Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 19th 2013
Tenjo Tenge [Full Contact Edition]
The students of Todo Academy love to fight, but they've never been pulled into a brawl quite like this. The prestigious Takayanagi family has been gathering supernatural resources over the centuries, and they are now on the verge of creating the "Supreme Warrior"—with eldest son Mitsuomi Takayanagi as the test subject. However, Mitsuomi must first settle an old score with his longtime friend and rival, Bunshichi Tawara. Then his younger brother Masataka steps into the fray, hoping to stop the carnage before Mitsuomi completely gives in to his fate. Meanwhile, Masataka's ally, the rebellious Soichiro Nagi, is battling fate in his own way, trying to take out the Takayanagi family's underlings. But the incredible flow of energy around Soichiro causes an ancient demonic power to awaken in him—and a life-or-death showdown with Mitsuomi awaits.
It's the beginning of the end in Tenjo Tenge: the hits are harder, the fighters are stronger, and logic has gone so far out the window that the only thing left is the impossible and the unimaginable. Long-dead spirits and historical figures strolling through the battlefield? Humans challenging the gods, or turning into gods? Sure, why not? Tenjo Tenge's already done everything else. This volume is a hit-or-miss affair, full of odd detours and inexplicable turns, but the sheer visual spectacle makes it worth a look.
The end of Mitsuomi and Bunshichi's fight, which takes up the two opening chapters, is the series' last glimpse of the real world: just old buddies duking it out, resolving a subplot from many chapters ago. After that begins an endgame steeped in sorcery and mysticism—the final stage of the "Supreme Warrior" project. Unfortunately, this closing arc gets off to a slow start: Masataka and Mitsuomi's face-off is mostly just hype and chatter, with the younger brother accomplishing a dramatic feat right when he arrives but then jawing and sparring with Mitsuomi the rest of the way. When Soichiro meets one of the Takayanagi lieutenants, it seems he is doomed to the same repetitive fate, chucking endless over-the-top attacks at a guy who's got an equal and opposite counterattack for each one.
But as this double-length volume clicks past the halfway point, having spent almost 200 pages now on unproductive back-and-forth battle, Soichiro's growing bloodlust finally opens up new territory. Having covered Tenjo Tenge's long-running family drama, plus its connection to feudal history, Oh! great now reaches all the way back and explains how it relates to Japanese mythology. Although there were hints before, now we see exactly how the ancient gods factor into this (even if the author seems to be playing it by ear). If the series' original problem was having no clear story, it's now swung all the way to the other end: the last few chapters of this volume are so overrun with mystical elements and historical references that it may as well be nonsense. But what awe-inspiring nonsense it is: gods and demons battling over the world's fate, in the guise of impossibly strong teenagers.
And what would this pumped-up fight manga be without similarly pumped-up artwork? As usual, Oh! great's draftsmanship consists of one jaw-dropping showpiece after another: something as visceral as a punch that literally rips out one's insides, or a metaphor as frightening as hundreds of skeletons piled up together. The final third of the book, where Soichiro crosses into the spiritual realm, is loaded with illustrations that are simply a wonder to behold. The character designs also take it up an extra notch: musclebound men and curvaceous women have always been a mainstay of the series, but now they get fresh outfits and accessories more stylish than before, due to various spiritually-induced power-ups. However, this emphasis on stand-alone illustrations and dramatic poses causes the overall visual flow to sputter. Every panel is so crammed with detail, and every maneuver so carefully worked out, that reading through each scene is like viewing a series of slow-motion clips than experiencing a fight in real-time.
Dialogue is another issue that bogs down the pacing, despite the story's attempts at urgency. It seems that nobody in this series can land a hit without first thinking it over through internal monologue, or making a poetic (but ultimately empty) statement about their fighting spirit. The writing fares better when the characters are simply cussing each other out—Soichiro's battle against the ghost of evil mastermind Sohaku is the perfect example of this—but those moments are overshadowed by all the pseudo-philosophy going on. Worst of all, long sentences are often split into fragments that run across multiple panels. The translation tries makes the best of this difficult writing style—the dialogue comes out naturally and sounds deeply dramatic, even if it's just a paragraph's worth of "I'm stronger than you." This premium-sized edition also features a handful of glossy, full-color pages that should please fans who enjoy Oh! great's art.
Then again, appreciating the art is the reason most readers are into Tenjo Tenge anyway—and the bombastic fighting moves in Volume 10 continue the series' proud tradition of graphic carnage and titillation. Some of the marquee moments, such as Soichiro going all-out and entering the spiritual realm, do live up to their potential. But a great manga needs more than pure artistic excellence to thrive, and once again Tenjo Tenge's weak spots are revealed: a plot that's either stuck in place or spinning out into nonsense, and too much emphasis on fancy dialogue and individual illustrations. With only one volume left after this one, it's probably too late to hope that those flaws get fixed. Between gods and demons and Supreme Warriors, it's a mess—but a beautiful mess, at least.
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Art : A-
+ Guaranteed to blow minds with fight scenes that transcend the physical and spiritual world, along with a storyline entering its final stages.
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