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Monday, January 30, 2017

Ring ni Kakero's Supreme Superblows Part 2

I'd say it's fair to say that the most identifiable aspect of an action manga is the wide variety of named special attacks that the various characters use in battle, and Shonen Jump has a gigantic girth of them. The Kamehameha, Hokuto Hundred Crack Fist, Pegasus Meteor Fist, the Kinniku Buster, Getsuga Tensho, Gum Gum Pistol, the Rasengan, Rei-Gun (get it?), Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki, Cool Drive, Sunlight Yellow Overdrive... All of them owe some inspiration to Ring ni Kakero. As I stated in Part 1, while Team Astro did feature crazy special maneuvers with wild names first, it was RnK that really put it towards the forefront, and it's become a bit of a standard in many action series. After all, the kids who read these manga needed something to scream out while they played around & tried to recreate some of these for the fun of it.

Therefore, let's end this 40th Anniversary celebration of Ring ni Kakero's debut in the beginning of 1977 by looking at some more of the best (in my opinion) superblows that inspired too many other to count.

Cosa Nostra
When Ryuji first delivered the Boomerang Hook during the Champion Carnival, it was showcased as Ryuji having something special about him. When Shinatora first hit Rolling Thunder later in that tournament, he was shown as being similarly special. But then Black Shaft hit Ryuji with his Black Screw during the Pacific War, showing that other strong Jr. boxers had their own special attacks. Similarly, when each of these were first done, Kurumada treated them with more impact, but nothing really special about them. It wouldn't be until the World Tournament that the term "superblow" would first be used, and to go with new term Kurumada decided to give these ultimate punches the visual flair that they'd become iconic & inspirational for. The first person to be given this type of treatment is Don Juliano, Italian Jr. Champion, self-proclaimed "Sicilian Dandy", & head of the Jr. Mafia. Understanding that Ryuji Takane is a dangerous person to take on, he makes no attempt to try to make this fight a long one, so he starts up right away with his superblow, Cosa Nostra.

Being a member of the younger equivalent to the Italian Mafia, Don Juliano can be a bit of a snake-like individual, hence why his Cosa Nostra hits Ryuji suddenly, similar to how a snake strikes its prey quickly & without warning. Similarly, Kurumada draws the perfect image to match the superblow, with a giant king cobra making for the perfect bit of visual accentuation; even the "BRAASSH" sound effect sounds similar enough to when a snake suddenly strikes. Strike hard, suddenly, & ready for the next victim, and Juliano fits that to a tee. He even immediately tells Team Golden Japan Jr. "seguente/next", not wanting to wait for the next fight. Obviously, Ryuji doesn't go down that easily, but Don Juliano makes for a great introduction to the world of superblows that Ring ni Kakero would become known for. Just like the name says, these superblows are only going to continue doing "our thing" from here on out.

Royal Demon Seed
For Team Golden Japan Jr., it becomes imperative for each of them to have some sort of "New Punch", which would later be called a superblow. Eventually, though, their very superblows wind up only being so useful in battle, because the more they use them, the more opportunities their rivals have to figure out how to beat them. This becomes especially true for Team Germany, whose second-in-command Helga calculates precise ways to beat the Hurricane Bolt, Special Rolling Thunder, Jet Upper, & Boomerang Square. Therefore, it's no surprise that Ishimatsu, Shinatora, Kawai, & Ryuji decide to create new superblows when they decide to take on the Twelve Gods of Greece, because otherwise they'd be at a marked disadvantage; best if neither side knows what the other has in store. The same is true for Shadow Sousui, though it's indicated that he always had more than just the Shadow Raijinken; he just didn't have a need to use them before. Sadly, two of the former World Rivals who join our heroes to form the World Jr. Union, Scorpion & Helga, don't bother to do that; hell, Helga didn't have one to start with. The third former rival, however, did not make the same mistake.

