When I tell people that I review manga, they often ask me, “Isn’t it all porn and ninjas?” No, I assure them, there are manga about cooking, gambling, dating, teaching, crime solving, alien fighting, computer programming, ghost busting, mind reading, wine tasting, dog training, and just about any other topic you can imagine; if there’s an audience to be served, Japanese publishers will find a way to reach them through comics.
“But it seems like every manga I’ve seen has a girl in a short skirt waving a sword,” they reply. I usually offer a counter-example — say, Ouran High School Host Club or What’s Michael? — but I know the kind of manga they have in mind. It’s filled with female characters who have women’s bodies and girls’ faces; schoolgirls who wear their uniforms twenty-four hours a day; fighters who use swords, even though the story is set in the present; and supporting characters who dress like Edo-era refugees, even though their cohorts are wearing sneakers and hoodies. In short, what they’re seeing in their mind’s eye looks a lot like Tenjo Tenge.
Plot-wise, Tenjo Tenge isn’t much more complicated than “girls in skirts waving katanas.” The story takes place at Todo Academy, one of those only-in-manga institutions where students study martial arts technique to the exclusion of anything else. (If anyone attends a math class in Tenjo Tenge, I missed it.) First-year students Soichiro Nagi and Bob Makihara fully expect to rule the roost with their awesome fighting skills, but are quickly disabused of the notion when they run afoul of Todo’s Executive Council. Mindful of their greenhorn status, the boys join the Juken Club, an organization lead by Maya Natsume, a third-year student who’s handy with a sword. In so doing, however, Soichiro and Bob become targets for the Executive Council, which carries on an energetic, bloody feud with Maya and her younger sister.
Flipping through the first volume of VIZ’s “Full Contact” edition, it’s easy to see why DC Comics censored the original English print run. The story abounds in the kind of gratuitous nudity and sexual encounters that make an unadulterated version a tough sell at big chain stores like Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble. DC Comics’ solution was an inelegant one: they re-wrote the script, drew bras and panties on naked girls, and cut some of the most offensive passages. As an advocate of free speech, I can’t condone the bowdlerization of any text, especially in the interest of a more commercially viable age-rating , but as a woman, it’s hard to celebrate the restoration of a graphic rape scene or images of naked girls throwing themselves at the heroes.
Whether those scenes are really necessary to advancing the plot is another issue. The rape, in particular, is an ugly exercise in exploitation, pitting a grown man against a teenager who has a twelve-year-old’s face and a porn star’s body. Though Oh!Great shows us the victim’s terrified expression in several panels, he lavishes far more attention on her anatomy, twisting her body into the kind of grotesque, provocative poses that were a stock-in-trade of Hustler. What makes this passage especially nasty is its underlying intent; we’re not being asked to identify with the victim, or burn with outrage over her violation, but to be aroused by her naked body. In a word: yuck.
From time to time, Oh!Great gives the Natsume sisters a chance to strut their martial arts stuff, suggesting that both girls are as tough and cunning as their male counterparts, but he can’t resist tearing off their clothes, or showing us their panties, especially when they’re in the middle of intense, hand-to-hand combat. And if the characters’ complete objectification wasn’t bad enough, Oh!Great draws such grossly misshapen bodies that it’s hard to imagine who would find them sexy; say what you will about Ryoichi Ikeda and Kazuo Koike’s Wounded Man — and yes, there’s plenty to say about the exploitation of its female characters — but Ikeda knew how to draw beautiful women. Oh!Great’s female characters, on the other hand, look like blow-up dolls, incapable of standing on their own two feet, let alone brandishing a sword or high-kicking an opponent.
Tenjo Tenge fans who were angered by the first English-language edition will be pleased with VIZ’s new translation. Many of the elements that had been eliminated or camouflaged in the first version have been restored; characters drop f-bombs and drop trou without editorial intervention. As an added enticement, VIZ has formatted the story as a series of two-in-one omnibuses, complete with glossy color plates and oversized trim. Given the care with which the new Tenjo Tenge was prepared, I wish I could say that the uncensored version convinced me that I’d unfairly dismissed the genius of Oh!Great the first time around. Alas, the answer is no; the story comes is too perilously close to the porn-and-ninjas stereotype for my taste.
