Back again for the first time! OA here with my first ever comic review; today I’ll be covering the shounen martial arts epic The Breaker!
Our hero: the “Nine Abs Dragon”
Now before I begin I’ll just briefly explain some things for those of you who may be unfamiliar with this particular genre of printed media. The Breaker is manhwa which means that it is a comic of Korean origin (comparable to Japanese manga and Chinese manhua), so naturally there are some cultural differences; substituting sensei for suensengnim and getting used to terms like jashik and the honorific –hyung are among some of the minor adjustments that the readers will have to make. Of course, if you’re familiar with Korean culture (or just an avid manhwa reader) then these things should not be a problem and even then the barrier to entry is really quite small anyway so anyone can enjoy this series regardless of their ability to find Seoul on a map. Ok, review time!
From the creative team of Geuk-Jin Jeon (writer) and Jin-Hwan Park (Illustrator) The Breaker’s story starts off as pretty standard shōnen fare when our wimpy-but-determined bully bait male high school student Shi-Woon Yi discovers a secret about the new teacher at his school Chun-Woo Han; as it turns out that Chun Woo is basically the homoerotic love-child of Kenshiro from fist of the North Star and Ryu from Street Fighter.
After witnessing his erstwhile goofball teacher dispatch a group of thugs in an alleyway and then later save his life by bounding off the side of a building and demolishing a car without breaking a sweat Shi-Woon begins to realize that there may be more to this wisecracking playboy of a teacher than meets the eye. So here’s the thing, within the dangerous world of martial arts (referred to in this series as Murim) Chun-Woo is known as the deadly and powerful Goomoonryoung (lit. “Nine Arts Dragon”): master of nine of the deadliest martial arts in the world. Now naïve little Shi-Woon, who clearly has no idea of the concept of personal safety, confronts Chun-Woo and begs him to become his martial arts teacher which, after a series of several hilarious incidents, Chun-Woo agrees to if only to put an end to Shi-Woon’s constant pestering and get back to his usual routine of Lupin III-esque debauchery.
He’s about to show her the secret art of “Long Wang”
All is not perfect in the world of advanced martial arts training however, as Shi-Woon -unsurprisingly- learns that he lacks the physical endurance to undergo the training and so a great deal of the first several chapters is actually spent following Shi-Woon’s progress. Now, if this prospect doesn’t strike you as exciting worry not dear reader because these tame developmental scenes involving Shi-Woon are juxtaposed by awesome fight scenes as Chun-Woo encounters several people from his past such as the way-too-sexy medical martial arts expert and love interest Shi-Ho Lee (yes you read that right “She Ho”) as well as other members of the secret martial arts organization Murim as they investigate the murder of an influential martial arts master.
Shi-Ho Lee and her Kung Fu cleavage
As Chun-Woo and his comrades stave off the advances of these increasingly powerful assassins while trying to uncover the conspiracy, the reader is treated to some of the most excitingly choreographed fight scenes in contemporary manga/manhwa to date. While most action series in this format tend to focus on individual strikes and place emphasis on impact alone, the fights in The Breaker have a fluidity to them that feels very natural and still manages to keep the breakneck pace of a Hong Kong action movie scene. Granted, the martial arts displayed in The Breaker are a bit on the outrageous side, but it by no mean disrupts the sensitive balance between the suspension of disbelief and the adherence to known physical limitations required of action comic readers. What this means is that seeing a man punch through solid concrete is more likely to illicit a “Wow, I wish I could do it like him!” response as opposed to the dreaded “WTF!? How can ANYONE do that!? ” response that seems to plague modern shōnen media nowadays.
Another credit to this comic comes in the form of its well-timed and light hearted humour-provided mostly by the lascivious and wolfish escapades of Chun-Woo and the doe-eyed, puppy dog like innocence of Shi-Woon-which helps to ease the tension of the otherwise drawn out set pieces that make up a large majority of the plot . The cast is filled with interesting and imaginative characters that never feel cardboard or insipid even if they seem to be, for the most part, solely motivated by their overarching desire to kick the ever-living crap out of the protagonist. Very often characters (especially adversaries) are given brief but sufficient exposition in introductory scenes and their personalities are put on display long before their martial arts skills are; which in my book makes me appreciate them a lot more than your average cannon fodder supporting characters. In fact, I might venture to say that among the characters introduced in this series Chun-Woo may come off as one of the least interesting ones given his pre-established archetype as the ‘lone-wolf-martial-arts-master-who-has-turned-his-back-on-his-dark-past-after-a-traumatic-experience-and-now-hides-behind-a-poorly-constructed-façade-of-an-average-Joe-with-no-interest-whatsoever-in-troublesome-things-but-can-turn-into-a-monster-at-the-drop-of-a-hat’. Yeah okay, hey Chun-Woo, Himura Kenshin just called, he wants his life back! Obvious character models notwithstanding, the main cast of Chun-Woo, Shi-Woon and the oh-so seductive Shi-Ho all have excellent chemistry and work just as well as separate entities, each with their own unique mannerisms and motivations and a multitude of marvelous martial arts magic tricks that make their machinations all the more memorable.