In Part 2 of the Best Bouts list, I mentioned that France Jr. Champion Napoleon Baroa is one of my favorite characters in Ring ni Kakero, but I only mentioned why in regards to his match with Ryuji. Another reason for this is because he actually thinks ahead & shows that he either did indeed create a new superblow for his involvement with the Twelve Gods... Or he had this move at his disposal from the start, but chose not to use it in case he would need it for later (so as to keep it from being countered). Either way, the point of the previously-used superblows being incapable of defeating the Twelve Gods is proven right from the first fight, when Napoleon goes against Artemis. Artemis' eyes are so keen that he can actually see the kamaitachi that Napoleon's punches throw out, so the Devil Propose has no chance against Artemis' Moonlight Heaven. However, Artemis can't counter what he never knew about in the first place, which leaves him to Napoleon's mercy once he delivers his second superblow, the Royal Demon Seed. Kurumada's drawing of the RDS is nice example of style, with the use of a negative image, and even the look of a corkscrew rotation on the punch itself. Still, the simple fact that Napoleon was even deemed worthy of having a second superblow, which no other World Rival has, definitely adds to why he's one of my favorites.

Finally, similar to how Venus' Lightning Plasma would later be reused, Kurumada would reuse the Royal Demon Seed naming to an extent in Saint Seiya. Okay, it isn't really an outright reusing, but rather more of a natural evolution of the name, as one of Pisces Aphrodite's iconic attacks is the more literal Royal Demon Rose, where he throws a stiff & deadly rose at his opponent that homes in.

Jet Upper
I'll admit that, eventually, Kurumada seemed to have run out of different ways of punching when it came to making various superblows. The most common kind of punch used for superblows wound up being the uppercut, since it allowed for the now-iconic "Kurumada Launch" & "Kurumada Fall". Admittedly, I only featured one other uppercut in this list so far, Jesus Christ's Neo Bible, but without a doubt the best of them is the first uppercut superblow ever showcased. A double prodigy boxer/pianist, Takeshi Kawai starts off as a well-to-do, pompous jerk during the Champion Carnival, but quickly finds his groove as a fighter who manages to think of a bout he's in through musical concepts. At the same time, his signature punch winds up being a right uppercut, delivering it with excellent force & speed. Still, though, he knows that a traditional "Right Upper" can only do so much against tougher foes, so he tries to think of a way to improve upon the speed & force he can put into his punch.

By simple concept, an uppercut stars low & goes high, which can only result in so much speed. Inspiration hits him, though, when he remembers that jet pilots can increase the upward velocity of their planes by first flying down before suddenly pitching back up. With that in mind, Kawai creates a new right uppercut by doing the same thing, first throwing his fist down, as close to the ground as possible, before suddenly coming back up, resulting in more speed & power behind his punch. The resulting Jet Upper becomes one of the most iconic superblows in Ring ni Kakero, with Kurumada sometimes not even having Kawai say the name of his punch out loud; the "JET" sound effect says it all (the anime even maintains the sound effect). Kawai even finds a couple of new uses for the Jet Upper as time goes on, like using it to create his own kamaitachi during the fight with Team France. Today, the name "Jet Upper" is more familiar to fans of Street Fighter, as the gentlemanly British boxer Dudley has a Shoryuken-esque special move named just that. To be fair, though, Dudley in general is a massive compilation of references to Ashita no Joe (Zero-Defense Cross Counter), Ring ni Kakero (Jet Upper, Corkscrew Cross, Rolling Thunder), & Hajime no Ippo (said Rolling Thunder is the Dempsey Roll).

Ashura Mugenshou
As much as I am not a fan of the Ashura Chapter, I don't think that it's "bad"; it's merely underwhelming, that's all. In fact, there are some neat things about it. As I've mentioned before, the basic concept of the arc, where Ryuji has to march his way through the Nine Gates in order to reach the Ashura King at the top of the Ashura Clan's compound, is the prototype of how Saint Seiya would generally operate, there is at least one honestly good fight in the form of Ryuji vs. Seiga, and there's even a superblow showcased that actually looks cool. In fact, one could even see it as a spiritual precursor to other, more famous, special attacks. The guardian of the seventh gate, Mashoumon/Demon General Gate, Yamihoushi is a master of illusions, first trying to fool Ryuji into thinking that he's come across his mother, who he hasn't seen in a good number of years. After that doesn't quite work, though, he attacks Ryuji with his superblow, Ashura Mugenshou/Fantastical Charge, which looks as though Yamihoushi is throwing out multiple punches at once, making it nigh-impossible to counter. To be fair, it does work somewhat on Ryuji, who can't get past the guardian, and it takes Kenzaki's sudden arrival (with some help from the Twelve Gods) to defeat Yamihoushi.