Review copy provided by VIZ Media, LLC. Volume one of Tenjo Tenge will be released on June 7, 2011.
TENJO TENGE: FULL CONTACT EDITION, VOL. 1 • BY OH!GREAT • VIZ MEDIA • 386 pp. • RATING: MATURE (18+)
N saysJune 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm
Manga Therapy saysJune 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm
You know what’s funny, Oh! Great once said that he puts those sex scenes to advance the plot & to prove a point. I don’t know what to expect from someone who used to draw hentai and granted, this was the first mainstream manga title he did before Air Gear.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm
I’d buy his argument if there was any evidence that the sex scenes served a real dramatic purpose, but they’re all drawn in the crudest, porniest way imaginable, which makes me think they’re there mainly for titillation. Even when these scenes referenced later in the story, one gets the strong feeling that they could be excised without doing any violence to the basic High School Fight Club premise.
Manga Therapy saysJune 5, 2011 at 12:53 am
It just gets much worse in the later volumes….I wonder what Oh! Great was trying to do and I’m amazed how he was able to write it for almost 12 years.
Derek Bown saysJune 3, 2011 at 6:39 pm
God I hate this manga. And all manga like it. Which is frustrating, because martial arts manga are on of my favorite genres. I just can’t stand when manga-ka think they’re telling a mature story, but in fact it is incredibly infantile.
I hate rape in any manga, but especially when it’s meant to be appealing. Either way I end up pissed, whether at the act, or the fact that the manga-ka really thinks I’d enjoy what he drew.
And if he wants sex scenes that further the plot and prove a point, he should try Berserk. In which the point proven is that: Griffith is an asshole. And the plot advancement is that somehow Guts and Casca’s baby now has super powers.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 4, 2011 at 10:35 am
There are times when sexual violence can meaningfully advance the plot; stories like Rashomon and Thelma and Louise both come to mind, as both films show us what happens to the characters as a direct result of a sexual attack. But in Tenjo Tenge? Not so much. The violence was too titillating; about the best one could say for the scene is that it establishes just how ruthless the Executive Council members are. Of course, Oh!Great could have accomplished that in many different ways, none of which would have been as stomach-churning.
Derek Bown saysJune 4, 2011 at 2:11 pm
Not to mention how unrealistic it is. High School students going around raping people, and the police don’t have anything to say? You could say that the executive council martial artists are more powerful, but in a world where martial artists can grow to super human levels, it just doesn’t make sense that the police wouldn’t train until they are just as or more powerful. I mean, right now they don’t need to dedicate their lives to martial arts, because guns do a much better job at making them more dangerous than regular folks. But in a world where guns don’t do jack? Of course the cops are going to take the necessary precautions to make sure they can actually do their job.
CJ saysJune 3, 2011 at 7:19 pm
Bah, I feel like if I were going to do a porn and ninjas escapade, I’d want it to be so bad it’s good and really really short. So bad it’s good things can be greatly entertaining, I love Garzey’s Wing and Eiken OVAs because they’re just so dripping with awful, but they’re also very short, it lets my brain cells rest before they actively commit suicide.
But then there’s that other type of bad, which I call “Sonic Bad” in honor of all those terrible buggy garbage games that Team Sonic and Sega keep pushing out.
Anyway, regardless of where I was going, Tenjho Tenge doesn’t sound like it’s for me. Do I like violent series? Oho yes, I’ve got Battle Royale in complete on my book shelf. Ok, I’m not a ninjas person I’ll admit (been pro pirates ever since Monkey Island), but enough violence and other goodness can totally make up for that for me. Or maybe female nudity isn’t exciting because I’ve always owned a mirror, but it’s just not something I’ve ever seen as bringing anything new to the table. But man does it ever sound like the stereotypical view of anime and manga from the general public, sadly this’ll give them something to point to.
