Review: The King of Fighters: A New Beginning volume 1

cover art by Kyōtarō Azuma

The King of Fighters: A New Beginning volume 1
Story by: Kyōtarō Azuma/SNK
Art by: Kyōtarō Azuma
Serialised in Monthly Shonen Sirius
Published by Kodansha, 2018
Copy purchased from eBookJapan

When there’s no one left to fight
Boys like him don’t shine so bright
Soon as I see the dust settle
He’s out on the town tryin’ to find trouble
Sticks and Stones‘ by Jamie T, 2009

What is it?: The King of Fighters: A New Beginning is the manga adaptation slash expansion of SNK’s 2016 return to fighting games, The King of Fighters XIV, taking what had been a fairly loose first entry in a new storyline and fleshing it out into a full tournament storyline, exploring the fights and backstory of The King of Fighters tournament, with a particular focus on Shun’ei and his Team China, and series veteran Kyo Kusanagi and his Team Japan, as well as a surprising change with Samurai Shodown’s Nakoruru, now an outside spectator observing a strange phenomenom in the sky involving dead spirits (which was a part of her appearance in KoF XIV, but she was also an explicit participant in the tournament, something seemingly absent in this telling).

More than anything it’s good times and good fights between mountains of SNK’s most-beloved characters and fresh faces, as they all compete to be THE KING OF FIGHTERS.

Every single competing team gets an entrance sequence in the opening chapter, a good way of introducing readers to the frankly absurdly large cast of this 3-on-3 tournament storyline. Some are fairly straight-laced, aiming for cool factor, whereas others, like Team K’ here, balance it with Kula Diamond’s unusual way of marching into the tournament grounds, or completely go goofy like Team Art of Fighting, the whole sequence undercut by Yuri goofing about, to Robert’s adoration and Ryo’s embarrassment. The point is, each entrance manages to ooze character over just a few pages, and that’s impressive work.

What I think: Cards on the table, I’m a massive fan of The King of Fighters, and SNK games in general, so I’m coming into this already wanting to like it. Like all it needs is to have everyone punch everyone, some nonsense about Verse, Antonov doing that thing where his cigar smoke comes out of his ears, and Clark Steel just CRUSHING another human being, and I’m gonna be happy, and whilst a lot of that remains to be seen this early in the series, I can safely say that this is absolutely what I wanted out of a The King of Fighters comic.It’s SUPER GOOD.

I think a major part of my love for it is in giving more life to XIV, which was… slim, at best, when it came to doing much with the beginning of its new saga (a saga that I don’t even think is named at this point, perhaps as a cautionary tactic in case things didn’t pan out with the franchise’s resurrection), leaving important things like, say, characterisation of new protagonist Shun’ei to the side in favour of a focused gameplay experience. A New Beginning manages to properly build Shun’ei up in a way the game couldn’t manage to, and even begins to build up to the appearance of saga villain Verse, with the subplot of Nakoruru and the mysterious crack in the sky, and this is alongside the hard work of properly introducing readers to the concept of the tournament reborn under Antonov, and touching base with every single character it properly can within the first half of this volume. The storytelling chops Azuma-sensei has had to have to achieve what they have here is… It’s phenomenal. Fantastically done.

It’s a ballsy tactic on the part of Azuma-sensei to open with Team Yagami and Team Japan facing off, but it ends up being a fantastic move for showing off their artistic capabilities, not just in crafting good action with strong continuity, but in showing off the quality expression work involved. Vice and Mature, in particular, are character oozing with twisted emotions, and they both carry them on their face in a fantastic way, all sneer and open-mouthed grins as they churn up Benimaru and Daimon in their respective matches.

The art can’t be undersold here as well. A good tournament series relies entirely on how well an author can draw action, and it’s fair to say that Azuma-sensei is more than up to the task, with a strong grasp of how each character actually moves in the games, having that inform each dodge, blow and grapple, with a strong sense of continuity and an ability to know when and where to apply backgrounds to a scene so as not to distract from the battles in progress (an underrated skill, in this reader’s opinion, and something people often fail to consider when talking about Tite Kubo’s Bleach, but that’s a subject for another time). Some of the special moves characters display are things of beauty as well, faithful to the series and even given descriptions and move inputs in the bonus material in the volume.

Ultimately, The King of Fighters: A New Beginning would be easy to dismiss as just being a really good comic for fans, and I’m unable to actually deny that, because as a fan I genuinely have blinders as to whether this would hold up to a non-fan. But with that being said, this is one of the easiest recommendations I have for an action series for readers to check out. It’s a genuinely great time, with solid pacing, amazing art, and a willingness to bring in people unfamiliar with the series, to say to them “hey, come on”. Please, please consider The King of Fighters: A New Beginning. It’s real good. And big. Like this first volume is almost 300 pages, and maintains a low price of 500 yen. There aren’t many deals better in comics, so if you like a bit of action, give it a go.

The King of Fighters: A New Beginning is for fans of: Saint Seiya, Bleach, SNK Video Games

If you enjoyed this review consider dropping me a few pennies over at Ko-Fi. Comics ain’t cheap, but I am.

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