Since the Edo period of Japan, gladiator arenas exist in certain areas. In these arenas, wealthy business owners and merchants hire gladiators to fight in unarmed combat where winner takes all. Tokita Ouma, nicknamed "Ashura," joins these arenas and devastates his opponents. His spectacular ability to crush his enemies catches the attention of the big business owners, including the Nogi Group chairman, Nogi Hideki.
Kengan Ashura is quite a unique and overlooked manga. While on the surface Kengan Ashura may seem like an average battle manga with big muscular men punching each other, it's so much more than that. While it does indeed include big muscular men punching each other in cool ways it also has a strong emotional core and it could even be said to be one of the greatest martial arts stories ever told. The story is simple but well executed. An average middle-aged salaryman by the name of Yamashita Kazuo just so happens to witness a street fight where a young man defeats a Yakuza
with ease. The young man introduces himself as Tokita Ouma. A series of events makes it so that two of them become involved with the Kengan Association and have to fight in the Kengan Matches. The Kengan Association is an organization made up of representatives from prestigious businesses where they can settle disputes and business deals between each other by sending out fighters they hire into the Kengan Matches. The Kengan Matches are underground fistfights with basically no fouls, so two men clash fists until one of them is knocked out or dies. Kazuo reluctantly becomes Ouma's manager in these matches. Soon after they join the Kengan Annihilation Tournament begins, a tournament to decide the next chairman of the Kengan Association. This tournament makes up most of the manga and is captivating the entire time. Strong fighters from around the world are gathered and there is no better arena for Ouma, whose only desire is to be recognized as the strongest. Of course, you've also got the politics of the Kengan Association going on in the background, with different factions vying for control and trying to outdo each other by any means necessary. This all makes for a grand display of strength and wit. The pacing is perfect, it never feels like it's moving too fast but it never feels too slow and drawn out either. There's a lot of humor and funny moments in the story but it never feels distracting or out of place. It's very well integrated into the story which has a mostly serious tone despite the bizarre premise.
Kengan Ashura has a fairly large cast of characters but the manga does a good job of giving all the fighters and their managers time to shine. Of course, some get more time and characterizations than others but even the characters that don't get much time are likable and memorable. All of the fighters have different fighting styles that match their personality. They all have different reasons for fighting, things like glory, money, and even love. All of the fighters have some interesting dynamics with their manager. Some of them have good almost family-like bonds while others have a purely professional relationship. All of these dynamics are interesting to watch. One of the best things about the manga is the sense of camaraderie and respect the fighters have for each other. Despite having to fights each other they still respect each other as a martial artist. Well, most of them anyway. A few of them are complete psychopaths or distance themselves from the other fighters for their own reasons. Some of the best comedy scenes in the manga are from some of the fighters just hanging out after the matches of the day are over or just cheering on their friends and peers during their fights. Even during matches these fighters still have respect for their opponent's skill and technique. This makes it so that there's not a character that's just purely evil, they all just need to have to fight each other to advance in the tournament. Even the more psychotic characters are sympathetic and likable. It's quite interesting how characters will continue to be important to the plot and their character arc will continue even after they've lost. A major theme in Kengan Ashura is how people shouldn't give in to despair and allow themselves to be consumed by their failures and instead learn from their failures and seek to improve. It's a theme that is conveyed well and will resonate with a lot of people. Yamashita Kazuo is an entertaining character and his development throughout the story is amazing. At the beginning he is a timid man and kind of a loser, his wife has left him years before the story starts, his two sons don't respect him and even his boss treats him badly. Throughout the course of the story, he finds himself in dangerous situations which forces him to try and find some confidence in himself. He is the character that perhaps develops the most in the story and he's a good source of comedic relief. He provides most of the commentary during the fights and often has some good insight. Another thing of note is his relationship with Ouma, they develop a really good friendship. Ouma himself is a fascinating character. His goal is simple, he just wants to be the strongest martial artist in the world and prove the strength of the Niko style and he will do anything to achieve this. He's so confident of his own strength that he's kind of arrogant but it's also obvious that he's got a lot of room to improve. This overconfidence is his greatest flaw. He's reckless and doesn't seem to have any regard for his own life. He's obsessed with fighting strong opponents and becoming the strongest to the point that he doesn't care about anything else except for eating which he enjoys quite a bit. while it sounds standard it's executed very well and he matures a lot in the story. Another character worthy of mentioning is Kiryu Setsuna, who is Ouma's main rival. He's got immense amounts of charisma which practically comes out of the pages whenever he shows up. He's totally insane yet is a joy to watch and the reason for his madness is one of the most interesting things in the manga.