Still, the image Kurumada draws for Ashura Mugenshou definitely looks somewhat familiar nowadays. While the trick to Yamihoushi's superblow is that there is actually only one actual punch being thrown, the concept of multiple attacks being done at once would become a rather popular idea in action manga. Just a couple of years later Fist of the North Star's Kenshiro would show off his iconic Hokuto Hundred Crack Fist, Saint Seiya's namesake character would have the Pegasus Meteor Fist, Dragon Ball would often feature multiple blows being delivered at rapid speed on a regular basis, and even One Piece's Luffy has Gum Gum Gatling as a regular special move, among many other examples. While I can't guarantee that Yamihoushi "did it first", he at least may be the character who introduced this concept into modern day action manga.

Shadow Raijinken
The word "Sousui" technically translates to "Leader", but since everyone in the series winds up calling Shadow Sousui by his title rather than his real name (which only Kenzaki uses), I just stick with his name being Sousui, as well. If I was to translate properly, I'd have Shadow Clan members' usage translated as "Leader", while everyone else's as simply "Sousui"; the Clan members use it as a title, while everyone else uses it as a name. Anyway, Sousui is a tricky one to choose just one superblow for, because all of them have something neat to them, due to the fact that "Shadow Boxing" (yes, that's the reference) mixes together boxing with assassination techniques. Shadow Houkakuken/Phoenix Chamber Fist is a delayed reaction attack, initially feeling like a minor blow until later, when the foe slowly falls victim to it. Shadow Ryukyokuha/Dragon Blast (good enough, Google Translate) is similar in execution, but is solely used to set the opponent up for Sousui's ultimate superblow, Shadow Meiouken/Dark Emperor Fist, which is like those moments when a swordsman's final cut isn't done until the sword fully sheathes, but here it's when Sousui raises his fist victoriously in the air; to be fair, it's hard to really tell in manga form, & it doesn't exist in anime form. Still, I'd say that Sousui's best, & most iconic, superblow is the first one he ever uses, Shadow Raijinken/Raijin Fist.

Yes, it's technically another uppercut superblow, but at least Kurumada makes sure to give Sousui's take on it its own visual style. As if summoning the power of the Shinto god Raijin himself, Shadow Raijinken delivers a thunderous blast upwards into the opponent, with Sousui himself delivering the punch while not actually standing, as if he's paying respect to Raijin while doing so. Combine the low stature of the Raijinken with the fact that Sousui can be rather fast on his feet, and the superblow actually feels next to impossible to counter without getting hit; even Venus had to be hit first before actually countering with Lightning Plasma. Sadly, Shadow Raijinken never actually delivers a finishing blow to anyone, except for Team Greece ally Balkan, but that isn't an official match by any means. Still, whereas the Houkakuken, Ryukyokuha, & Meiouken feel more like martial arts assassination techniques, which they essentially are, the Raijinken still feels like something you'd theoretically see in a boxing ring, which helps put it over, in my opinion. The term "Raijinken" is generic enough that the "jin" can be represented by a variety of kanji, which is why the term has appeared in other mediums like video games, such as King of Fighters' Benimaru Nikaido or Mega Man X's Zero, but I'd like to believe that Ring ni Kakero helped bring this term into the modern Japanese lexicon.

And, if not, then I can at least guarantee that the last pick for this list has directly influenced others.

Galactica Magnum & Galactica Phantom
Sorry, but I have to cheat for the final pick, simply because it's impossible to choose one over the other. Without a doubt, the absolute greatest pair of superblows to come from Ring ni Kakero are the ones created by "Superstar" Jun Kenzaki. The concept of a seemingly perfect character who's ideal at certain things seems to be a common thing in some fiction nowadays, but more often than not is being used for the main character, likely to help enforce the whole concept of wish fulfillment that entertainment can be for some people. Personally, I think such characters are best used as a goal for the main character to reach, and in the "Three Pillars of Boxing Manga" (hello, self promotion!) this is a shared concept. In Ashita no Joe we have José Mendoza, who Joe aims to fight in order to become world champion. In Hajime no Ippo was have Ricardo Martinez, a blatantly obvious homage to Mendoza (right down to him being Mexican), who Ippo has yet to even hope to face (minus a short-lived spar that he was helpless in). Finally, in Ring ni Kakero, we have Jun Kenzaki, who acts as Ryuji's very reason to take up boxing (making him also an homage to Joe's Tohru Rikiishi), but unlike Mendoza & Martinez, we actually see Kenzaki's path & the eventual struggles he has. In order to combat those, he too needs a superblow, but simply creating one at a time isn't enough for him... And neither are terrestrial concepts of power.

