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Monday, January 9, 2017

Put It All in the Ruby Anniversary: Ring ni Kakero Turns 40!

A belated Happy New Year, everyone, & welcome to the year 2017... If you wish to hold on tight or kiss your ass goodbye, then go ahead & do so.

Once again, I have reserved the first month of the year to be "Jump January", and like the previous times I did this there is a singular theme behind it. For this year, I want to celebrate what I feel is an important anniversary that will likely get next to no celebration elsewhere, even in its home country of Japan. Forty years ago, on this very day (or, at least, on the second Monday of January), Masami Kurumada's Ring ni Kakero/Put it All in the Ring debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine.

Calm down, Ryo-san, you'll run for WAAAAYYY longer...

Yes, for those who didn't know (like myself until I checked), 40 years marks the Ruby Anniversary of something, and that's what applies to this boxing manga. Since Shonen Jump doesn't mark exact dates, I had to calculate what day Issue #2 came out on, and since the magazine (officially) comes out every Monday in Japan, that means that Ring ni Kakero debuted on January 10, 1977; interestingly enough, this year is only one numbered day off in that regard. I'm sure most people are not familiar with RnK, so here's how I described it when I reviewed the manga back in 2013:

"Ryuji & Kiku are the two children of Gou Takane, a world-class professional boxer who was on his way to becoming world champion until his untimely death. Kiku decides to train Ryuji into a boxer, but Ryuji wants nothing to do with the sport. After seeing that their mother Chiyo has suddenly re-married to an abusive drunkard, Kiku takes Ryuji and they head off to Tokyo, where Kiku plans to make her younger brother into an excellent boxer, even if Ryuji doesn't want to. Through an encounter with Jun Kenzaki, a young boxing prodigy, though, Ryuji finds his motivation to become a pro boxer, and along the way will meet other junior boxers from all over the world on his path to (potential) greatness."

Since I am a big fan of this manga (& it's eventual anime adaptation), I wanted to celebrate this anniversary. Sadly, however, I feel as though I might be the only one out there who actually will give a hoot about this anniversary, even counting Japan itself.

Why? I feel that there are two major reasons for this. First, last year saw the 40th Anniversary of Kochikame, which resulted in tons of celebration in its home country, including tons of merchandise, a bunch of homages to creator Osamu Akimoto, a new anime TV special (plus a giant "Best of" DVD boxset for the TV anime), & even the end of the manga itself after 200 volumes. After all of that, it seems silly to even expect a modicum of celebration for a series that only ran for five entire years & ended back in 1981. Second, & more importantly, there's the fact that, though RnK is Kurumada's first big hit, his legacy belongs to Saint Seiya, which celebrated its 30th Anniversary (which would be the Pearl Anniversary, if you're curious) just last year. Unfortunately, however, aside from an art exhibit in both Tokyo & Hong Kong, plus a TV airing of 2015's Soul of Gold anime, Saint Seiya won't be receiving its major 30th celebration until this year, as Toei is supposedly planning a trio of new productions in various forms (live-action, CG, & anime), with only the anime adaptation of spin-off manga Santia Shou having been announced so far. Honestly, I feel that Saint Seiya will be stealing the spotlight that rightfully belongs to Ring ni Kakero this year, because it didn't get its proper due on the actual year of its anniversary.

Yeah, I held a microsized glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime could return to finally adapt the last three story arcs of the manga (it could have easily been done in a final, 24-26 episode series), but that's been completely obliterated at this point. Sad, but I still think it was miracle enough that Seasons 3 & 4 were even made back in 2010 & 2011 in the first place.