And dammit, Viz! CMX had Swan and Eroica and you rescue this?!
Katherine Dacey saysJune 4, 2011 at 10:41 am
In fairness to Oh!Great, I probably pushed the porn-and-ninjas thing a little too hard. The characters practice a variety of martial arts (one even favors capoeira, a Brazilian technique), but one could be forgiven for forgetting what kind of martial arts each character practices, as the fights themselves all boil down to lots of shouting, posturing, and flying bodies. For a manga that’s supposed to be a fight school, the fights themselves aren’t very well staged.
I also share your dismay that Ten-Ten was the only thing VIZ decided to salvage from the CMX catalog — Swan and Eroica top my license rescue wish list! On the other hand, I understand why VIZ licensed it: even though fans loved to slam CMX for its handling of the material, it remained one of CMX’s best-selling titles right up until the time DC Comics shuttered the imprint. *Sigh.* Maybe VIZ can use the profits from Ten-Ten to subsidize another SigIKKI title.
Logan saysJune 4, 2011 at 3:13 am
Ohh, I had put this on pre-order because some mindless ninja fanservice in omnibus form seemed fun, but the whole rape scene thing worries me. I’m cool with some fanservice, but anything that glorifies rape is not cool in my book. I guess I’ve got a couple weeks to decide if I still want to try out this manga…
It’s odd, because I thought I remember reading another review of this release by a woman and she didn’t even mention the rape scene, which seems like a pretty glaring oversight (for someone of either sex, but something I would expect more from a male reviewer).
I’m curious, since the fight scenes would seem to be central to this manga, did you find them to be well executed? Your description of the characters bodies as misshapen would suggest to me that the fight scenes might need some work, but maybe that was just referring to the proportions of the characters and not their poses in action scenes.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 4, 2011 at 10:55 am
Good question! Jason Thompson gave Tenjo Tenge high marks in The Complete Guide to Manga, praising the fight scenes for their coolness factor. Though I normally agree with him, I have to admit that I didn’t think the fight scenes in Ten-Ten were well executed. They were very choppy, with confusing transitions and a lot of camera angles that were designed to draw attention to the characters’ underwear and/or cleavage. One of the dumbest fights takes place between two women in a bathroom. The drawing is so poor that one of the characters appears to be break dancing when, in fact, she’s supposed to be doing an aerial somersault over her opponent. (And, natch, we are treated to lots and lots of panty shots. Ay, people, LOOK INTO PANTS.)
So no, I don’t think the fight scenes or characters are memorable enough to offset the crummy treatment of the female characters. I have a feeling that mine is a minority view; I think Lisa Patillo gave it a much more favorable assessment at Kuriousity, so you might want to consult her blog for a second opinion. Here’s the link: http://www.kuriousity.ca/2011/05/review-tenjo-tenge-2-in-1-edition-vol-01/.
Manga Therapy saysJune 5, 2011 at 12:56 am
The artwork gets a lot better in subsequent volumes. That’s probably the only saving grace of the series.
nice&toasty saysJune 4, 2011 at 4:24 am
Well, now I’m kind of glad I missed the preorder date >.>
Aaron saysJune 4, 2011 at 11:00 am
I’ll probablly be the only one to defend this sereis I don’t know I just find all the hand wringing about how distastefull this all is a bit much. I mean honestlly OH Geat! did Hentai for years before this (you can still by SIlky Whip Chroncles on B&N.com.)
So I don’t know what some people where expecting also it was serialized in Ultra Jump I mean come on this is the magazine that has serilized such titles as Dogs and Basterd (okay they also did Magical Meow Meow Taruto also LOL). As far as the fan service goes in all honesty Oh Great is probablly the only mangaka other than Masakazu Katsura whose Fan Service shots I can respect from an asthetic stand point.
As far as the rape scene goes I think saying that the “underlying intent; we’re not being asked to identify with the victim, or burn with outrage over her violation, but to be aroused by her naked body.” Says more about the reviewer’s opinion of it than the actual work in question also the rapist in question (Tsutomu Ryuuzaki) gets the stuffing beat out of him by Bob and Nagi so “justice” is done so to speak.
