Otaku Corner: Tokyo Tribes Vol. 2

Tokyo prepares for all-out gang warfare in Tribes Volume 2

In a previous Otaku Corner column, I reviewed the first volume of the manga series “Tokyo Tribes.” Tokyo Tribes is the first manga series I’ve read that perfectly combines Japanese comic art with the raw power of urban American pop culture, mainly hip-hop and R&B music. When I last reviewed Tokyo Tribes, it morphed from a standalone work to a trilogy, giving way to various spinoffs, a live-action movie, and a in-development TV series supervised by creator Santa Inoue.

A short recap: The story is set after a time where riots occurred in Tokyo where gangs known as “tribes” control certain areas via a shaky truce. Kai of the “Saru” and Mera of the “Wu-Ronz” are sworn enemies, whose history sets the stage for all-out war involving all tribes for control of Tokyo’s streets.

On the way to drop off Saru’s leader Tera to work, Mera and the Wu-Ronz ambushed Kai, Hasheem and Steno, resulting in Tera being seriously injured. Kai goes after Mera through Shibuya’s rooftops leading to a bat vs. katana battle between the former friends. During the battle, both men nearly fall from a building. Iwao, leader of the Hands, show up with military-grade weaponry, shooting Mera down. Skunk and the other Wu-Ronz rush to Mera’s aid, but Iwao and a few Hands members intervene, demanding payback for Mera cutting off a Hands member’s arm.

While onlookers and police are distracted, Mera miraculously survives his fall, and attempts to kill Hasheem as Hasheem guides Kai to a safer exit from the building. Kai and Tera rush to Hasheem to protect him from Mera but Tera is beheaded by Mera and more chaos ensues. Hasheem, feeling responsible for Tera’s death, attempts suicide while a few of Saru’s members rampage through Shibuya looking for payback against Wu-Ronz members. They find an opportunity through Unkoi, son of the Wu-Ronz benefactor Big Bubba, at a local karaoke bar. While the Saru members made short work of other Wu-Ronz members, Unkoi gravely injures two members, while his personal bodyguard Galileo chases the third to the final page of the book. Meanwhile, Kai is dealing with troubles of his own as his father appears determined to remove him from the Saru for good.

During this volume, I still felt the awesome vibe from the first one, but more meat was in the storyline. Inoue-san gave readers a better explanation why both characters have this vengeful hate toward each other beyond Mera blaming Kai for his girlfriend’s death. During a brief backstory, Bubba’s corruption took Mera’s moral compass and the lives of his parents, which made me feel a little sorry for him since he not only hates Kai but also wants to destroy Bubba’s life as well. I also felt Kai’s pain after Tera’s death since Tera was also a mentor to all the Saru members.

Inoue-san also showed his special skill of adding certain pop-culture references such as Tower Records and displaying renditions of hip-hop and R&B artists’ album covers. The artwork was also top notch, especially when showing Unkoi’s ruthless side as he fought the Saru members. It was as if I was reading the battle scene from Kill Bill Volume 1. Tokyo Pop’s dedication to Tokyo Tribes remains strong, thanks to Alexis Kirsch and David Walker handling translation and adaptation, along with Stuart Levy collaborating with Inoue-san as executive producers, ensuring that this hip-hop vision continues without compromise.

With the Saru in turmoil without a leader, and the Hands and Wu-Ronz preparing for all-out war in Tokyo’s streets, what will happen? Can Kai and Mera triumph over their personal issues and make peace? We’ll revisit the scene of gang warfare in Volume 3.

Brandon Beatty is Editor-At-Large of Gaming Insurrection. He can be reached by email at brandonb@gaminginsurrection.com

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