Anyway, to counteract that likely lack of celebration that I think will happen, I have decided to dedicate all of January 2017 to the 40th Anniversary of Ring ni Kakero. Also, last month was a new all-time high in monthly views, so I figure I should put a stop to that by focusing entirely on something that seemingly only I really give a damn about. Anyway, since I've already reviewed all of the anime adaptations & even the manga itself, the month will admittedly be bereft of reviews. That being said, I want to celebrate this anniversary by delving more into specifics of RnK, so I'll be detailing what I feel are the "Best Bouts" in the series, which Superblows are the most iconic, referenced, & overall coolest, & we'll be starting with some cool info that I think helps detail some of the legacy & inspiration behind the manga. If you are curious about my thoughts on the series in general, you can check out all of my old reviews from years prior, which I'll link to for convenience right here:

Still the best cover of them all.

Ring ni Kakero 1
The review of the 2001-2002 reprint of RnK that featured some pruning of the early story so that it could get to the main focus faster, turning 25 tankouban into 18 thicker volumes. Otherwise, it's mor or less the same exact manga. Though admittedly a fair bit simple in terms of story & execution when compared to its thematic successors, this highly-influential "SF Boxing" manga set the standards to which "fighting manga" still adheres to to this very day.


Ring ni Kakero 1
The first, 12-episode season of the anime that aired in Fall 2004 to celebrate Kurumada's 30th Anniversary in the manga industry. Some limited animation notwithstanding, it's a fine introduction to the series for newcomers, even though it did skip over the early story mostly (covering it via short flashbacks). Luckily, the adaptation of the Champion Carnival was not hurt at all, & in fact even improved on it in some ways, while also introducing most of the "World Rivals" earlier, allowing them to feel slightly more fleshed out than they did in the manga.


Ring ni Kakero 1: Nichibei Kessen-hen
Covering a short story arc that can be translated as either "The Pacific War" or simply "U.S. vs. Japan", the second 12-episode season of the anime from Spring 2006 improved on the animation & focused on one of the best "World Rivals" in the entire series. It also expanded heavily on some of the fights, however, as this season only adapted about a single volume-worth of content. It works more often than not, but some bits do feel a little slow & "filler"-like.


Ring ni Kakero 1: Shadow
After a four-year hiatus, & likely spurred about due to highly positive responses from pachislot machines made in the meantime, this third season of anime from Spring 2010 was the best of them all. Though only half in length compared to the prior seasons (six episodes), the story adapted here was the perfect length to match, leading to a nigh-perfect manga adaptation; the jump to HD animation also brought with it an immense increase in visual quality, too. Said story arc, where Team Golden Japan Jr. is challenged by the Shadow Clan, a forgotten sect that mixed boxing with assassination techniques, featured some out-of-the-ring fights but still stayed true to the style of boxing, with the "SF" element given more focus. Without a doubt, RnK1 more than became the over-the-top spectacle by this point.


Ring ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen
The (seemingly) final season from Spring 2011 was another six-episode series that adapted what all of the characters were getting ready for since the end of Season 1, the World Jr. Boxing Tournament. Being one of the longest story arcs in the manga, there's no surprise that content was cut out for the anime, but what was adapted was done so very accurately, & the animation was generally just as stellar as what was seen in Shadow. If another season of the anime never comes about, I'd be fine with this being the final season, as there was an "ending" of some sort here (which was also utilized in the manga).


Ring ni Kakero Image Album
A 1982 production lead by a then-unknown Joe Hisaishi, this image album featured 12 songs inspired by the original manga. The first & last acted as opening & ending themes for RnK, while the other ten acted as character themes for the five main characters & their five "World Rivals". While not every single song was a classic, all were still very well done & made for a great look at what Hisaishi was doing before he became the iconic anime music composer he would be known as.

No official cover art, so here's a screenshot.

