At the age of sixteen Ryo Narushima was a genius and looked to have no trouble of getting into Tokyo University and joining the elite of society. However, that summer something cracked inside Ryo's head. With a small knife he brutally murdered both of his parents only leaving his sister alive and cowering in a corner. It is at this grotesque incident that our story begins.
In 2004 the series moved from Weekly Manga Action to Evening, resetting the chapter count starting at volume 20. It was discontinued in 2007 due to creative differences but returned in 2011.
Starting from volume 26, the first volume from when the series returned from a long hiatus, the series has been completely written and drawn by Akio Tanaka. While Izou Hashimoto did write the series in the beginning, he had been doing less and less work starting from volume 4. Tanaka and Hashimoto reached a settlement and Shamo continued.
The series' first thirteen volumes were published in Spanish by Otakuland between 2003 and 2005 as Shamo Gallo de pelea.
Shamo is one of the darkest themed and most graphic seinen manga I have ever read. That being said I wouldn't recommend this to the young or squeamish.
“Your light will never reach me!” –Ryo Narushima
Shamo starts with a gory scene of a young boy covered in blood after brutally murdering his parents. Thus we are introduced to the protagonist of the story Ryo Narushima, a boy that was destined to become the elite of his society but becomes a cold-blooded martial artist. After his crime Narushima is sent to Ajigasaki Reformatory, where we see human nature in its rawest form. The prisoners and Narushima are stripped of their individuality as they have their hair cut and wear identical uniforms. The artist does a good job of showing this because the characters are very hard to tell apart and they all look the same. Narushima is constantly bullied and even gang raped during his time in the reformatory; Narushima later learns karate as self-defense and spends his time in solitary confinement training and becoming stronger. During his time training he learns how to use his body and fist to kill others, allowing Narushima to have power he never had before in his life. After two years of hell on earth Narushima is released, released to the world, reborn in the darkness from his traumatic experiences in Ajigasaki Reformatory. (Narushima only has a two year sentence because of a law that protects minors, in Japan.) This part of the manga can be seen also as a social commentary, as it is analyzing how Japan's reformatory system brings out the worst in human beings and allows someone like Narushima that was a weak pussy to turn into a cold-hearted criminal that doesn't take shit from anyone. But I digress; it is after the reformatory where the real story begins.
Shamo differs from any manga I've ever read because the main character that we are rooting for is an unsympathetic killer. (And not like Death Note this guy is really fucked up) Narushima is shown to be the classic Byronic hero; he is treated as an exile, has a distaste for social norms, is disrespectful of rank and privilege, is cynical, and highly self- destructive. Throughout Narushima is shown to have no remorse or regret for ever killing his parents or for any of the other morally loathsome acts he’s committed, such as assault, rape, and bare fist fights to the death. However the manga is unclear and is always questioning whether Narushima is evil by his very nature or is how society corrupted him the reason for his continual spiral into darkness. Despite all this we are always shown that there can still be some redemption for him, but in the end Narushima refuses and allows himself to go deeper into his own darkness.
In this way the manga is more like a Greek tragedy, Narushima falls from a path that would have made him elite in Japanese society and becomes a remorseless criminal. It is perhaps even more tragic that society or even Narushima won't allow his redemption. The odd part when reading Shamo is even being a parent killer and rapist we still root for Narushima; to win his fights, almost as we the readers have been consumed by his darkness. But the real reason we root for Narushima is because he is the ultimate underdog and because of society's treatment to Narushima, it condemns him for his actions, and forces Narushima to become a martial artist, where he kills for self-confirmation, or a male gigolo to make money. This makes any chance of redemption slip farther and farther away, as stated before.
Besides Narushima everyone is a side character, side characters have no development or depth to them they all exist to be an obstacles, foils, or are used to help farther Narushima’s character development. Although this isn't a flaw and is done so that Narushima is the only person you can root for and allows a lot of time to explore Narushima’s character making him one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen in a manga or anime. Narushima’s development brings up many themes about human nature, redemption, and violence.
The artwork is amazing and very detailed. It shows a lot of perspective and is very graphic and is one of the best looking mangas I've read. The artwork is very dark and is often depicting the psychology of Narushima with rich symbolism. Plus the artwork gets better as the story goes along.
The only real problems with Shamo are the pacing problems, at times it is very rushed and others times the plot moves at a snail’s pace, and the different story arcs don't connect very well.