Sidestep! Circle Strafe! Spot Dodge!
There is a lot to be said about a shōnen title that DOESN’T feel like a steady and formulaic progression of foreshadowing, fighting and trickling plot progression that repeats itself so often that you can time your damn watch by it; thankfully though, The Breaker is not one such series. The plot moves along like an unbroken sequence with a series of well tied together set-pieces that make minor divergences from the story now and then only to return to the main plot seamlessly at just the right points. It reminds me of a river with streams that branch off briefly to snake their way through the woodlands only to return to the main body once again; The Breaker seems to cover the goings on of its characters in a way that is mildly reminiscent of Baccano! or Durarara!, though certainly not as complex or delicately balanced as them it is still admirable nonetheless.
Yes The Breaker is pretty good but it certainly isn’t perfect. I will say first of all that, in much the same way it was difficult for me when watching Yu-Gi-Oh to believe that the whole world gave that much of a crap about a children’s card game, the idea of a secret organization comprised of martial artists as an analogue of the Illuminati was a bit of a stretch for me, especially considering that most of them were never really explicitly or implicitly stated to be involved in white-collar crime or even politics. I mean, am I supposed to believe that all the people in the world who know how to throw a roundhouse kick have the world securely in their muscular, concrete-pulverizing hands? A secret society where everyone is Chuck Norris seems a little far-fetched….awesome yes, but far-fetched.
Notice how unfazed the old guy in panel two is after seeing the carnage taking place onscreen. That’s because he was doing that at six…
Another minor hang up for me is the art style, while I understand and appreciate the gritty look that is applied to the fight scenes to make them feel more hectic and visceral, the artist has a tendency to rely too heavily on that style sometimes (even in non-action moments, though those are rare) and even though the drawings in general are excellent (especially when it comes to the ladies) I feel like I can do without wondering if I’m looking at the manga through a Frank Miller filter. I suppose I’m just spoiled from seeing action comic art the caliber of Vagabond, Tenjho Tenge and SunKen Rock….oh well.
I think I just walked into the wrong comic O_O…….*backs away slowly*
One final caveat (though this should be minor for most experienced comic readers) is the downright absurd resilience of the so-called wimpy male lead Shi-Woon. Now, to his credit he does show realistic and gradual improvement in his stamina and constitution and he even becomes refreshingly more confident and courageous with each successive chapter. Shi-Woon does get a little help from resident Medical expert Shi-Ho early in the manga with a remedy that is quite literally a ‘miracle weenie cure’ *snicker*, but for the most part Shi-Woon seems to get by solely on his Shōnen Jump protagonist-level endurance – I’m talking Bleach, One Piece, Naruto and Fairy Tail kind of endurance here people – to the point where standing up and fighting after being knocked unconscious and suffering from bone breaking injuries becomes a normal occurrence. Tying such incredible feats to an abnormally high level of Ki alone seems to be pushing the boundaries a bit, but even this is acceptable within the realm of the story. For as The Breaker-and it’s equally good sequel The Breaker: New Waves-stresses over and over again, Ki is king and all warriors are its faithful subjects.
Shi-Woon goes Nine-Tails/ Hollow Mask/ Kaio Ken x 10
For its intense fight scenes, engaging story, likeable characters and over-the-top techniques. I give The Breaker my solid recommendation with a B (B- if you prefer a more dialogue and intrigue heavy comic or a B+ if you’re a big fan of Hong Kong action flicks). For those of you who are interested in similar works I also recommend another manhwa called Veritas as well as the amazing SunKen Rock.
That’s his “Me Gusta” face…
Thank you so much for reading (or in the very least skimming over the words and ogling the pictures ^_^). Please comment if you like, comment if you don’t, comment even if you have ‘no comment’ (total comment paradox); just let me know what you think! So, until next time…
Aspire towards Nirvana, fellow manga readers!