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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ring ni Kakero Trivia Track: Six Neat, Important, or Interesting Factoids

Masami Kurumada made his professional debut in 1974 with Sukeban Arashi/Delinquent Storm, a comedic series about Rei Kojinyama, who tries to be an ideal schoolgirl to honor the memory of her deceased mother but can't help leaning back into her delinquent lifestyle. After that wound up getting cancelled, he decided that his next series would pay homage to one of his favorite manga of all time: Ashita no Joe. He quickly realized that simply following AnJ's style would both be a disservice to that manga as well as his own series, so he wound up adopting a more over-the-top style influenced by Astro Kyudan/Team Astro, a popular Jump manga that was running when he debuted. While being technically a baseball manga, the feats & games that were actually played were so absurdly over-the-top that it kept readers captivated for four years & 20 volumes; it was that concept of "attraction" that Kurumada wanted to bring to his boxing manga.

In doing just that, Ring ni Kakero wound up becoming an important part in the evolution of not just Shonen Jump but also action manga, often called "fighting manga" in Japan, in general. You can read my review of the manga to get a better understanding of why that is, but what I want to focus on are the little things. I've brought most of them up before on the blog but want to describe in more detail here, while one of them in particular I've only alluded to. Call it "trivia" if you will (hell, I did in the name of this post), but let's have some fun here. First up is probably the most important piece of trivia of all, though.

"The Hot-Blood Fighting Manga Bible"
It's easy for something to be called a "classic", since most just equate that word with age instead of saving it solely for those with good quality; personally, I think the word "vintage" should be the general term, instead. It's tougher for something to be called an "icon", as that has to indicate not just age & quality, but also a status as being something that represents an entire group, whether it's a genre, style, medium, etc. What's nigh-impossible, though, is for something to be called a "bible", because to reach that status it has to not only have age, quality, & a status of being a representative behind it, but also be considered the product that everything that comes after it follows; it's an (or the) authority on something. You almost never hear anyone try to actually define something as being the bible on a concept or style, so when something is deemed to that level, then you have to take note.

To help prepare for Masami Kurumada's 40th Anniversary in the manga industry, Shueisha re-released all of the man's work that it had publishing rights to digitally in late 2013, & that included Ring ni Kakero 1, the 2001-2002 reprint edition; the original, numberless version is print-only. That alone was neat, but the way the publisher would advertise RnK1 was most interesting. Aside from calling it the "Legendary Boxing Manga" for the last volume, the first volume's description ends with the kanji & katakana shown above, "Nekketsu Kakutou Manga no Baiburu". That literally translates to what I have in bold above, and is (to my knowledge) the first time Shueisha ever referred RnK as that. This is from the company that has been putting out Shonen Jump since the start in 1968, let alone publishing manga in general since the end of World War II, so I'll take their word for it. Sure, such talk was simply done for the sake of promotion, but you don't see this phrase being used for the likes of Fist of the North Star or Dragon Ball, and I think that's what matters most. While those two manga series definitely took the genre of "fighting manga" & made it what it is today, they didn't write the book on how it's looked at nowadays.

That claim belongs to Ring ni Kakero, & by association Masami Kurumada, and no one can take that level of prestige away from it. If you're a fan of action manga & find the way it operates enjoyable & fun, then you can thank RnK for introducing the way it's done now.

The Shadow Tower = The Game of Death
While most of the entries in this list focus on how RnK influenced & inspired future people & stories, this entry looks at how Kurumada himself was influenced when making his manga. Though a boxing manga through & through, with matches happening in the ring itself, there are two story arcs that involve fights that occur outside of the ring, both of which are obviously not officially sanctioned fights. The second, The Ashura Chapter, had Ryuji & gang make their way up a giant path, having to get past various gates & the keepers that guarded them; obviously, this would be a big part of Saint Seiya's modus operandi. However, the first example, The Shadow Chapter, was only half street boxing (hey, you come up with a better term!), with the second half being a 5-on-5 challenge match done officially in the ring. The first half, on the other hand, saw Kurumada pay homage to the legendary Chinese martial artist & actor Bruce Lee, specifically his equally legendary unfinished movie, The Game of Death (not to be confused with Game of Death, which used footage from The Game of Death... The word "The" is very important here).