Well that’s my two cents
Katherine Dacey saysJune 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm
I’m a big girl. I can handle nudity and sex and violence; I count Lady Snowblood among my favorite manga, even though it’s clearly a story written for male readers. So if I put the beat-down on something like Ten-Ten, it’s not because I’m a prude, or because I can’t imagine how sexual violence might meaningfully inform a story. (See my comments to Derek, above.) I found this manga gross, frankly, filled with images that reminded me of Oh!Great’s background in hentai. That may be part of the story’s appeal for you, but not for me. The suggestion that I objected to the rape scene because *I* found it titillating tells me that you need to do some reading on the subject of rape culture. This article at Shakesville is a good place to begin:
Please, read it and get a clue about where I’m coming from. I’m not mad at Oh!Great because he draws sexy ladies; I’m dismayed that his sexy ladies’ butt-kicking authority is constantly being undermined by costume failures, dopey dialogue, and sexual violence. There’s a big difference.
Aaron saysJune 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm
@Kate I wasn’t so much sugesting that you found it stimulateing it’s just the fact that someone would find it stimulateing or titlateing is so beyond the pale and hard to comprehend for me I have to wonder why anyone would even sugest such a thing. I just honestlly don’t get why anybody would find that arouseing (maybe I’m just ignorent or too navie).
Also when I hear that kind of argument it dosen’t sound so much like your’e makeing a point. As much as a moral judgement or aspersian on the audince or work in question, like somehow by reading it your’e “suppoused” to get turned on by the rape scene or that was the authour’s sole intent I dont know if we can really make that type of judgement with out knowing what the authour was thinking.
Also I was not implying that you where a prude or a prig I was just makeing the point of knowing his background you had to know where this sort of thing was going and that it’s not terriblly shocking that it did go “their” for good or ill.
Jade Harris saysJune 4, 2011 at 3:38 pm
Condemning Oh!Great should be an easy win, but I’m going to attempt to put some fancy English on it from a pervert’s perspective.
So yeah, I’m a pervert, I like a lot of porn and fan service. I support free speech. I fully support sexual fantasy. I also consider myself something of a feminist though. Though I’m sure I get some things wrong and I know I stretch to justify a lot of things, I know porn and erotica can be done without being generally degrading to either sex. There are plenty of empowered, lucid, healthy people of all sorts of gender and orientation varieties who enjoy perfectly valid forms of sub/dom and rape fantasies.
The thing about Oh!Great is that he isn’t truly playing up to sexual fantasy, the costume failures and nudity are merely tools used specifically to humiliate and depower female characters who exhibit any amount of strength otherwise. The rape scenes aren’t intended as a dramatic event or an expression of a taboo fantasy. They aren’t there to show you how evil or depraved the rapist is, in every case I’ve seen of an Oh!Great rape scene, it was a cheap tool intended to show how powerful the rapist was and usually coupled with a cheap gag to show you how seriously Oh!Great takes the subject in general. Even if you’re actually interested in the assault side of an expression of rape fantasy, Oh!Great isn’t speaking to you, he simply considers that brutal act worth as much as the cheapest character development device and the women merely props.
If you want to dig a book for pervert factor, go for it, you have my blessing. But please, go for something like Ikki Tousen, Battle Athletes or even that breast vampire book, something that has everything this garbage has to offer, but doesn’t consciously actively hate women.
Also, as someone who likes Empowered, a few Kazuo Koike books and abided my playing Devil’s Advocate for the aforementioned breast vampire book, you can trust Kate not to be a prudish reactionary. If she has a problem with a book, it’s worth considering what’s going on in there.
david brothers saysJune 4, 2011 at 10:01 pm
Kate’s review sounds about like my reaction to TT in general. I like… well, like isn’t the right word, but Ikki Tousen/Battle Vixens is entertaining in a dirty and shamelessly terrible sort of way.