No, instead of Earthbound ideas like boomerangs, jets, cyclones, lighting, cannons, or even bibles, Kenzaki's sueprblows call upon the powers of the galaxies beyond our imaginations; that's how big Kenzaki thinks. First up is the power held in his right arm, one that hits hard like the explosive force of a supernova: Galactica Magnum. I'm sorry, but I think Masami Kurumada might have peaked too early with that name, because I don't think he's ever truly come up with a special attack name that's quite as badass as Galactica Magnum. Even Saint Seiya's Galaxian Explosion sounds like it's trying too hard to imitate the sheer force of power that Kenzaki's first superblow naturally evokes, but loses the brilliant simplicity in the process. Of course, Kurumada's drawing for GM is likewise simple but highly effective, with the image of flaming chunks of an exploding planet making for a perfect analogy as to how the unlucky soul who takes the punch must feel; eventually, the sound effect "BAKOOOOOOM" gets added in, bringing with it even more power. Really, I could have left it at just Galactica Magnum & called it a complete list, but I'd be remiss if I ignored Kenzaki's other arm...

You see, Kenzaki's right arm isn't even his dominant limb. Instead, it's his left that's nicknamed his "Golden Arm", and the injury it receives during the third Ryuji/Kenzaki fight at the end of the Metropolitan Tournament makes everyone wonder if Kenzaki can ever be as good again. In response, Kenzaki not only fully recovers, but winds up housing an even more devastating superblow within it. Used only in the most desperate of moments, & befitting its initially secret nature, Galactica Phantom doesn't hit with the force of a supernova. Instead, it's as though one has been hit with the sheer force of pressure that is the universe itself, planets, stars, constellations, & all. While it doesn't quite have the same aural knack as Galactica Magnum does, there's no doubt that Galactica Phantom is equally as important; you can't celebrate one without the other. In terms of legacy, for some examples, the final villain of Naoko Takeuchi's Sailor Moon, Sailor Galaxia, is given an exclusive special attack in the late-90s musicals called Galactica Magnum. Likewise, most people may be familiar with the name Galactica Phantom through King of Fighters, as Ralf of Team Ikari Warriors has a desperation move of the same name, & in some titles is even overpowered & abusable. The titular giant robot of GaoGaiGar has a special attack named Broken Magnum, and when it's altered into GaoFighGar in GaoGaiGar FINAL it receives a replacement attack named Broken Phantom. Finally, similar to that last example, in the Super Robot Wars OG series there's pilot Kai Kitamura, who names his Gespenst Mk II M's ultimate attacks Jet Magnum & Jet Phantom.

Truly, the greatest & most supreme of superblows in Ring ni Kakero is the combo of Galactica Magnum & Phantom.
And with that we put an end to my celebration of 40 years of Ring ni Kakero. It was fun & even challenging to compile all of this, & to whittle down the lists to just so many entries. To this day, I find RnK to be one of the most fun & enjoyable manga I have ever read, even without a proper translation (fan translations have yet to reach where the anime starts at, sadly), & I simply wanted to give this series the focus & attention that I feel it will sadly be missing out on in its home country; I could be wrong, obviously, but I just get this feeling that it won't. I hope those of you who read this month's posts find yourselves more interested in possibly checking out Ring ni Kakero, because while the manga sadly isn't as accessible in English, there is the well done anime adaptation out there; only 27 of 36 episodes may be fansubbed, but it's well worth the watch, in my opinion. If nothing else, this influential series deserves at least a modicum of respect, because it helped define the way a lot people look at manga today.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Ring ni Kakero!

1 comment:

  1. I have been planning to watch RnK but time and a bit of lazyness doesn't let me do it <_<

    "The concept of a seemingly perfect character who's ideal at certain things seems to be a common thing in some fiction nowadays, but more often than not is being used for the main character, likely to help enforce the whole concept of wish fulfillment that entertainment can be for some people. Personally, I think such characters are best used as a goal for the main character to reach" I have mixed feeling on that. Yeah, it works better for the story but it's been done and overdone so much over the years, that sometimes it feels like a lazy plot device.