In conclusion, Shamo shows the darkness that resides in us humans; the story is humorless and nihilistic. The fights are graphic and intense making the reader squeak and sick to their stomach with over the top violence, but Shamo isn't trying to romanticize violence. The mangakas of Shamo aren't trying to make an entertaining story as much as using one character to explore many themes and criticizing modern society and Japan, and as a result Shamo is one of the better written manga out there. The manga is currently on a long hiatus and we are just waiting for more chapters to come out. But reading this manga was truly an enriching experience and a cold tale of what our nature is truly like when pushed to the fringe and underground of modern society. Perhaps there is a Ryo Narushima inside all of us, waiting to explode. read more
Over the last month or so I've seen a ton of praise for the manga "Shamo" and recently I just read the whole thing and I feel very let down. I thought the first part up to where Ryu cripples the Karate champ in their second fight the story was pretty solid and interesting but after that it just was really lame overall.
Overall the characterization of Ryu just felt like really all over the place and I didn't feel like it was because he was crazy, it just felt like the author didn't know what he was doing exactly with the character and experimented a lot more than he should have.
Then there's the whole constant perspective swaps that end up taking up nearly half of the chapters in the series. Ryu is the protagonist, he's the "interesting" character yet many other characters half the time characters who have just been introduced get the spotlight namely Toma and the retarded brothers at the end.
Also Ryu was constantly learning new things throughout the series then in the next part he would completely forget it. There was the whole arc (which I thought was a large part of the downturn of the series) where he learned to use ki. I guess the author thought that addition was as pointless and stupid as I did because Ryu never used that shit again. Then there was the whole "left-handed" concept where Ryu swapped to southpaw in the middle of the fight between him and the Heavyweight champ that was also never used again. Basically anything he learned to do for a fight, any training regimend, any new technique, he would forget by the next time a new fighting opportunity came up.
Overall the whole "arcing" concept and the pacing in general was really poor and disjointed. The author once again felt like he was just experimenting with what he wanted to do with Shamo and some of the arcs could have been different series in themselves because of how different they were. Like the ki arc and the end one with the retard brothers, so off from the overall feel of the series. The ki arc felt like freaking dbz, he just defeated the strongest opponent then all of a sudden he gets stomped by a completely unknown dude and he has to power up his ki to freaking win. The latest arc is practically a gag manga in it's stupidity.
Maybe I went into the manga with too high of expectations from all of the people praising it in this sub but damn I definitely stopped enjoying the manga when his conflict with the karate champ ended and it's not like it was the perfect manga up to that point I would say like 8.5/10 but the quality after that point was crap.read more
If it weren't for the manga being on hiatus, I would consider this the true spiritual successor to Fist of the North Star. (Hokuto Shinken)
One has to only look at the first few panels to wonder why I'm comparing this to something more fantasy based as FotNS.
...and I think this is what makes Shamo a masterpiece if it actually had a legitimate ending.
The manga is just pure existentialist material for me.
On one hand you had the basic premise. Shamo shattered any doubts I had that a legitimate exciting MMA manga could be made.
On the flip side, Shamo's failure in doing that, is something that would break or make the illusion of the very concept of manga. One close comparison to this is if you've watched Nadesico and was conflicted with what Nadesico was in terms of it's war torn reality.
On one hand you had the fictional idealism of heart, courage and guts willing towards heroics typical of manga. On the other hand, the idealistic heroes not only died but in the Prince of Darkness OVA, even the pragmatic ones were tortured beyond your typical dark manga. (and not blatant sociopathic kick the puppy type of scenarios either.)
This is more magnified in Shamo...but only if you have a surface knowledge of martial arts especially in this age ...and it is this manga's greatest strength and greatest turn off.
See nobody truly believed that the Hokuto Shinken martial arts where real even during FotNS' time but the way those styles and characters just appealed to the battle fan, you just can't helped but feel it was...tolerable. Tolerable as in the battles might be fantasy but the struggles transcended towards reality but obviously using fantasy elements.
This to me has always been what got me into anime and then later on manga.
As a kid, I wasn't exactly watching the deepest of animes but the difference between something like DBZ to me from that of say your average brutal masterpiece like Clockwork Orange was that even though DBZ was kid's stuff...it was more "mature". It dealt with more mature people trying to rise up to the challenge in more character building/character destroying incidents than simply a moving script.