The art of Kengan Ashura is absolutely stunning. Every character is extremely detailed and expressive All the characters have fantastic designs that are instantly recognizable. While a lot of them are big muscular men, there are also men with a more slim build as well as some beautiful women. So there's a good variety of characters. The panels flow very well, making it easy to understand what is happening during a fight. The fights all look stellar, turning each bloody confrontation into a beautiful clash of strength and willpower. Every punch and kick feels like it would be a final, grand attack in any other manga They are drawn with such passion and care that you can feel the impact. The fights are brutal spectacles, joints are dislocated, and people get sliced open. It's all drawn in such graphic detail and looks amazing. The fights themselves are not just tests of pure strength like in some common battle shounen. These are fights where fighters have to figure out what their opponent's technique is and how best to counter it. Strength is a key factor in battles but technique and strategy are equally important. The outcomes of the fights are unpredictable and leave the reader in suspense the entire time. The fighters use highly exaggerated forms of martial arts, some characters have superhuman strength, some are inhumanly fast, and a character who can manipulate his hair and use it to fight. These are only a few examples of how insanely bizarre all of the fighters and battles are. Even though a lot of it is exaggerated there are in-universe explanations of how these abilities work and there are still some very grounded characters that use real martial arts like a character that specializes in grappling or another character that uses real wrestling techniques. Kengan Ashura also has one of the coolest power-ups in any manga. Visually it looks rad and it's used in the story very well and has its own drawbacks. The only minor complaint I have with this series is that there are not enough female fighters. There's only one and she isn't involved with the tournament nor doesn't do much fighting.
Overall Kengan Ashura is spectacular. You can really feel the character's and even the author's love and passion for martial arts in every page. It's an inspirational story about persistence and not giving up. No matter how many times they get knocked down they get back up and improve. It's a must read for anyone with even a mild interest in martial arts and even those who don't typically read martial arts manga should give it a shot.
It's pretty cool to be the first to review this manga. Just as much as it is surprising, as I think Kengan Ashura is probably the best fighting manga out there at the moment.
The basic plot of the Manga revolves around the idea that companies from around the world champion street fighters to compete gladiator style on their bosses behalf to win business opportunities or property in Japan, which is a pretty interesting concept.
But, plot aside (because, let's face it, this is an action manga) the fighting itself is great! Every character has their own unique fighting style which pairs well with their equally
expressive character designs, not to mention that every fight scene (which there are plenty of) is choreographed well and drawn beautifully.
Super cool, would recommend to any fan of the genre.
Yamashita Kazuo, a middle-aged man leading a boring life, once stumbled upon a street fight in a dark alley. He meets there a certain individual, who after a quick exchange of punches easily defeats his opponent. Kazuo didn’t realize that he just met a man, who would change his life forever. That man was Tokita Ouma - a fighter, who just signed up as a participant in Kengan tournaments - big scale events, where martial artists from all over the world beat the living shit of each other, and Yamashita Kazuo just became his manager.
When it comes to the plot, this manga doesn’t have
much to offer, it’s just a one big TOURNAMENT ARC!!! and the things that matter the most are the constant fistfights. These tournaments are a true goldmine for gamblers since betting on a fighter, believed to win, is a commonplace and huge amounts of money are being thrown around all the time. Each contestant is a representative of a company, for which their manager works, and relationships between certain companies are often used as an emotional background to give battles some weight. These fights are 1vs1 duels, and because usage of any weapons is prohibited, it makes a great opportunity to show off many different styles of fighting. Karate, Judo, Sumo, Wrestling, you’ll find here every martial art under the sun, and even more, because the author certainly doesn’t lack creativity, and he does an excelent job at making every duel feel fresh. Every bout is drastically different from the previous one, but they all share one feature - they are all unbelievably brutal. Here the amazing artstyle comes to play. Everything is drawn with massive amount of detail, so that you can very easily feel the impact of each blow and its consequences. Each contender is an absolute monster, so scenes showing body parts being completely demolished after taking one punch aren’t a rarity. With some scenes it’s easy to tell that the author has clearly drawn inspiration from series such as for example Grappler Baki. It’s also worth mentioning that in spite of such variety in characters, it’s pretty hard to predict the results of most squabbles.
