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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ring ni Kakero's Best Bouts Part 2: From the World Tournament to the Final Fight

In creating this list of the best fights in Ring ni Kakero, & this is seen in the first half, I noticed something... Ryuji Takane is all over this list. I guess that makes a certain sense since he's the main character, but at the same time I can give an easy explanation to that. In short, Masami Kurumada tended to give Ryuji the fights with a lot of meat to them, likely due to his status as main character. That's not to say that the other characters have fights that aren't any good, because there are really enjoyable fights from Ishimatsu, Kawai, Shinatora, & Kenzaki, but the main issue with most of them is that they don't tend to have the same amount of time that Ryuji's fights are given. This can be considered a bit of an example of how RnK is the "bible" of fighting manga, and therefore later titles would give more time to the supporting cast's fights, but it's something to point out.

That being said, let's get to Part 2 & see which were the best fights in the second half of Ring ni Kakero.

(WARNING! As I'll be covering exact fights, please keep in mind that I may venture into spoilers at times. I'll try to keep them as general as possible, but fair warning.)

Ryuji Takane vs. Napoleon Baroa
After being first mentioned at the end of the Champion Carnival, the World Tournament Chapter finally starts up, and the fights in this arc are almost all really damn good. While there are still some rather short fights (two of the fights against Team France are good examples of that), the rest all have something really cool to them. Ishimatsu taking on four members of Team Italy on his own, the crazy ability all of Team France have (which I'll get to in a bit), the scientifically concocted counter-strategies Team Germany uses to combat Golden Japan's superblows, & the sheer spectacle that is Team Greece are all excellently memorable moments, so choosing just one from this entire arc is really damn hard. If I can for a moment, I just want to give "honorable mentions" to Ryuji vs. Don Juliano (a very strong start for the arc), Ishimatsu vs. Tiffany (another showcase of Ishimatsu's tenacity), Shinatora vs. Himmler (if only for the Special Cross Counter), & Kenzaki vs. Theseus (the first time Kenzaki actually is pushed hard).

If I have to choose one, though, then it's the final match against Team France, Ryuji vs. Napoleon. In just 33 pages a nice mix of styles are showcased here. For the over-the-top factor you have Team France's ability to punch with such velocity that each member can throw out kamaitachi (i.e. "sickle wind") that can scar opponents at longer-than-arm-reach lengths, and Napoleon ups the ante my using his punches to immediately cut all of the ring ropes so that there's no corner to retreat to. For more realistic strategy, there's Napoleon beating Ryuji's newly-debuted superblow Boomerang Square by purposefully slipping right when he's hit so that he can dull the impact. Finally, to cover the general fighting aesthetic, what puts this fight into one of the best (for me) is that this is one of the most evenly-matched fights in the entire series; it's also a perfect showcase for why Napoleon is one of my favorite characters in the series. While Ryuji shows his determination by constantly getting back up to fight, even after being launched into the audience after getting hit by Napoleon's Devil Propose, the real appeal is with Napoleon. This is someone who kept his cool the entire match (never getting angered & making a mistake), figured out how the beat Ryuji's new superblow after it was only used twice before this bout, & the only reason why Ryuji even wins is because Napoleon concedes after the two clash their superblows against each other. Personally, I see that as Napoleon realizing that he & Ryuji were so evenly matched that any further fighting would only result in mutual destruction, so he shows respect to his opponent by giving him the glory.

Sure, the amount of actual punches being thrown in this fight is very low, but the emotion, strategy, & style that this match has within it more than make up for it. When Season 4 of the anime adapted this fight, it did so swimmingly, & the fact that it was the first third of Episode 3 just gave the entire episode a different feel from the rest. It even added in a neat tug-of-war clash between the Devil Propose & Boomerang Square at the end that added to the finale, which was a great addition.