One thing, though. “Breast vampires?” Is this a “this is the only way we can get blood for some reason” thing or a “this is going to terrify you with how much it goes against nature” monster sort of thing?
Katherine Dacey saysJune 5, 2011 at 8:26 am
I think Jade’s referring to Qwaser of Stigmata, in which the characters derive their powers from breast milk. More info here: http://mangacritic.com/2010/08/11/the-qwaser-of-stigmata-vol-1/.
Jade Harris saysJune 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm
There’s actually a lot of vampiric creatures that feed on breast milk, but the reason for it in Qwaser no Stigmata, as stated by the author in his afterword, is that he loves breasts. Misguided though it may be, I recommended this and the other books based on that love for breasts rather than Oh!Great’s hatred of all things feminine.
lovelyduckie saysJune 7, 2011 at 11:00 am
hhmmm, to be honest I don’t mind this series. I don’t care that much for the protagonist but I’m interested in the fate of Aya and Maya. In particular I’m hoping for a happy ending for Aya, but I believe that’s probably going to be far out of reach. I’m actually looking forward to this re-released version of Tenjho Tenge but I don’t really have any strong words for or against the sexually risky scenes in this series.
PS – I’m reading Lady Snowblood right now and am enjoying it a lot :) although while I was waiting for vol. 3 to arrive I got into Bride of Deimos and I’m probably going to finish off what was released of that series in the US before switching back to Lady Snow Blood. I’ll definitely admit that although Aya/Maya have some impressive abilities Lady Snowblood feels more dignified and powerful within her own series.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm
Lady Snowblood feels more dignified and powerful within her own series…
That’s a very elegant way of expressing why I like Lady Snowblood and not Tenjo Tenge: it’s certainly filled with sex, violence, rape, and a lot of smut, but Yuki is the author of her own destiny. With Tenjo Tenge, every time I thought, “Hey, Maya’s kind of a bad-ass,” something would happen that made me feel that she was there primarily to be window dressing, since the real stars are Bob and Soichi.
Thanks for your comment!
Pedro - RiderKaneda saysSeptember 19, 2011 at 12:28 am
First things first: good review even though I like Ho!Great a lot. I think he draws fantastically and is has a fine pictured drawinf even though he goes to far on the tipical characterization on the first voilumes. His style is being depicted more cunningly on the latter voluimes of the series. I think that the sevetnh volume (in the edition I got here at Brrazil0 is really good.
Well, I have given a try two to three times. I do not really minda if the mangá is elegant or not. Actaulally I bougth it because I like Air Gear very much becaus of the drawings and how much he pays attention tyo the detailing. I know he is not realistic in anyu sense and the makority of the mangás are not. There is someone thata said the mangá is really good looking on the middle to the final chapters. The first ones seems lame even though he can picture out some really good scenes. Especially in Air Gear.
The thing is that Air Gear is a Fan-service like many of oh!Great mangás. This means it has cheap violence, blood and scenes that are not filleed with meaning. I do not see Oh! Great as a an rally criticial author but I really think that his art is fine even though I know better gekigajkas than him. I know even b etter mangakás in the drawings but I like the graphic quality in general that he has developed and usually I poen hois mangás not to expect anything original.
What I am trying to say? Actually these restrictions or what people say that can be mature is just the label thing. That is the case of Tenjo Tenge and many works of Oh! Great. His a cheapr author and I know that a I spent a lot on mangás that could be substituted by things as Lone Wolf or Sanctuary. But I know that I would like to read a brainlçess work. Much people say it is offensive but i know it is gross in many ways.
I do not have an specific motivation do defend the work but actually I think it is enjoyable even though it can be said to be one of these shitty mangás. I have read Yuki and sincerelyu even though it has all what was said I do no t enjoy anything about it. I just think it is boring in many senses because it tries to do a poetic mening to thios and for me (at least) was rwally memninglkess.
And I like very very much older mangás but it is a question of taste. Even though I think Tenjo Tenghe to be stupid and unpoetic. But still I like it.