Characters are here pretty distinctive, everyone has an original design, and all relevant contestants have their backstory, so no one feels like they’re purposless. Our main heroes are also an interesting couple. Tokita is a typical badass MC, he doesn’t care how strong you could be, and he’ll do everything in his power to defeat you. Tokita is your new god, and he’s fresh out of mercy.
Kazuo plays a role of a comedy relief character, since he’s usually the source of all the jokes. It’s not unusual to see him accidentaly get into various dangerous situations and unwillingly makes his life a bit more intense.
To summarize, this manga isn’t an outstanding masterpiece, and it doesn’t try to become that. It’s just a mindless, but compelling story about ripped men beating each other up to the point of unconsiousness, and even more. I reccomend this series especially to people that like ceaseless action, martial arts, and brutal battles with their usage. If that sounds like your type of story, then you’ll feel like a fish in the sea :>
Kengan Ashura is one of those ‘fight scenes’ manga.
I’ve never used that phrase before but it popped into my mind when I was 80-something chapter into the manga and I thought it fit pretty appropriately.
What makes me think this phrase is that Kengan Ashura is basically 95% fight scenes. The story feels tacked on and just serves as a flimsy excuse for why the fights are happening. Plot/character development – what little there is – are often forced and contrived because they happen seemingly on the fly. Even major plot points sometime seemingly come out of nowhere.
The manga basically resembles ‘Baki’ (seems like a common
comparison), except with much better art. If you like Baki or manga with endless fight scenes, then Kengan will be a very enjoyable read to you. For me, it dampened a lot of the enjoyment.
Kengan suffered from much the same problems as Baki did and often to a worse degree. I enjoy fight scenes too but a great deal of the enjoyment stems from external factors. There must be a decent story to get you emotionally immersed and there should be suspense about how the fight will turn out and who will win. Kengan has neither of these.
It’s very difficult to get immersed in the story precisely because of the problem of the story being so thin. Even if one were to ignore the premise – corporations hiring fighters to fight for money and power – there’s the issue that much of the manga doesn’t even focus on the primary protagonists or even antagonists.
The manga has a massive cast and a huge portion is dedicated to showing long, drawn out, multi-chapter fights between these people…most of which you can’t remember anyway as most don’t have any real distinguishing features. They can all (including the main character) be described the same way: big, heavily muscled, highly competitive, and extremely strong. I suspect the author knows this too as he endlessly reintroduces the characters and reminds readers of what makes them special.
You can’t even look at them and try to guess their fighting style as it’s completely random. You could see a sleek, highly toned guy fighting a gigantic ‘powerlifter’ looking person and you might assume the former would have a faster agile fighting style while the latter would have a hard hitting tank-like style. Then the fight starts and, in reality, the sleek guy is the tank taking all hits without problem and the giant person is flying around like a ballet dancer. All the while, both would be pulling out techniques/capabilities that you never seen them use or would possibly guess they have.
The above would be why there’s no suspense with fights. When all the fighters are so similar and fights are so completely random, how could you have suspense? That comes with predictability. At some point, you must think ‘I don’t think that guy could beat the other person’ or ‘that guy is way too strong’ and be able to logically theorize why.
There are such cases in the manga where one person is overwhelmingly stronger than the other and the fight becomes a curbstomp, but it’s hard to guess because you can’t see it from their appearance, previously shown feats, or even hype…because, again, everyone in the manga is presented similarly. All of the fighters will look strong, show great feats, and be relentlessly hyped by side characters.
Ultimately, I ended up getting tired of the manga and dropped it. However, it isn’t completely without merit.
As I pointed out, if you like Baki or any manga with an extreme focus on fight scenes, you probably will enjoy Kengan Ashura. Furthermore, although I didn’t really enjoy the fights, I did think the manga did humor fairly well.