Tough Ain't Enough!

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Ever since I started reading manga, I’ve held fast to the belief that one of the biggest appeals of the genre is the fact that so few of the books would ever have a chance of being published in the US. “Tough,” created by Tetsuya Saruwatari and published in the US by Viz, is one of many books that would likely never see publication stateside, at least, not from a high profile publisher and easily available in bookstores. Which is why it’s a good thing US manga publishers are expanding the scope of their publications.

“Tough” is a book based on the male idea that you have to prove that you’re the strongest—or the “toughest”—one there is. Being a female with a fairly healthy self esteem, this is something of an alien concept to me. It does, however, make for some pretty interesting reading. Our main protagonist is Kiichi (or Kiibo) Miyazawa, a high school student who hates bullies and hates wimps who can’t stand up for themselves almost as much and wants to be the next big action star. Kiibo is, for lack of a better description, something of a “gentleman punk.” He dies his hair, wears “thug” pants and is constantly involved in fights, both those he instigates and those that find him. He also has perfect attendance in school (he’s never even late), defends the weak, fastidiously brushes his teeth (and encourages others to do the same) and so forth. In fact, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see something along the lines of “cleanliness is next to godliness” come out of his mouth.

Kiibo’s life changes forever (or at least for his adolescence) when he witnesses a truck driver being rude and unsympathetic in regards to a dog he’s just killed. Kiibo is about to step in and let the driver have a piece of his mind and fists, when a biker named Kuroda intervenes. Now, give Kiibo five minutes and he can wreck a motorcycle with kicks. In that same time frame, however, Kuroda completely demolishes the truck, which is at least fifteen to twenty feet long. For the first time in his life, Kiibo has encountered someone who is not only as strong as he is but may actually be quite stronger. By the time Kuroda finishes and leaves, Kiibo is dripping with sweat in anticipation of fighting him.

Kuroda is Kiibo’s opposite in every way. While Kiibo is a tough, loudmouthed little scrapper who never thinks before speaking and always gives in to his impulses as soon as they come to him, Kuroda is a large, quite man, his physical strength far more obvious than Kiibo’s. Unlike Kiibo, who is still reveling in the fact that he’s a stronger and better fighter than anyone else, Kuroda has learned the price of his strength and now pays for it. While Kuroda tries to be a peaceful man and avoid confrontation, he is, ultimately, fooling himself and it’s only a matter of time until he can’t resist Kiibo’s need to find out which of them is better.

“Tough” comes with a parental advisory on the front cover and a “Mature” rating on the back and it earns both. “Tough” is extremely graphic, both in language, mature content and in its fight scenes (and yes there is even some nudity, though with cause and relatively brief). Unlike many fight scenes in manga, where you see a fist, foot or weapon closing in on the opponent’s head and then either a blur or special effect and then the aftermath, in “Tough” we see fists and feet connecting with sickening brutality, combined with sound effects that almost make you wince, with the only blurring present used to indicate the speed with which the two men move. Blood flows - and it flows a lot here – yet unlike the wounds in so many other manga, these men don’t suddenly get better a few minutes later.

As I said at the beginning of the article, it’s unlikely that “Tough” would get much attention or support from a large American publisher (well, perhaps in Marvel’s “Max” line, but fans who don’t think Marvel should publish anything but superheroes would likely shoot it down long before it ever had a chance to prove itself) but it proves the rule that manga allows us to experience storylines that we otherwise would not be able to in the comic book medium, which is something that we should all be greatful for.

- Megan B. Moore

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