Maybe that's going too far since I'm not exactly representing the masses here and Shamo isn't exactly a manga without nudity (though as a kid I was too much looking into plots that I didn't really get bothered by nudity) so let's shift it into something much more related to real life sports.
Everyone probably knows such classics as Hajime no Ippo and Slam Dunk and while no Japanese ever really had been like the Ippo or Rukawa of reality, there's a certain sense that manga is transcending between the lines of reality and fiction and in turn it is recreating what made us excited about the sports even though if you know something about the sports beyond the surface level, it clearly is tailored for excitement and escapism like any type of pop entertainment product.
It never bothered me though and I think for the majority of fans, they too accepted the margin of fantasy inter-mixed with the margin of reality and those manga just inspires fans to be more passionate about their passions even though they weren't "realistic" but came too close to being idealistic inspirations.
Shamo doesn't do that. But unlike how it often is, Shamo doesn't do that because it is a step above. It took what Fist of the North Star's claim to fame originally was and it evolved it into modern perceptions.
What I mean by this is that even today, even the greatest battle manga that has come and gone, there has nothing quite like Fist of the North Star where you literally had Superman but this wasn't Superman as in Super Powers or Superman as in Martial Arts power-up like Goku but Superman as in the guy who literally took assassination to it's utmost fantasy limits while retaining close to the anatomy of a realistic human body in a battle type setting. Simply speaking, Fist of the North Star pre-empted many of the pseudo realistic appeals that manga like Slam Dunk and Hajime no Ippo had. Especially if you looked beyond the violence. And it did that for one of the most mystical concepts in our world which was martial arts.
It is what it was for martial arts then. Hokuto Shinken added the fantasies we all had of martial arts but it also added the reality of fighting in the sense that if you're not some brutal supermaster martial arts, you just died. You just get killed and died. Even if you reached the temple of greatness, you simply disappeared. It is only because the concept kept itself close to fantasy battles and wars that it didn't feel like a downer. Yet at the same time, no one would say it wasn't stretching what was acceptable for fantasy. At least for me, it transcended the struggles often seen even in real life accounts. It had horror, it had reality, it made you want to desire women but at the same time accept that having the utmost power of fucking a beaut isn't exactly the highest showcase of martial arts superiority. Sure it was post-apocalyptic and it based itself on an American movie but like Slam Dunk, like Hajime no Ippo, like other quality battle or sports manga...there was a sense that it was just sugar coating for the present reality.
...and all that, only manga could deliver and if it got through an anime sometimes it reaches more audience while retaining mostly the same soul of rugged pseudo-fantasy, pseudo-reality, pseudo-inspirational, pseudo-downer that manga had brought forth that not even many Western comics could do at a consistent rate especially in terms of depth. (Just look at Sin City where the events literally had to take itself within a city and it was all close to one shot arcs because the characters couldn't interact too much with each other or else the grittiness dies)
In many ways though, you can't improve much on the formula outside of art or concepts because at a certain point, fantasy becomes standard fantasy. Even if you bring up an unorthodox character, you can never replicate the times where people wondered about Reiki, Dim Mak, Bruce Lee and all those times of innocent mysteries that made the concept of certain mangas much more "innovative" emotionally for people living in those times. (especially if you're not the type to laugh at the bad fashion or the bad science or whatever)
...at least until this manga, I never thought it was possible to spiritually succeed Hokuto Shinken. Sure you can make sequels but you can overall overhaul the thing. It would take something really special to break something that is already really special. After all, even when you have video games with epic storylines almost all of us understand that elves are elves, energy blasts are energy blasts, pressure points are pressure points...and in reality for martial arts, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, Machida karate, Counter-boxing are more proven effective arts than pure Judo, pure Sambo, pure lots of things at a generic level...the only mystery really left is the mystery of willing disbelief or ignorance.
You can no longer be a fan of Bruce Lee and then research on Lee at a surface level and not encounter the fact that Bruce had no real combat experience compared to even bar room brawlers much less many of the guys who cross train nowadays and easily have both technique and strengths.
Yet this is what Shamo tries to break. This is what makes this notable from a contemplative psychological standpoint.
If you're just going to look at the basic premise, I still say this manga is enjoyable but it's no 9.