Ishimatsu Katori vs. Pegasus
Going back to what has never been adapted into anime, minus those bits of animation made for the 2012 pachislot machine, we have the Twelve Gods of Greece Chapter. This is my personal favorite story arc, mainly because of what it does conceptually & how it acts as a finale for a lot of characters' personal arcs. Instead of Golden Japan Jr. getting all of the focus, we instead see our Japanese leads team up with Shadow Sousui, Napoleon, Helga, & Scorpion to form the World Jr. Union (sadly, Shaft & Juliano are nowhere to be found) after the Twelve Gods, Greece's godly group of Jr. boxers, challenge them to a giant confrontation. The idea of foes becoming allies had existed before RnK (hell, even Astro Boy did it), but I don't believe it was ever done to such a large extent like this was, and it's definitely a concept that has been continued since then. Hell, Yasuhiro Imagwa has admitted that the Shuffle Alliance in G Gundam was directly inspired by the World Jr. Union. Anyway, while a story arc that features twelve foes fighting against nine heroes would nowadays end up running for quite a long time, so as to give every single fight relatively equal focus, most of the fights in this arc are dealt with rather quickly, which makes most of them more important as character pieces than as actual fights; hell, the first two Gods are taken out before the actual challenge starts up. In the end, I wound up with three fights to choose from. Kenzaki vs. Hades is a nice bit of spectacle, with Kenzaki having to fight off the illusory nature of Hades' mastery of Seikyokukai, a sort of mental barrier (sadly, this is an example where a lack of translation hampers me), while Ryuji vs. Poseidon is easily the most like a traditional boxing match, but Ryuji has enough spots in this list.

Even then, though, Ishimatsu's fight against Pegasus probably has some of the most interesting moments in it. After the Champion Carnival, Ishimatsu's forte winds up being aerial attacks done by jumping & attack from above. This is very "nonboxing", to be sure, but it's also a blatant homage to Hairmau from Ashita no Joe, who jumped all over the place & even spun around, making him also a likely influence for Street Fighter II's Blanka. Therefore, his opponents start fighting similarly, and Pegasus is the apex of that concept. Considering that Kurumada lists his dobutsu uranai as Pegasus, it's no surprise that this member of the twelve not only gets a more fleshed out fight but also gets two named attacks. The first is Elbow Break, which is where Pegasus counters Ishimatsu's Hurricane Bolt by catching his left punch with his head & shoulder & then punching the elbow so as to make that superblow impossible to use again. The second, which seems more superblow-ish, is Blowing Shower, which is used from above. Also worthy of note is that Ishimatsu first tries using Sky Triple Dancing, which is Team Greece member Icarus' superblow, only to get countered since Pegasus reveals that he's the one who taught Icarus the move; just seeing Ishimatsu using it is surprising enough, though. Finally, we have Ishimatsu having no choice but to use his newly-created superblow, Spiral Typhoon, which uses rotation & his right arm (plus all of his remaining spirit, natch), to finish the fight.

Without a doubt, Kurumada gave special attention to the character named after his "fortune animal", but at least it results in a pretty neat & enjoyable bout that does some things different.

Ryuji Takane vs. Seiga
If you've read my review of the RnK1 reprint of the manga, then you might recognize that I am not a fan of the Ashura Chapter. Admittedly, the concept of the arc, which has Kawai leave his current life after finding out that he was actually originally born as a member of the Ashura Clan, who has a vendetta against Team Golden Japan Jr., isn't a terrible one, & the actual execution (where the heroes have to get past a series of gates to reach the top of the compound) is the prototype of the way Saint Seiya would later operate. Unfortunately, it's the overall feel of the story arc that really kills it. Even taking aside the fact that the Ashura Clan itself isn't really all that different from the Shadow Clan (& really has nothing to do with boxing, at all), the entire way the story is told & even drawn just feels like this is an story arc that was made because Shueisha wanted Ring ni Kakero to continue running, so Masami Kurumada created another arc to keep the manga going for a little longer. Continuing off of that, the fights in this arc are just fairly bland & not all that memorable, so picking a "best bout" here would be pushing it. That being said, there is a single fight in the Ashura Chapter that actually is enjoyable, interesting, & different from the usual fare.

