The result is so good that the boy breaks into tears - it's better than anything he could have made as an artist himself. In the end, the boy gets a job as a figurine designer at a small toy shop. The customers watching are amazed at his skill, but they're not sure why he's making a Kongo Bancho figure.

(Suzuki's first pass at possible Bancho characters. Notice that Kabuki and Bakunetsu are already part of the mix here.)

Hinako is late getting to the day center to pick up Tsukimi, and is shocked to see her sister playing with what looks like a 5-year-old version of Akira Kongo. Turns out that the child is named Rai, and his own mother is late getting him. The two girls decide to hang around a little longer, when there's a disturbance outside. Home Run is back and is beating people up with his bat out of anger at having been defeated before. HR tries to attack Rai, but the kid uses Double Hammer on him, convincing Hinako that Rai is related to Akira somehow. Rai's mother, Haruka Kodama, leader of the Red Scorpion female biker gang and Sasori (Scorpion) Bancho of Edogawa Ward, arrives and head butts Home Run into unconsciousness. Hinako thinks that she's a nice woman, but Sasori is only 1 year older, and seems to think that Rai is Akira's son. When Sasori sees Akira's photo on Hinako's phone, she demands a meet-up that night for a full-on brawl. Kondo arrives at the designated area, and Sasori tells him that she's waited a long time to get her revenge on him (she'd used her Sting attack on Rai to keep him safe at home before going out for the night). Akira claims to not know who she is, and Sasori just gets more resolute. They fight, and initially it looks relatively even. Then, Kongo pulls out Double Hammer and blasts her into the ground.

(Sasori (Scorpion) Bancho preparing to use her Sting attack.)

As Sasori lies in the dirt, her gang starts singing an Enka song (her theme song) and that gives her the energy to stand back up. Now, though, she's gone into Scorpion mode. She attacks Kondo's nerve points with single-finger Sting strikes, paralyzing him. She prepares to deliver the killing blow, but Akira manages to stand back up. She tells him that he can't do anything against her, except maybe a kiai (the shout in karate when doing a punch or kick). So, Kongo says, "Then - 'kiai'!" The shout breaks Sasori's hand, and Kondo finishes her off by swinging his arm up to clothesline her. Humiliated in defeat, Sasori demands that Kongo acknowledge his sins against her, and he still claims ignorance, so she throws a locket at him with a picture of Rai's father inside. They're the same person, right down to the tattoo on the side of the neck, right? Akira bares his neck - no tattoo. Sasori realizes that she's been fighting the wrong person, although Akira does know who the guy in the photo is - his older brother, Takeshi.

(Takeshi and Papa Kongo.)

Later, Sasori is bandaged up and preparing to take Rai with her to continue their quest. The story is that Takeshi had been sleeping with the previous leader of the Red Scorpions, but after his son, Rai, was born he'd skipped out. The former leader's health went bad and she died in the hospital, foisting Rai on Haruka. Blaming Takeshi for everything, but not knowing his name, Haruka took over the Red Scorpions and joined the Japan Revival program to become Sasori Bancho. As they're about to leave, Rai comments that he and Akira do look alike, but "there's no point in sweating the small stuff". This is something that Takeshi used to say all the time, and causes Akira to go into a flashback. One year earlier, Takeshi had summoned him to a mountain top to invite him to join in on the Japan Revival. Takeshi was already a member, and now has the Phoenix tattoo on his neck (all Banchos have a Phoenix plus a support tattoo. Sasori's was a scorpion, and Shirobara's was a rose. Takeshi's is a map of Japan.) Akira balks, and that's when a nearby "statue" stands up to reveal itself as their 20+-foot-tall father. The statue says that only the strong will be allowed into the new world of Japan and orders Takeshi to kill his brother. The guy uses Double Hammer to blow Akira off the mountain and into the sea. Back in the modern day, we see Takeshi in a TV control room watching various monitors. He comments on how he wasn't expecting his little brother to still be alive, but doesn't expect him to be much of a threat to the Revival project. Just to be on the safe side, he sends an order out.

From left clockwise: Kabuki, Kangoku, Nenchaku, Douke and Bakunetsu.)

A few days later, the five members of the Ankei Go Rensou (5 Dark Spear Party) descend on the school and interact with the students in their search for Akira. Kabuki Bancho (Kabuki, Katsushika Ward) turns the band club into heavy metal rockers; Douke Bancho (Clown Tricks, Arakawa Ward) disrupts a class for fun; Nenchaku Bancho (Adhesion/Grease, Taito Ward) takes over the swimmers cleaning the school's pool; and, Kangoku Bancho (Prison, Adachi Ward) just sits in a big metal crate in the middle of the sports field. It's Bakunetsu Bancho (Explosive Heat, Koutou Ward) who locates their prey first. He has his three minions, flamethrowers in heat resistant suits, attack in an attempt to finish things fast. However, Akira easily defeats them, and before Bakunetsu can do more than throw a couple fire punches, the rest of the team shows up to bicker over who has the right to go first. Akira tells them to make up their minds, so they attack together. Nenchaku binds Kongo's mouth with glue, and Douke gets in a knife cut using a magic trick. But, before things get really out of hand, Akira's newly formed support group steps in to help out - Iai, Nenbutsu, Gouriki and Hikyou. Kongo is at a loss for words because he didn't know he had a support group.

("No one starts a fight without letting us play, too.")

Comments: I like this series because it's so over the top, and has really good artwork. This volume is good because we learn more about Kongo's family, specifically his killer brother and monstrous father. Highly recommended.

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