Monday, June 7, 2010

Impromptu Manga Review: Kenji

Some time ago, I chanced upon an unknown (to me) martial arts manga called Kenji. I didn't think I would like it at first, given that the main character was basically a little boy, and that it looked like it was going to be targeted at young readers. The protagonist, Kenji Goh is introduced as a third-grader living in Tokyo, which I believe makes him 8 or 9 years old. The introductory arc is simple enough: he defends weak classmates from bullies, learns kung-fu from his spry grandfather (Kyotaro Goh), gets into trouble with his parents for fighting, etc.

 My interest level perked up when his grandfather starts explaining certain stances and techniques. For example, after an altercation with some thugs, his grandfather uses a body check called tieshankao. I recognized this move from Akira Yuki, in the Virtua Fighter series! Later on, more techniques are dissected and actual notable people from the history of martial arts are discussed. As the story progresses, I can't help but marvel at how well-researched the narrative is. Of course this is probably due to the author's (Ryuichi Matsuda)  past as a practicing martial artist. Soon, the structure of the story is changed by several events: Kenji's grandfather ends his visit to Kenji's home and returns to his country home; Kenji meets a young girl from a Yakuza family(!); and lastly, Kenji goes to live with his grandfather during summer vacation and begins to learn kung-fu in earnest. Particularly, he begins to seriously learn Bajiquan. During his training, more martial arts styles are introduced or mentioned, like Shotokan and Goju-ryu karate, Kalaripayattu and Xing Yi Quan,  His classmate Taichi also ends up training with Kenji and his grandfather over the summer holiday. 

After the summer holiday, Kyotaro visits Kenji in Tokyo for a final time, and tells him that he is leaving for China, to fulfill an old promise from his past. In the short interval before his departure, Kyotaro teaches Kenji some final Bajiquan lessons, imparting some "secrets" of Bajiquan to Kenji. 

After his grandfather leaves, the story skips forward in time about 5 years, and rejoins 

Kenji as a young teenager around 13-14 years of age. He is now in junior high, and he encounters Akira Kazama again, the young daughter of a Yakuza family mentioned earlier. Through her, he becomes embroiled in some gang warfare and his experiences lead him to resolve to learn new methods of fighting. For example, he attempts to learn how to fight multiple opponents. Through his search for answers he encounters even more schools of martial arts. In particular, he learns about Daito-ryu Aikijujitsu, and Taijiquan. 

A little later, Kenji is at a new school, and again runs afoul of some local toughs, but later becomes accepted by his peers there. The focus shifts to boxing for a short while, and Kenji is drafted by the school boxing club to fight in an inter-high tournament. Of course, this means it's time for yet more martial arts history lessons, this time dealing with Jack Dempsey and Floyd Patterson, the latter of which used a jumping punch that Kenji instinctively used to win his bout. 

A short time later, Akira takes Kenji to visit Inoue, an old acquaintance from Akira's former gang, who now has given up on gang life and works at a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama. While there, Inoue introduces Kenji to his boss and "master", Zhang Ren Zhong. Coincidentally, Zhang is also a Bajiquan practitioner, who learned the art from the same school in China as Kenji's grandfather. Of course Kenji asks Zhang to teach him Bajiquan, as he has had no further instruction in the art since his grandfather left. Zhang muses on the great coincidence of their meeting, and says that he believes that their encounter was a "Wish from the Sky". In other words, a destined meeting. He asks Kenji a few questions as a test, and accepts Kenji as a disciple when Kenji answers correctly.  

Kenji spends the summer at Zhang's restaurant, learning Bajiquan, while he works in the restaurant kitchen and shares a room there with Inoue as well. The resumption of Kenji's training in Bajiquan begins an entirely new story arc, and sets the stage for his further growth as a martial artist. This is getting quite long, so I will take a short break. Next time I will finish the narrative review, and talk about several of the overall themes presented in Kenji.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate that you write this review. Thank you.