Longtime readers will know that I’ve been very passionate about seeing the rest of Hiroki Endo’s excellent “Eden: It’s An Endless World!” published in English. Sadly, we’re coming up on the third anniversary of vol. 14’s publication and there’s been no word as to when (or even if) we’ll see vols. 15-18 in print. Until Dark Horse says it’s not going to happen, then I won’t give up hope. In the meantime, Kodansha Comics has decided to pick up the slack when it comes to releasing new manga from Endo in English. It’s quite telling that this series is being released digitally as opposed to print, but the fact that we’re getting it at all is something to be appreciated.
We’re introduced to the title character during his grade school years in his hometown where he trains in karate with his friend Takashi. He takes it less seriously than his friend, who actually winds up putting his fighting skills to use one day after some yakuza kill his ne’er-do-well father. Flash-forward seven years later and Meguru is living in the city with his grandmother and sister and attending a local Shooto (a Japanese mixed-martial arts organization) club to develop his skills and provide some purpose to his life. He’s also talked into taking part in his first Shooto match which happens to be against — wait for it — his old friend Takashi.
Those of you expecting something as ambitious as “Eden” from this series may wind up being disappointed based on these first two volumes. While that series boasted incredibly detailed art, incredibly well-staged action scenes, and big ideas about life, the universe, and everything, “Meguru” feels incredibly scaled back and a much different beast as a result. That’s not a bad thing as it reads like Endo wanted a change of pace after the intense work he put into his previous series. Now he’s delivering a grounded martial arts story about a sport he’s clearly interested in.
So far, Meguru’s struggles haven’t broken the mold. We see him grapple with his first losses, consider quitting Shooto once a girl in his art class shows some interest in him, and then eventually buckle down to the hard training necessary to build his strength and develop his technique. Fairly standard stuff, but it’s actually kind of refreshing in this context. It’s rare to see any kind of sports manga translated into English, but a series about martial arts that doesn’t have any kind of supernatural or fantasy elements to it? This is the first title like that I’ve read, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the only one of its kind to be published in English.
Not only is there a novelty to this approach, Endo digs into the fights with a fairly rigorous approach. We get to the the matches in blow-by-blow detail as Meguru tries (and sometimes fails) to out-grapple/fight his opponents. This allows for the reader to see the strategy inherent in these fights as well as the quick-thinking required by the combatants at a moment’s notice. It’s an approach that I can get behind. Even if Endo’s clinical style means that the battles lack the flash that you see artists like Takehiko Inoue bring to their sports manga.
It does help that the cast is a fairly appealing bunch of everyday people. Meguru does come off as somewhat bland at first, but he becomes more engaging as we see him struggle with becoming a better fighter while trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. It helps that the first two volumes show him actually becoming a better fighter thanks in no small part to the “special skill” he has which is pretty interesting in itself. Takashi has only figured into the first volume so far, though the way his story has drifted into yakuza territory it at least indicative of the fact that Endo is willing to take things in an un-Jump like direction. There’s also Yudai, Meguru’s (somewhat) friendly rival in their club, and Maki, a tall athletic tomboy who is all about proving the superiority of kickboxing.
The standout so far is Maria, the club’s new striking instructor and a first-class kickboxer herself. Not only does she get a great debut after she shows Yudai a thing or two after his “A woman?” response to her introduction, but she also helps further the title’s irreverent streak. “Meguru” has its serious moments though the tone of these first two volumes is fairly lighthearted. That’s mainly due to how Endo alternates between deadpan and slightly exaggerated responses when it comes to the humor. Most of it lands, with Maria being a great vehicle for it while coming off as a very capable fighter herself, even if it occasionally sinks to the level of big boob/small boob jokes.
At one point Meguru has a conversation with another fighter who has just lost a match and he asks the man why he continues to fight. The man says “Because it’s fun.” It’s a good response and one that sums up my feelings regarding this manga. Though I’ve bought a title in the past in the hopes that they’ll convince publishers to resurrect other works from their creator, “Meguru” is entertaining on its own terms so far. It’s no substitute for “Eden,” but makes up for that by being its own beast. Those of you coming to this series expecting a work of similar ambition and complexity may find it lacking, but if you can accept it on its own terms like I did then you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Besides, I’m sure the Endo of “Eden” hasn’t gone far. I’m betting he’ll start sticking the knife into his characters in due time.