In Lee's unfinished movie, main character Hai Tien is forced to climb up Palsangjeon, the last wooden pagoda in Korea, in order to retrieve the mysterious item at the top for a gang that holds Hai's little sister & brother hostage. In RnK's Shadow Chapter, Ryuji Takane is forced to climb up a Japanese pagoda in order to rescue his older sister Kiku, who is being held at the top, after the mysterious Shadow Clan kidnaps her for their own reasons. The similarities go even deeper than that, though. The first floor of Palsangjeon has Hai take on 10 black belt karateka, while the first floor of the Shadow Tower has Ryuji take on 100 Shadow Boxers. After that, floors 2-4 have both Hai & Ryuji taking on (mostly) singular challengers, each of which fights differently from the last, whether its differing martial arts for Hai or various dirty methods of fighting, befitting a form of boxing that's meant for assassination, for Ryuji. Finally, the top floor has both Hai & Ryuji take on giant men who fight in the same styles as them, whether it's Jeet Kune Do or boxing. It's obvious that Kurumada wanted to pay homage to Lee, who had passed away only a few years prior to RnK's debut, so he gave his manga one giant homage to The Game of Death, and it's honestly one of the best parts of the entire manga. This part of the story was made to showcase Ryuji's ingenuity & ability to adapt to different forms of combat, much like how Jeet Kune Do (which Lee created) is meant to be all about adapting & even implementing other styles it takes on. Since Lee's movie was never finished properly, the Shadow Tower may be the best spiritual replacement out there for it.

Yun Kouga is One Giant Ring ni Kakero Reference
There's no doubt that Masami Kurumada has inspired many other mangaka to this very day. For example, the legendary artist collective CLAMP first got popular doing Saint Seiya doujin, Tite Kubo has admitted how Seiya directly influenced Bleach, & every single person who has done a Seiya spin-off manga (Megumu Okada, Shiori Teshirogi, & Chimaki Kuori) is an unabashed Kurumada fan. Without a doubt, however, the biggest professional fan would have to be Risa Yamada, better known to all by her pen name, Yun Kouga. Best known as the creator of the shonen-ai manga Earthian & the romantic fantasy manga Loveless, she was the perfect (early teen) age when RnK debuted (she was born in 1965), & her love of Kurumada's style resulted in her following Fuma no KojirouSaint Seiya, & B't X (at the very least) as they originally ran, even after she had started making her own manga; she started off doing Seiya doujin, & was working on Earthian when B't X debuted. She supposedly also would send Kurumada numerous fan letters that constantly asked if she could meet him, & eventually Kurumada let her visit. Therefore, it's no surprise that her entire public identity is nothing more than a gigantic Ring ni Kakero reference.

To explain, let's look at the kanji. In Japanese, "Kouga Yun" is written as 高河 ゆん. Every part of that name is a reference to a character from RnK. The kanji 高/Kou is taken from main character Ryuji Takane (嶺 竜児), while the kanji 河/ga is taken from fellow Golden Japan Jr. member Takeshi Kawai (井 武士). As for ゆん/Yun, that would be a reference to Ryuji's best friend/rival Jun Kenzaki (剣崎 ). In fact, in a 2006 interview with Puff magazine, Kouga admitted that she originally thought about writing it as じゅん/Jun, making the reference to Kenzaki all the more obvious. That right there is dedication, and I'm sure almost no one (even in Japan) actually knows this; hell, I didn't realize it until about a year ago or so. Ms. Yamada is such a giant fan of Kurumada that she has made it a part of her very existence, and I think that's awesome. In that regard, it's no surprise that she was chosen to do the crossover manga Kurumada Suikoden ~Hero of Heroes~. While Okada, Teshirogi, & Kuori are giant Saint Seiya fans, Yun Kouga effectively lives & breathes Masami Kurumada's entire catalog, and she makes no attempt at hiding it... It's just that most people won't notice it.

It was Kurumada's First Work to be "Adapted" (By Joe Hisaishi, No Less!)
It's true that Kurumada didn't achieve his biggest notoriety until he debuted Saint Seiya in 1986, and that's mainly due to it being the first of his manga to be adapted into anime, which was then exported around the world & became a massive success in other countries. That being said, Seiya isn't the first Kurumada manga to be "adapted" in general, though I guess some might consider this to be a bit of a stretch, depending on how you view image albums. The concept of image/character songs has been around ever since the 60s when anime like Ken the Wolf Boy received some, & in the 70s some ending themes (like for Yatterman & Kinnikuman) were technically character songs. For some manga, they may never receive anime adaptations, but they may at least receive image albums or drama CDs. Plus, it is an interesting idea, to be honest: Creating songs that act like personal themes for various characters in a story.