It is only by understanding what Fist of the North Star added and what Shamo tries to bring back but does with modern martial arts that you get back this old sense of urban post-apocalyptic nihilism and a guy who simply tries to rise over that but in turn gets destroyed by the very same bureaucratic society he was born into and it is critical to empathize from that perspective in order to really understand why this is not just a manga you pick up and read. At best you're doing yourself a favor by checking this out as early as possible after finding out what this manga is.
At the same time, it still cannot be denied that the manga fails.
It fails both because it has a 2nd arc that is irrelevant to the 3rd arc and it fails because simply you're stuck with the fantasy elements where even an elementary knowledge of martial arts nowadays would dissolve any type of pseudo-realistic elements the characters should have and in the end you almost have the same type of caricatures as past their era pseudo-realistic depictions where the final product becomes silly...yet appealing.
...and yet digging deeper, trying to create a review from my perspective that doesn't mimic other reviews, what makes Shamo most difficult to portray is that it simply digs too deep. The artwork and scenes are just too close to reality that you can't help but say...well...they're fake once it hits the more fantasy parts.
Albeit Fist of the North Star is not exactly a hard manga to review. It's just that with Shamo, I'm not trying to portray it as the next Fist of the North Star as much as saying imagine Fist of the North Star's innovative elements pushed towards the modern context of the world of martial arts. How dry would that be on one hand because most modern arts are full of go to moves rather than flashy moves but not only that flashy moves are proven failed attempts. How can Shamo get away with that and yet still be that pseudo-realistic mega-violent nihilistic apocalyptic battlefield of one-on-one that Fist of the North Star popularized? ...and bring it to an overall product?
Sometimes you just can't. Sometimes it's easier to just say Shamo is a different product. Shamo failed at representing modern martial arts by trying to be about Karate. Shamo simply is a crude attempt that came close but never sniffed at the results...but then that wouldn't be fair to the overall journey that a manga like Shamo can bring forth to a reader. So how?
Do a reviewer just say it's a martial arts manga? Do we just settle on the protagonist Ryo Narushima being a step above your desperate manga protagonist?
I'd really like to not settle on that perception because it doesn't do justice to what it brings. This is not just a masterpiece level manga, it is a very unique manga that ranks up there with some of the best manga and it is only a 9 because it is both unfinished and it is unfinished in such a way that it detracts from how the characters were built in the first place.
That said, since I can't seem to portray this manga well at all, all I can say for potential readers is that: the first chapters are dry. This manga has no conclusion. It is unfinished. Character developments aren't perfect. Sometimes you wonder if the manga isn't a real type of manga at all and everyone took LSD and had hallucinations and yet...
If you're ever a fan of manga that challenges your concepts of manga especially if you're a martial arts fan, you owe it to yourself to read up on what is currently out there for Shamo. Even if it's just scanlations. The arc might be incomplete but unlike most incomplete quality works (especially since I'm not the type to read a manga until it is finished) the experience brought forth by this manga is pretty complete. I'm not sure if you will have a concept crisis as to what manga is like what reading this did for me nor can I guarantee you this manga will blow you away especially with the dry introductions but this manga is as special as it gets for me.read more
Recommendable for anyone looking for an easy to follow, dark, action filled psychological seinen, which follows a young troubled protagonist. It's complimented with a visceral and detailed art style.
The story is an interesting commentary on Japanese underground crime culture, following a twisted anti-hero's struggle. It is mainly martial arts orientated and character/fight driven, so anyone looking for an exceptional or detailed story, maybe should look elsewhere. The manga does flow and read well as an outcome of this though.
What it lacks in complexity it makes up for in character development. The mangaka does a great job in engaging the reader with the characters choices, as well as the violence and despair he continually faces. it is often dark and sometimes too nihilistic (comparable to the early volumes of Gantz). This can leave more to be wanted from the protagonist, who's personality can be described as one dimensional, despite its complexity. This may be intentional though.
The fighting is probably the manga's biggest strength, displaying a gritty and realistic representation of mixed martial arts.
It is of course important when mentioning this manga is to bring up its hiatus, which it has recently came back from. The manga isn't yet finished, but can be split into 4 parts. A often complaint is the abrupt departure from the story in the 3rd part, and its consequences that I am not sure was the cause of the hiatus.
Nonetheless to anyone also returning to read this series, it is now well back on track and heading in the right direction. Like I said before, it isn't incredibly deep, but it more than well makes up for it in entertainment and shock value. Along with its great art, it is very easy to pick up and read for anyone who struggles with manga or particularly the seinen genre. read more