Tenjo Tenge is infamous as the manga that caused anguished otakus to rage at CMX for the censored edition that was put out during the earlier days of its publishing history. I’m wondering what the economic impact would be if everybody that complained about the CMX editions were to pick up this new Viz edition of the series. I generally am not a big fan of fighting manga where female nakedness is as much of a story element as the battles, but I have an inexplicable fondness for Oh!great. He did pick as a pen name a moniker that wouldn’t be out of place in the discussions of pseudonyms in Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga. It takes a certain kind of moxie to design a pen name for yourself that incorporates an exclamation point in it. I read and enjoyed the first few volumes of Air Gear. Air Gear had plenty of great action scenes, and I enjoyed the visuals and over the top idea of rival gangs fighting it out on flying roller blades. I hadn’t read the CMX version of Tenjo Tenge, so I was curious to see what this earlier Oh!great series would be like in the uncensored edition.
Complaining about misogyny in an Oh!Great series is a bit like protesting all the skulls used to decorate female private parts in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose or the spinelessness exhibited by Miki Aihara heroines. Certain things just go with the territory for series like this, and there are plenty of illustrations of large bosomed girls busting out of their clothes in fights, a bizarre rape, and a weird habit of staging scenes in women’s bathrooms. Todo High appears to be a school that exists mainly as a staging ground for fights, because there are never any scenes of students actually attending class. New kids Bob and Soichiro arrive and announce that they’re going to be number one, but the members of the Juken fight club think differently. Maya Natsume spends most of her time in the form of a small child, but she transforms into a robust teenage girl when she wants to take down an opponent. Aya Natsume has untapped hidden power and an unfortunate habit of falling madly in love with the first boy (Soichiro) to fall on top of her when she’s taking a shower. Masataka Takayanagi is a skilled martial artist who spends most of his time mooning over Aya. Bob and Soichiro join the Juken Club, and the Juken club has to fight the evil Executive Council. So the fighting begins!
It is probably unfair to compare a later series with an earlier work from the artist, but I did like what little I read of Air Gear more than the first couple volumes of Tenjo Tenge. In the first few volumes at least, Air Gear had less frequent nudity, better proportioned female character drawings, and much more innovative action scenes. I hadn’t read far enough into Air Gear to encounter the time one of the characters is basically dressed in string while wearing a paper bag over her head, so I understand plenty of that stuff happens in that series but it seemed to be toned down a bit at first. One of the things that annoyed me a little bit about Tenjo Tenge is that the female characters often are drawn as if they have shrunken heads on much larger bodies. I understand a certain amount of exaggeration is going to happen in a title like this, but it gets a little ridiculous if one person’s boob is three times the size of their head. I did find Tenjo Tenge’s absolute commitment to endless fighting in school to be somewhat amusing. There are a few interruptions like when someone watches porn, a minor character explains how her rape wasn’t a rape using incredibly bizarre logic, or a bowling trip goes wrong, but mostly there’s an endless parade of fights or people training to get better at fighting. For people who like plenty of action scenes in their fighting manga, Tenjo Tenge certainly delivers. The girls fight just as much as the boys, with Maya being particularly deadly.
It wasn’t until the end of this volume that I started having a bit more fun reading Tenjo Tenje. I always enjoy it when martial arts techniques like “Linking Heavenly Iron Blossom Strike!!” are incorporated into the action, but this happened far too infrequently. The endless parade of panty shots seems to be there more to distract from the lack of compelling storyline or more stylish fights. There seemed to be more exuberance on display in Air Gear, so I’m sure that as this series goes along the art improves. While I read Tenjo Tenge and concluded that it isn’t for me, I do think that the Tenjo Tenge fans who were put off by the CMX editions will like this edition. The series get the full Viz Signature treatment with an oversized edition and color pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.