Jan 11, 2019
Bored_Ronin (All reviews)
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.