Shamo – A Blunt, Violent Manga That’s Not Very Cheerful

Manga, to me, is a quickly-maturing art form. In the short time that it’s been around, there are genres aimed at everyone and their tastes (for good or ill). While there is a lot of generic crap out there, there are also a lot of intriguing stories that people outside Japan never get to see. Shamo (“gamecock”) is one of these, and after reading a few volumes it’s plain to see why.


Title: Shamo

Author: Izo Hashimoto

Artist: Akio Tanaka

Genre: Seinen, Action, Drama, Psychological

First release: 1998

Tankuban: 25

Status: Hiatus

English License: None

The story starts off with Ryo Narushima, a brilliant, 16-year old student, snapping under stress and killing his parents (only leaving his younger sister alive). He gets sent to a juvenile detention centre, where conditions are really rough, especially for a “normal” guy like him. How rough? He gets raped in the second chapter, and in the next chapter is forced to bite off his rapist’s dick in order to escape. Pokemon, this is not.

Ryu is clearing enjoying his stay at Happy Camp

Ryu is clearing enjoying his stay at Happy Camp

And this sets the stage for the rest of the story. Ryu’s world becomes very, very crappy very quickly (he even gets beaten up by the prison wardens), and his only outlet is the karate taught once a week by Kenji Kurokawa who was arrested for trying assasinate the Prime Minister a few decades previously. However, where Shamo differs from other stories is that things don’t look up – in order to survive prison he has to become a cold-blooded animal. And when he is finally released 2 years later, things still don’t get better – his relatives want nothing to do with him, his sister is missing and thus he’s alone in a world that really doesn’t give a crap about him.

This blunt, more realistic depiction of the repercussions of crime is what I really like about the story. The creators didn’t hold back nor did they sugar-coat things. For example, due to his time in prison Ryu is an unrepentant, unsympathetic bastard who has no issues with things like assault, rape and cheating in fighting tournaments. The character has few redeeming factors, a social pariah forced to continue his violent lifestyle because his mentality leaves him few other options.

But, but, Mr Miyagi never taught Daniel-san this

But, but, Mr Miyagi never taught Daniel-san this

It’s rather unfortunate that the story is on a permanent hiatus. In 2007 the artist, Akio Tanaka, filed a lawsuit against the writer (and credited creator), Izo Hashimoto, regarding copyright. This, and the graphic nature of the story, means that no foreign English publisher has picked it up. This means that you’ll need to track down a fan translation (which isn’t that difficult, there are a lot of sites hosting fan translations of manga) if you want to read it.

If you do want to read it, take note: the story may be a bit jarring as first (it was for me), however if you can stay the course you’ll find an interesting, different, violent story with some social criticisms thrown in for good measure.


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