From the artwork to the title to the overwhelming air of masculinity, sometimes you just know a battle manga when you see one. These series stand out on the shelves, whether they’re to your personal tastes or not. Such is the case with one of Viz’s latest localizations. In the tradition of One-Punch Man and YuYu Hakusho, it’s time to talk about Shu Sakuratani’s Rooster Fighter.
As with many a ridiculously named series, what you see is what you get: over-the-top blockbuster-style violence starring a rooster. Specifically a very moody, macho, loner rooster. The titular protagonist is well in-keeping with action movie standards of masculinity to the point that it pushes the limits of both parody and earnestness. He has a strict moral code, defending innocent people from demon attacks and then helping to clean up the resultant messes afterwards. With that said, he never allows himself to get too close to other people or animals. It doesn’t take long after one conflict resolves for him to meander his way out of town and into the next scene of chaos.
This manga has the sort of premise that lives or dies by its execution. Drawing upon such archetypal character beats and genre conventions runs the risk of producing an overly predictable and flat narrative. The rooster is basically every other hardass (human) male action star under the sun, and his motivations are quite standard: grief over a slain loved one and the desire to enact vengeance. The supporting cast also falls into familiar roles: kind older men who serve as fountains of wisdom, and younger chicks (in the poultry sense of the word) who aspire to be like the lead hero.
The central key to Rooster Fighter’s success regardless is not some sort of wit or subversion but rather how straight it plays the concept. This series has honest-to-god battle choreography that is very specifically thought out and executed. Every aspect of the page compositions from their perspective to the way they lead one’s eye from panel-to-panel shows an understanding of just how important framing is to fight scenes’ quality. The line-work is perpetually sharp and clean, and there are a few great monster designs. The best is easily a salary man demon who yells about his quotas while wrecking buildings.
Well-done as all the action is, some of the volume’s most memorable moments occur outside of the titular hero’s exploits. On the high quality side there’s a flashback courtesy of a turtle the rooster meets in his travels. Without diving into spoiler territory I’ll simply say that nature is cruel, and the manga deftly handles notes of terror and suspense. On the downside, the introduction of a new pivotal poultry character at the volume’s end is also accompanied by the worst demon design in the book: one which leans heavily on transphobic tropes (specifically, depicting a character with breasts, body hair, and a bulge and having other characters remark about how revolting they find said body features).
Rooster Fighter delivers exactly what one would expect given its title. If anything, the end result is even better than one might expect given the high caliber of art on display. Whether one finds the series worth following will largely depend on if they share its ridiculous sense of humor, and if they’re willing to overlook incredibly blatant bigotry in character design. The major con is that some of the monster designs are lackluster, and the last one in particular tanks the fun vibes with a sudden veer into blatant transphobia. Well-executed as the volume is otherwise, I likely won’t bother reading further personally. After all, there’s no shortage of battle manga to read that don’t feed into hateful societal norms.
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