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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. All images for Storm Riders © 1989 Jonesky Limited
Kung fu is a Chinese term that originally meant "time and energy." It's come into modern use as an umbrella term encompassing the myriad styles of Chinese martial arts, a particular breed of B-film dementia, and/or the 110-percent kick-ass stars of Hong Kong cinema. But "kung fu" may originally have pertained to anyone who diligently pursued an activity with determination and skillit's like tapping into the essence of a chosen activity. In this sense, a carpenter or a sushi chef could be said to be "kung fu."
In terms of anime then, is it possible for fans of Japanese comics and animation to be kung fu? Well, it's a mite of a stretch, but why not? Fans of anime and manga are an undeniably dedicated sort, having gone to great lengths to perpetuate the proliferation of Japanese comics and animation, so you could say that manga fans have some odd touch of the kung fu essence. And those fans with said skills have noticed something unusual lately. Original kung fu comics (of the martial art variety) from China are parrying and punching their way into the U.S. manga market. With ComicsOne taking the initiative and releasing a veritable flurry of kung fu comics, the stage is set for these action-laden treasures from China to make the mark of Shaolin right on our freshly shaven heads.
The first of ComicsOne's kung fu titles was actually released in early 2002Storm Riders, a title that fans of Hong Kong cinema will surely recognize. The 1998 film of the same name, directed by Wai Keung Lau and starring Andy Lau and the great Sonny Chiba, is based on this ultra-popular-in-China manga.
The story of Storm Riders revolves around two young men, Nie-Fong (a.k.a. Wind) and Bu-Jing-Yun (a.k.a. Cloud), both aspiring, talented martial artists under their respective fathers' guidance. Their dads are actually sworn enemies from way back and are looking to match skills as kung fu men of fable did, ASAP until somebody eats it for keeps. Wind's father is the inheritor of a particular technique, and the mystical sword that he carries is called "Snowy Saber." Cloud's father also possesses a sword called "Flame Kylin." As the tides of fate steer both toward a crash course, the fathers do battle, but Wind and Cloud actually befriend each other. They are ultimately separated from their fathers only to be found by Lord ConquerI swear, that's his namea madman master hell-bent on controlling an organization known as the World Fighting Association. It's something like a pro wrestling group only with swords and the manipulation of Taoist energies. Lord Conquer's plan is to use the young fighters for his own purposes and to make like a kung fu Napoleon...and it looks like things could go his way. Or is there something about Wind and Cloud that will tempt fate to turn in unusual ways?
ACTION and ARTISTRY
So, all this begs two questions: How are the fight scenes? And do you care about the characters enough to keep coming back for more?
The action scenes are a whirlwind of fists and fury that should remind old-school kung fu fans of a few comics from a company called Jademan back in the late '80s. In America, we have seen translations of several like titles such as Drunken Fist, The Force of Buddha's Palm, and The Blood Sword (also by Wing Shing Ma.) In these titles, as in Storm Riders, the fights emulate the kung fu of Hong Kong film in that a technique is often described in a subtext and given a fantastical name such as the "Ice Heart Knack" or "Kylin-Eatin-Sun." It's silly fun, and there are tons of kung fu donnybrooks to go nuts over.
How about the characters? Well, in the very beginning, there is a scene where Wind and his father are outside in the dead of winter facing a wild tiger attack. Wind, who could easily kill the tiger, shows it compassion instead. Upon his father's attempt to slaughter the animal, Wind actually stands up to his own father and fares quite well, albeit for a moment. (His father has gone mad due to the actions of his wife.) The strength and conviction in Wind's compassion is moving. Watching his character and friendship with the jovial and charming Cloud develop is certainly worthwhile, and the pair's sordid destiny under kung fu tyrant Lord Conquer, ought to be something worth waiting for.
Aspiring comic gurus take note, 'cause this won't be the last kung fu comic you'll see in the manga section at your local shop...not by a monkey's tail.