Preface: I know next to nothing about the Garouden manga series or novel series and went in this only familiar with Keisuke Itagaki being the artist and the Garouden video game. That being said, I was hungry like a wolf for some action and this short little piece didn't disappoint.
Story 7/10: The story is nothing to write home about in any shape or form, which is to be expected in a 2 volume side story. The story follows Shinichi, a boy who wants to be the smartest and part of the elite in Japan and Tanba(who oddly looks like a young Yujiro Hanma...), who
wants to be the strongest fighter in the world. Despite being the equivalence of a short story, the little dynamic they have works quite nicely and something I would like to see more of or even a manga about. It details their short time together but also delving into why one another was so important in their life. Be warned, the story starts out quite weak and doesn't even remotely get noteworthy until near the end of the first volume. I won't reveal the surprise that comes about, as it is definitely an interesting one and handled adequately. You probably don't read such stories for the story anyways, but this one has a good message behind it once it shows it.
Art 8/10: If you are familiar with Baki the Grappler, then you will know what to expect in the art department: extremely muscular guys and ridiculous violence. You get exactly what I just mentioned but on a much smaller scale so curb your expectations accordingly. What Itagaki does well is the fight scenes and it shows, though at times they can be a bit difficult to follow. While you might not remember any particular panel or scene from this short story you will definitely remember the faces the characters make in this, as they are some of the highlights.
Character(s) 9/10 :Despite the their only being three characters, the focus on the two mains is surprisingly strong. Tanba gets most of the limelight and his personality really shines once you learn what makes him tick and his motivations for what he does. He isn't groundbreaking or extremely deep by any means but you can definitely see his reasoning if you were ever a child who idolized strong male figures or had a desire to practice martial arts. If this is what he was like in the beginning it definitely makes me want to read Garouden and see what becomes of him. Shinichi isn't terrible but mostly forgettable as he only really acts as the narrator for the reader. Kiriu is an interesting one and works quite well as an antagonist for such a short piece. Not memorable one but he serves his purpose well.
Enjoyment 9/10: Once the big reveal happens and the big fight breaks out, I couldn't help but listen to some intense music and keep on reading. The fights are brief and might not be to your liking but there is more depth behind them than I initially expected. It is story less about the action and more about what drives someone to change their previously flawed and deplorable way of life. It is the kind of the story that will stick with you for a bit and that is good enough me.
Overall 8/10: I probably wrote more than necessary for such a small piece but I enjoyed what I read and I hope you do too. If you have maybe a free hour you should definitely check this out. Who said violence can't be motivational and lead to something greater in one's life?