Anyway, in 1982, not long after the manga ended, Shueisha teamed with Nippon Columbia to produce an image album on vinyl (& possibly also cassette) for Ring ni Kakero, which wound up becoming the first product to be based on a Masami Kurumada manga. The coolest part about this album coming out so early in Kurumada's career, though, is that the man chosen to compose, arrange, & perform the twelve songs was (at the time) a relatively new composer named Mamoru Fujisawa, who had recently started using the alias Joe Hisasihi. It wouldn't be until the 1984 movie Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind that Hisaishi would start becoming the legendary composer that he's known as now, but don't go thinking that he wasn't any good prior to that film. Working with Yukio Hirasawa, Shigeru Inoue, & the "Square Orchestra" (plus MoJo singing the lyrics for the first & last tracks), every single song on the Ring ni Kakero Image Album is excellent, some way more than others, & it's a testament that Joe Hisaishi was a true musical force even before he became big. Sadly, outside of a re-release on CD in 1988 & the MoJo-performed songs being included on a "Best of" release for the singer, this image album has seemingly disappeared into the aether; it's not even listed on Hisaishi's website (Wikipedia Japan lists it, though).

I did review this image album back in 2014, though, & I included the ability to listen to all of the songs, so if you're curious then by all means check that piece out.

This is the least spoiler-ish image I could find, so there you go.

It Was Jump's First Full-Color Final Chapter
Manga is notable among comic mediums around for the world for being done primarily in black & white, regardless of whether it's a small little indie comic or the biggest names; it's not the only type of comic to do so, I'd guess, but notable nonetheless. Occasionally there will be splashes of color for a few pages, usually reserved to promote new debuts or celebrate popular series, but even then these color inclusions aren't truly "full-color" in the way most comics are imagined as. Therefore, when a manga receives a full use of the color spectrum it's something to make note of. Currently, for example, Masami Kurumada's Saint Seiya Next Dimension is given the full-color treatment for each compiled tankouban (& even was initially serialized like that). When it comes to Shonen Jump, though, the most exclusive club out there is for a series to end with a final chapter done entirely in full-color, as it's a club of only four right now. Most fans of the magazine know of Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, & (most recently) Naruto, especially since all three have received complete releases here in North America. What isn't quite as well known, though, is the first one to receive this treatment.

While Shonen Jump had it's fair share of popular manga prior to Ring ni Kakero's debut, enough to make it outlive its predecessor Shonen Book, Kurumada's "SF Boxing" manga wound being something different. It's generally considered the magazine's first "mega hit", being a major part of how the magazine passed a readership of three million, and Kurumada even heard stories of how RnK's success supposedly paid for major renovations of Shueisha's headquarters, with the building being (apparently) internally nicknamed the "Kurumada Building" or "RinKake Building". One can argue that Kurumada was lucky to be able to finish RnK whenever he wanted (though I maintain that the Ashura Chapter feels like it was editorially mandated to stretch out the manga), but when the end was indeed declared Shueisha obviously had to give it proper respect. Therefore, after giving many of the chapters leading into the finale color pages, Shueisha published the final chapter of Ring ni Kakero, Ring yo Eien ni!/Dear Ring, Forever!, in absolute full-color for the entire chapter, the first time it was ever done in Shonen Jump (I can't speak on if it was one of the earliest examples in manga ever). Sadly, the only way to actually see this chapter the way it was originally intended is by getting a hold of the issue of Shonen Jump it was serialized in (Issue #44 of 1981), because all of the compiled volumes of RnK feature a monochromatic reprint of it; I'd love to own a copy of that issue, though. I believe this may be the case for Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, & even Naruto, eventually, and it's simply due to costs; printing in full-color is costly (which is why manga is done in B&W). These full-color final chapters are once-in-a-manga's-lifetime moments, & Ring ni Kakero was the first to do it for Jump.