After getting past two relatively traditional gates on his way to the top of the Ashura Clan's Nine Gates, Ryuji comes across the Hourinmon/Treasure Wheel Gate, which requires crossing a giant waterfall to get past. In his way is Seiga, who challenges Ryuji to a battle on a small rock island in the middle of the giant river, with the loser falling to his death down the waterfall. That alone is a neat concept, though the fight sadly doesn't do anything with the idea of hopping between rocks for advantage. Still, Seiga is shown to be a rather tough opponent, completely tanking Ryuji's Boomerang Square (though he wasn't the first in the arc in this regard), & almost knocking him into the raging water. Seiga then launches Ryuji skywad with his superblow, Ashura Ryusuiha (a left uppercut), but Ryuji then counters on the way back down with the ultimate version of his iconic superblow, the Boomerang Teleios. That is easily the most interesting use of the Teleios, and that helps add to what makes this fight at least interesting among the banality this story arc houses. Finally, though, Ryuji tries to save Seiga after he lands in the water, which is just all the more awesome & elevates this bout to an honestly good level. Like the other fights in this arc, Ryuji/Seiga is a short fight, but at least it shows that Kurumada managed to create at least one interesting situation in a rather pointless arc.

Jun Kenzaki vs. Jesus Christ
Finally, we reach the final story arc of Ring ni Kakero, the World Title Match Chapter. From the very start, the main goal for both Ryuji & Kenzaki was to become World Champion, & the first to get that shot is Jun Kenzaki. Considering how much of a prodigy he is, it's not a major surprise that Kenzaki's pro debut would be a title shot against the WBA World Bantamweight Champion, Jesus Christ. Yes, Kurumada literally named a character after Jesus, though in this case Kurumada has him come from Monaco & uses the anglicized pronunciation ("Jiizasu Kuraisuto") rather than the way Japan actually pronounces the name ("Iesu Kirisuto"). Before actually facing off against Christ, though, Kenzaki first fights Ishimatsu on the way to the arena, due to Kenzaki publicly revealing his love to Kiku, who Ishi also harbored an honest (but more crush-like) love for. Honestly, the Kenzaki/Ishimatsu fight would be worthy of inclusion here, but I'm going with Kenzaki/Christ in the end simply because of the sheer spectacle that it is, truly befitting the way the world of the pros should feel in a manga like Ring ni Kakero.

A lot of this comes down to Jesus Christ himself, who does rely on his biblical naming with some truly crazy moments. First, his superblow is a left uppercut called the Neo Bible, delivered with such speed & intensity that he hits Kenzaki with it while taking off his robe, since Kenzaki was wasting no time in bum rushing him at first bell. Second, after the two trade downs via uppercuts, Christ decides to go truly serious on Kenzaki, delivering a series of punches so powerful that it's as if the first story of Genesis is happening to him. Kurumada emphasizes this by having Christ say to himself the literal text describing the six days of creation, plus the seventh day of rest. Then we get probably the most blatant homage to Ashita no Joe in the entire manga, followed by the final clash between Kenzaki & Christ, with Kenzaki wanting to show that a new era of boxers are coming in. Obviously, I don't want to outright spoil the biggest moments of this bout, but this is definitely a clash that's always moving & always interesting. A lot of people who complain about over-the-top sports series sometimes wonder "The characters in these titles are better than the pros, this is ridiculous," but Ring ni Kakero showcases through this fight that, if the younger generation is that crazy strong, then that likely means that the pros could very well be just as insane, if not more so.

Ryuji Takane vs. Jun Kenzaki IV
Finally, we get to the special inclusion, and there's really no other choice in this matter. In fact, I originally only had nine entries, but I couldn't choose between Kenzaki/Christ or this one, so I decided to cheat & include both. Without a doubt, I couldn't end this list of "Best Bouts" without covering the final fight of Ring ni Kakero, which is the fourth battle between Ryuji & Kenzaki. The beginning of the manga was focused so sharply on the newly formed dynamic between Ryuji & Kenzaki that their bouts were essentially the only actual fights, minus Ryuji vs. Tsujimoto, so much so that the fight the anime starts with is the third battle between them. Therefore, it only makes sense that Kurumada purposefully saved the next clash between the two for the finale. There was a short spar between the two at the start of the Pacific War, but that can't be considered a "bout". In the meantime, the readers sees how both characters evolve in different ways. Ryuji gets stronger & stronger, continually improving upon his "Boomerang" superblow (from Hook to Square to Teleios), while Kenzaki's evolution is more in the kind of man he is.

