Otaku Corner: Tokyo Tribes

Gang warfare takes over Tokyo’s streets

Brandon-2012-cutoutWelcome to another of Otaku Corner, GI’s own little spot of The Strip where we bring you the finest manga and anime this side of the gaming world. I’m sharing a great series that led the recent pop culture marriage of Japanese manga art and American urban hip-hop into a worldwide phenomenon, Tokyo Tribes. Tokyo Tribes has set the stage for great titles like “Samurai Champloo” and “Afro Samurai” to gain their well-deserved popularity.

Created by Santa Inoue and published by Tokyopop, Tokyo Tribes Volume one follows the exploits of four “tribes” or gangs, who dominate sections of Tokyo’s most known locales as a result of a peace truce established after riots nearly destroyed the city. The series focuses on Kai, second in charge of the Musashinokuni Saru, and Mera, head of the Bukuro Wu-Ronz. They were once friends but are now mortal enemies because of the untimely death of Mera’s girlfriend for which Kai is blamed. This hatred is reignited when three Saru Shibuya members are killed in Bukuro by the Wu-Ronz.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Hearing the news, Kai wants payback, but wisely follows the advice of Tera, Saru’s leader, to not act. Meanwhile, the Wu-Ronz head to Musashinokuni on illegal errands requested by their benefactors. Along the way, they instigate battle with the Shinjuku Hands by injuring one of their members. Not knowing that the Wu-Ronz are in town, Kai takes Tera to the local train station and while buying food at a local burger joint, Tera is attacked by Mera. Tera survives, but instead of getting medical help, Tera goes after Kai along with two other Saru members, Hashem and Steno, to stop him from chasing Mera. The manga ends with Kai and Mera facing each other before a rooftop battle.

Readers will not be disappointed with Volume one. As an original work, it’s main theme of urban life in Tokyo is a refreshing approach from the picture-perfect images presented in other manga. Inoue-san, fusing hip-hop and manga, also pays homage to R&B artists Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton, who have a huge following in Japan. Tokyopop deserves credit as publisher Stuart Levy, translator Alexis Kirsch and adaptation writer David Walker stuck with the theme of Japanese edge and hip-hop charm instead of imitating other series for sales.

Tokyo Tribes is the first manga to ignite the destined mash up of hip-hop and comic art in modern media. Its storyline will hook you and leave you wanting more. Will Saru survive the flames that will erupt in Tokyo? Keep reading Otaku Corner to find out.

Brandon Beatty is editor-at-large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb@gaminginsurrection.com

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