Name Changes-R-Us
Finally, we end on an amusing bit of trivia. One thing that anime & manga has been known for is not giving a crap about copyrighted products at times. While it's not done too often today, though we still get blatantly lazy parodies, this was extremely true back in the 70s & 80s. For example, the OVA boom was filled with blatant visual references to stuff like Coca-Cola, Streets of Fire, & anything else you can think of that was popular during that time. Therefore, when Kurumada wanted to showcase how Ring ni Kakero's lead character Ryuji Takane & his rival Jun Kenzaki advanced as boxers & did their training, the best way possible was to use actual training products. Ryuji wore wrist & ankle weights that Kiku called the Power Wrist & Power Ankle, which were actual products in Japan at the time & the names may have been general use, which meant that many companies could call them that. For Kenzaki, he pushed his arms to their limits by using the Apollo Exerciser, which was the alternate name for the Exer-Genie after it gained notoriety after being used by the astronauts involved in the Apollo 11 mission. When the manga was republished in the early 00s as Ring ni Kakero 1 (as the sequel was running at the time), Kurumada decided to rename those items to avoid copyright infringement. The Power Wrist & Ankle were renamed the Dragon Wrist & Ankle, to match Ryuji's naming theme, while the Apollo Exerciser was renamed the Galaxian Exerciser, to match Kenzaki's general use of galactic theming. In an interview with Fuji TV in 2003, Kurumada even joked that he should have filed a license & made his own sets of weights & exercisers, as RnK helped act as big promotion for these products & is still associated with them by the public to this day.

These aren't the only name changes in the history of this manga, however. The first one actually happened as the series was being serialized, in fact. Early on in the Twelve Gods of Greece Chapter, Greek Jr. boxer Balkan had to fight off members of the Shadow Clan, so he used his superblow Dead End Fire. The only problem was that Kurumada only intended for "Dead End Fire" to be a placeholder name, after it had already replaced "Damned Fire", but by the time he chose a final name it was too late, as the chapter was already getting duplicated for printing. When the compiled volume that featured Balkan got published, Dead End Fire was renamed to Shocking Fire, as intended. This story was told by Kurumada in the interview book Ring ni Kakero REAL, but the actual visual of this error seems to only be in the actual issue of Jump that it happened in, & there's no scan of it online. Finally, an entire character saw a renaming when the RnK1 reprint happened in the 00s. When U.S. Jr. Champion Black Shaft gathered together a group to combat Team Golden Japan Jr. in a "Pacific War", his final team member was a mysterious young man known only as the "Emperor of the South". When he finally arrived late to the event, he was revealed to be N.B. Forrest, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The only problem with that was that "N.B. Forrest" was a direct naming reference to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate lieutenant general during the Civil War & the first Grand Wizard of the actual KKK (though he later distanced himself from the organization). To this day, Forrest's legacy is a controversial one, so when the RnK1 reprint came about Kurumada decided to rename the man's namesake character to the generic Mr. Whitey, though his status as Grand Wizard of the KKK was maintained; the KKK connection would be removed in Season 2 of the anime, however. This maintained for Ring ni Kakero 2, which featured the character's son, who was named Sugar Whitey.
While these bits of information may not be groundbreaking by any means, hence why they can be categorized as "trivia", I still find them really cool & worth knowing, which is why I have shared them with all who read this piece. Check back next week as I go over what I feel are the "Best Bouts" of each story arc in Ring ni Kakero.


  1. - Yun Kouga's pen name might be inspired by RnK but her job sure doesn't live up to RnK's legacy. Hero of Heroes, for all I've seen, is a complete and nonsensical mess.

    And I won't even coment much about the infamous Champion Red issue where they've added one of Kouga's Saint Seiya fanfics where she completly distorts reality and throw characterization in the trash just to satisfy her teenage fantasies.

    Yeah, I have an issue with the chick's work.

    - About character songs, I actually LOVE the concept. It's one of my favorite things in anime and sometimes I even get music on iTunes Japan that have character songs despite not watching the shows the songs came from. Yup, I'm a bit crazy about those things lol

  2. Wow, Ring ni Kakero has quite the legacy! Really cool to see how influential it was not only on manga but only individual people and japanese popular culture.

    It's also pretty crazy that one of the villains in the series is a member of the KKK, named after it's founder no less. I imagine his portrayal is similar to Stroheim in JoJo's, but that's still kind of uncomfortable so it's a good thing they removed the connection in the anime. Mr. Whitey is a hilarious re-naming choice though.

    I got to check those character songs out since I'm a sucker for those, lol.