Ring ni Kakero
Developed by Earthly Soft back in 1995 for the Super Famicom, publisher NCS Masaya (Langrisser, Cho Aniki) initially held off on actually publishing this game adaptation of RnK due to the fact that the PlayStation & Saturn were coming out, which in turn made the Super Famicom look unappealing. It wasn't released until Nintendo debuted the Nintendo Power service in 1997, which allowed people to download specific games onto a blank "SF Memory Cassette" at places that had kiosks. This resulted in some games becoming exclusive to the Nintendo Power service, and Ring ni Kakero (finally released in 1998) was one of them. The game itself was more of a cinematic-styled game, and while it didn't play like a traditional boxing or fighting game, once you understood how to play it had a nice amount of fun in its own way. Sadly, the lack of a traditional physical release (barring you get lucky & find an old SF Memory Cassette that has the game on it) means that emulation is really the only way to check it out now.


Manga DVD Ring ni Kakero
Before the anime was produced, the first actual video adaptation of Ring ni Kakero was as part of the extremely short-lived Manga DVD series. Released in 2003 by Sony & produced by Shadow Entertainment, Manga DVD was an interesting half-way point between manga & anime. It would take the actual panels of manga, have voice actors read the lines, compose music to accompany the scenes, & add in some minor visual effects & coloring, acting like an anime would but without any of the need of actually animating anything. Unsurprisingly, only the initial three products (Kyoufu Shinbun, Sanctuary, & Ring ni Kakero) ever came out, and RnK's product, which adapts ~2/3 of the World Tournament into about an hour, was probably the best of them all (though I never did review Manga DVD Sanctuary...). At the very least, it's an interesting curiosity & worth checking out if you're a big fan like me, but otherwise just stick with Season 4 of the anime.


Ring ni Kakero 1 Pilot Film
While Toei was in the midst of bringing back Saint Seiya in anime form in 2003, it was decided to also give Ring ni Kakero 1 a try via anime, so (like many other times before in anime) a pilot was produced. Directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi, likely while he was directing the Seiya Heaven Chapter movie for 2004 (which would explain the movie-quality animation), the RnK1 Pilot Film was a short, five-minute collection of scenes from the manga set to Seiji Yokoyama's music from Saint Seiya, & acted more as a proof-of-concept than anything else. It was given a limited (region free) DVD release via a mail-order program in an issue of Super Jump in 2003 (or possibly early 2004), complete with a short interview with Masami Kurumada about what he thought of the pilot itself, plus a Kazuya Nakai-narrated quick overview of the manga's story; there was also a commericial for Seiya Heaven Chapter. Much like the Manga DVD, the pilot is essentially only for fans of RnK, but it's a neat look at what brought about the (eventual) 36 episodes of anime that would be made from 2004-2011.
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While I'm sure that Ring ni Kakero won't mean much to most anime & manga fans, mainly due to its obscene lack of availability in English (even the anime isn't fully fansubbed to this day), this series has maintained a spot in my (theoretical) personal favorite anime & manga list. Therefore, I hope you will join me for the rest of this month & celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the "Hot-Blooded Fighting Manga Bible".

Yeah, I'll get to that next time...

2 comments:

  1. Here on Brazil, we've gotten B't X and the majority of things relating to Saint Seiya (really, I think the only Seiya things we haven't gotten yet is the Omega one-volume manga and Hero of Heroes). Ring ni Kakeru is, alongside Fuuma no Kojiro, the Kurumada works I'm most curious to read about. But sadly, publishers here are more interested on bringing more recent stuff.

    Really, there were rumours of Hokuto no Ken, but even that one is hard to get here because they think the "reading fanbase" will probably ignore it duo being too old.

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  2. Jump's calendar year generally starts in December, so if Ring ni Kakero debuted in 1977 Issue No. 2, that really means it debuted in the second week of December 1976, which would place it around December 13th of that year. MAL says the debut date was December 28th, though, so maybe the 1977 calendar year started late that year? Hard to get a consensus on the start date of some of these older and obscurer series.

    Ring ni Kakero is a series I definitely want to get around to, but it's a shame there isn't a way to experience the full story, or much of the story at all, for an english-only reader. Another reason to learn japanese, I suppose. But I'm definitely curious to learn more about it through your posts, so I should start catching up on them. ^^

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