Originally, Kenzaki was a cocky, "holier than thou" prodigy who felt that no one could even approach his abilities, with Ryuji being the only one he looked at as a true equal. After he recovers from his injury after the Metropolitan Tournament, though, Kenzaki chills out to an extent, becoming someone who cares after the well-being & improvement of his Golden Japan Jr. allies, falls in love with Kiku after initially having a rough start between them, and overall become a caring (though still cocky) young man. Therefore, when Kenzaki puts the World Bantamweight Title on the line against Ryuji, the two have both reached their peaks, but literally & figuratively. Shortly before the fight begins, Helga from Team Germany warns both of them about how the constant & crazy fights they've been getting into have literally taken the worst kind of toll on their bodies. In fact, Helga calculates that at 2 minutes, 51 seconds into Round 4, both of their bodies will just breakdown & become useless. Both of them, however, understand that this could very well be the final fight either of them will ever have, & therefore are willing to put it all in the ring... See, the title makes perfect sense!

Anyway, the final fight itself is just crazed insanity, & I don't want to spoil too much in specificity. Still, bodies go flying outside of the ring, the ring itself gets scorched from the sheer force of power both rivals unleash upon each other, superblows clash with extreme power, and even the referee isn't safe from harm at one point. Quite literally, both characters give it their all, with Ryuji pulling out every notable move he has at his arsenal, from the simple right straight (his signature punch, essentially) to the Boomerang Teleios, and Kenzaki's superblows Galactica Magnum & Galactica Phantom are given their finest matches. In fact, Ryuji even debuts a brand new, ultimate superblow just for this match, a right uppercut called Winning the Rainbow, apparently inspired by the legend of a rainbow that appeared over Madagascar. This fight alone features so many iconic images, with the final clash shown above being only one of them (though the Teleios/Magnum clash image is more well known), and the ending is absolutely beautiful. When I finally reached the end of this manga & saw the "Farewell Ten Count" (which recaps scenes from the manga while the referee counts to ten), I honestly started to cry slightly; this fight is seriously that touching & well done.

Without a doubt, Ryuji/Kenzaki IV is not just a perfect finale for Ring ni Kakero, but it's easily the best fight in the entire manga, which is what a final fight should aim for in any action series, let alone manga.
That brings an end to my personal list of the Best Bouts of Ring ni Kakero. As I indicated a few times during both parts of this list, many of the fights in this manga are rather simple & short, and that is simply due to the era this was originally made in; long fights were marquees & generally reserved for the lead character, not the standard. At the same time, though, I think that is an appeal in & of itself. Though the actions shown here are generally over-the-top & most definitely "SF", they can still maintain a realistic idea behind fights, which is that sometimes a battle can be over before you know it. Many of Shinatora & Kawai's fights in this manga are admittedly short, hence why they essentially never appeared in this list (minus one for Kawai, though Ishimatsu was the main factor in that choice), and that's usually because all they need is one opportune moment to sway the advantage over to them & claim victory. Considering that this manga has gone on to inspire some MMA fighters, like Kazushi Sakuraba (who literally named one of his punches the Hurricane Bolt), I think it's oddly fitting that Ring ni Kakero has a number of quick fights, with the longer fights being more marquee & special in that regard.

Still, one of RnK's major legacies is in the various superblows, so check back later this month when I list the crème de la crème of ultimate attacks.


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  2. I think I like RnK's idea of making the protagonist matches be the only ones that matters. I love supporting characters but giving so much attentions to their fights can really drag on the series and I can't help but feel fatigue. That's why I tend to go for the shorter series.

    "even Astro Boy did it" Is it really Astro Boy or are you refering to "Astro Kyudan"? Legit question, as I didn't read Astro Boy.