Quick notice before starting the review: I have never reviewed a manga. Take this review with an extremely critical lens. Also, the manga is not finished as of writing this review, so the views expressed will only reflect on the first 29 chapters. So, Teppu is a martial arts manga that focuses on the lives of female MMA fighters, and, oh boy, is it good.
The writing in Teppu is some of the best I’ve seen in a manga, especially in a martial arts manga. There are few cheesy moments in the writing, but the ones that are there never seem to go above the tone and context of the situation, and never seem out of place. As a matter of fact, the character’s reactions and words, as well as the excitement of the scene, always seems to match what’s going on perfectly. It’s not over the top and finds a way to make a down to earth story and the everyday very interesting. It’s not overly fantastical with its fighting and that its greatest strength.
As mentioned previously, most of the characters are female and, quite frankly, I love this. Many would think this would bring down the quality of a work; not here, not in the slightest. It is refreshing to see female characters take on such great personalities and characters, regularly attributed to male characters. It is nice to see this happen in an industry where female characters regularly borderline on the nymphomaniac, blow-up doll, or pornstar. But it’s more than that. They don’t just mimic male characters and embody bombastic traits, usually attributed to male characters. No, they are their own characters with their own personalities, lives, and jobs that aren’t hinged on male characters. They’re their own persons. There is diversity in the different characters, too. No two female characters are alike in either body or personality. It’s nice to see, especially for two industries that usually just do a copy and paste of female characters. I’ve often criticized most of the media for its portrayal of women, saying female characters are not inherently bound to these tropes and archetypes, and can do the actions of their male counterparts. Female characters are often two-dimensional and too similar to each other, and real women aren’t like this. Apparently, a man by the name Oota Moare came to a similar revelation and made this beautiful gem of a manga. As well as saying that his characters should reflect this reality.
Politics aside for a second, let’s talk about the characters themselves. The characters in Teppu are fantastically three-dimensional. Each character has depth and layers. Each personality is entirely different from the others. They behave differently based on the context and the people they’re interacting with. They all have their own specific views on life, work, entertainment, fighting, leagues, etc. They have their own motivations, goals, and reasons as to why they do exactly the things they do. Their personalities are fully fleshed out. They’re like onions; they each have layers to them. They don’t follow any set patterns of characters from before; they’re not tropes or archetypical in the slightest. They feel like real people.
The character dynamics in this manga are something to praise, as each relationship between each individual characters feels unique and nuanced. You can feel the expression in each relationship, because of the complexity of each character’s history with the other, and their personality. The interactions also vary greatly based on the different every time depending on and greatly encompass the context. They all feel genuine and real.
Now, like it or not, because of the context of what I’m reviewing I have to step back into the world of politics for a second. In the manga they do address issues of inequalities presented to them because they are female; issues of representation, public perception, or how the systems and leagues themselves operate. What’s even more fantastic is how they’re presented and brought up. They feel like a natural part of the situations, it doesn’t feel improper when a character brings up these issues in conversation. It never feels like the manga lectures you about the topic. It feels like a genuine, empathetic, sincere discussion of the issues at hand. As a feminist myself it brings me joy to see issues like these brought up in such an inviting manner.
The pacing is fantastic. The fight scenes and everyday scenes are really well organized and have great balance. No scene ever feels like it lasts too long. The life scenes allow us to connect and understand the characters, without the scenes dragging on or adding anything unnecessary. The fight scenes take their time and let you observe the spectacle while getting into the depths of characters. Flashbacks also make great use of time by only focusing on the necessary and quickly getting back to the story. If you’ve ever wondered how to properly write dialog in manga format, this is how you do it. Every piece of dialog feels like it perfectly represents the characters.
The action sequences in the manga are just… Jesus, they are so fantastically done. What make them so good and distinguishes them from other manga fighting, is its while well-choreographed, realistic fighting. This may sound boring compared to other manga fighting, but it is anything but that. Most mangas have the characters swing the swords a few times/throw only a few punches, then talk for a little bit, or charge up attacks, yell the name of attacks, or just flat out drag on the length of time to perform an attack, there is none of that in Teppu. It’s just straight punching, kicking and grappling the entire time. While most mangas will break up the five minutes of action it’s given, into so many unnecessary parts, Teppu takes those five minutes and uses them for straight fighting the entire time. The fighting is realistic, and all the moves are based on real fighting, which makes so intensely fascinating to watch. The manga even goes to great lengths to showcase different real world martial arts like Muay Thai, Boxing, Kyokushin Karate, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The list goes on, and I’m sure there will be more to come in the future.
The choreography of the fights is something to adore. Each panel shows you step by step what’s happening and it’s all fluid and intense. Some panels will make you do a double take to figure out what’s going on in that specific part, but it won’t take long to figure it out, and it never takes away from the overall experience.
Most other mangas and animes will get away with not showing you what’s happening through a combination of motion blur and flashy moves; Teppu lets you see all of it. Every punch, kick, and grapple is plain as day. Every action has its own piece and flows well from panel to panel. Teppu actually lets you watch the fight and get engulfed in it.
The art style is fairly different, even by manga standards. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually quite good. If I had to describe the style it would be a combination of old shonen style manga and figure drawing. The level of detail in each aspect of the art is quite amazing, though. Everything from stitching, muscle stands, and ripples in skin portrayed in an extensive amount of detail. The art has a wonderful way of showing the depth in contours and objects.
The character designs are great, as well. Females in media, especially in drawn or animated fictional works, don’t have the best representation when it comes to body image. It’s usually polarizing, falling into either obese, supermodel or stick skinny. More often than not, though, female characters are copied and pasted with a supermodel’s body. In the case of Teppu, every person’s body is different, especially the female characters. Some girls are short and skinny, short and thicker, there are muscular girls, tall girls, some are bulkier than others, some have straight torsos, others have V torsos, and they’re all different. No two bodies are the same; they all come in the different shapes, sizes, and proportions. No two faces are alike either, which is also really nice to see. Hell, the main character is 182cm tall (5’10”). It’s all really refreshing to see.
Finally, the art when characters move is incredibly intense and pristine. In an interview, the creator himself talked about how much time he puts into the motion streaks, and it really shows. The detail is very fine.
This manga manages to take the complexities of life and present them beautifully in a narrative form. If you haven’t read it yet, I would absolutely recommend that you start right now. There are only 29 issues right now, usually 45 pages an issue. Teppu is one of my favorite mangas to read so far, and the studio is actually having financial trouble, so if this review made you interested go check it out now because these guys are amazing creators that deserve it.