By Oh!Great. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Ultra Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
Well, I must admit, I feel I brought this on myself. I kept bringing up the fact that Japan was filled with delinquent manga, featuring entire schools filled with young bruisers of both sexes who are there to kick ass, take names, and fight increasingly stronger other guys. And I noted how we rarely saw these over here, and that when we did (Digital Manga Publishing’s three released volumes of Worst come to mind), they tend not to do so well.
So now we have a re-release of the classic boobs ‘n martial arts extravaganza Tenjo Tenge, this time with all of the sex that original publisher CMX covered up or simply cut out. This volume actually contains the first two volumes of the original series (and confusingly, has the cover for Volume 2 on its cover and the original cover for Volume 1 before the second volume), and is unedited as far as I can tell. I don’t have the original Japanese to compare it to, but certainly looking at several of the sequences, if Viz *is* editing anything I can’t imagine what it is. It also has lots of nice color pages, and is slightly larger in size than the typical manga volume – it’s a really nice reproduction.
As for the content, it’s exactly what a young reader of Ultra Jump would want. Really, Oh!Great knows his audience and delivers exactly what they’re after without fail. There’s lots of nudity and suggestion of sex (and one rape scene that gets fairly graphic), lots of fists flying and kicks connecting, and a school full of people who like to pose and sneer. It is, in other words, the PERFECT manga for fourteen-year-old boys. There seems to be a bit of a plot regarding the past of the school’s club and the heroine’s dead brother, and some vague supernatural powers at work, but none of that detracts from what the manga is there to deliver. You need SOME plot to hang your sex and violence on.
Soichiro and Bob (half-black, half-Japanese) are two best friends who are used to dominating their old school by being the top fighters around. They arrive at Todo Academy ready to put it under their thumb, only to find that the students here are even better fighters, who can kick their ass without breaking much of a sweat. This delights them, as they’re itching to find anyone who can drive them to be even better. Of course, as Bob knows and Soichiro starts to learn here, you need a reason to be strong besides ‘strong is cool’.
The characters here are all types, but they’re decent enough types – for characters where you know their whole arc in advance, they don’t put a foot wrong. Aya is the classic overenthusiastic girl who has already declared the hero her husband (shades of Lum/Shampoo/etc.) but is plagued by inner doubts. Her sister Maya is a mentor figure so far, but shows signs that she has a troubling past that drives her. Soichiro seems to be the idiot hero who will get better and faster based on pure instinct. Heck, even Chiaki, Bob’s girlfriend whose sole role in the story seems to be to have sex with her boyfriend and get threatened, is handled pretty well – after the aforementioned rape scene (she was the victim), her laughter and bravado at saying that he didn’t go all the way and that she fought him off is both heartbreaking and realistic, especially contrasted with the three broken heroes she’s trying to pass it off to. (The rape itself is incredibly exploitative, of course, a classic example of Oh!Great trying to have his cake and eat it too.)
And then there’s Isuzu. A heh. Well, I know that sort of fetish is out there, and for those who love it, here she is.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is anything more than a pandering school delinquent manga with fantasy overtones, as that’s just what it is. There’s an incredibly bad onsen scene that is there to give faux yuri fanservice and nothing more. And though I did note that there are semblances of a plot here, I do not expect this to remotely overtake the manga’s primary goals: to excite and titillate. And yes, the girls look like plastic fantastic lovers.
That said, if a manga succeeds entirely at giving its target audience exactly what they want, can one call it a failure because it doesn’t deliver at all outside that target? Tenjo Tenge is what it is, a boobs ‘n martial arts manga. And with ten more omnibus volumes to go, there’s a lot of both of those still to come. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t enjoy people hitting each other with grins on their faces while girls with unrealistic bodies lose their clothing a lot. If you don’t mind that? I think this is quite decent, and even entertaining.