~by Shige Nakamura
Although I have a keen interest in the martial and fighting arts, for some reason boxing has never really been my thing. So, I was a little surprised when Shige Nakamura's boxing manga Wolf quickly became one of my favorite stories to be included in Gen Manga's monthly independent manga anthology. Wolf was initially published in the first ten issues of Gen between 2011 and 2012. Gen Manga subsequently released the entire story, including the epilogue "The Wolf Who Came Home" (which didn't appear in serialization), in 2012. However, Nakamura had been working on Wolf for several years before its official publication. Wolf is the third collected volume that Gen has released, following VS Aliens and the first volume of Kamen. But, it was the manga from Gen that I was most excited to see collected and released in print. I was very happy that Wolf was published in a single volume, giving readers the chance to enjoy nearly five hundred pages of story in one shot.
Twelve years ago, Kengo Kurozaki abandoned his wife and child in Hokkaido in order to pursue a career in boxing. His wife Yuki has forgiven him and still loves her husband. His son, however, still holds a grudge. Naoto Okami has travelled alone to Tokyo in search of his father and revenge only to find Kurozaki has become the head coach at Hirahara Gym. There Okami discovers an opportunity to not only fight with his father, but to do it on Kurozaki's own turf--the boxing ring. Okami is quickly accepted by the other members of the gym and almost immediately begins training as a sanctioned boxer. He exhibits a great deal of potential and natural talent, not to mention one of the strongest right straight punches anyone has seen. But one exceptional skill won't be able to carry Okami all the way to a championship match. If he wants to take down and show up his father in the ring as a boxer, claiming the championship title for himself, Okami must be prepared to make the needed sacrifices.
Nakamura's art is a little rough in spots, but the fights tend to be well-done, quickly paced, and dynamic. The physical development and weight change brought about by Okami's training can also be seen. Backgrounds are kept fairly simple and are often nearly non-existent. Although slightly disorienting, it does emphasize the importance of the characters and what they are going through. As the protagonist, Okami is the mostly full-realized character in Wolf; his outlook is the one that develops the most as the story progresses. In the beginning he is a very brash, rough, violent, and angry young man. He never entirely loses those characteristics, frequently lashing out at those who would try to help him, but he slowly is able to come to terms with his father and their broken relationship. Boxing at first was merely a way for Okami to seek revenge, but it ends up becoming an important outlet for him for many other reasons. Eventually, he comes to love and enjoy the sport on its own merits.
Although it may not be particularly original, Wolf is a solid sports drama. The characters' relationships and personal struggles are just as important as the boxing, training, and fights. Nakamura is able to balance those two elements of the story; they enhance and play off of each other nicely. Occasionally the story was in danger of becoming overly sentimental, but Nakamura never quite crosses that line. I was happy to see that Shota, a secondary character introduced early on in the manga and one of Okami's first true friends, continued to make appearances throughout Wolf. I was also very glad that the collected edition of Wolf included "The Wolf Who Came Home." Although not entirely necessary to provide closure to the story, it does tie everything together better, including the opening sequence which is largely ignored for most of the main story. Wolf may not be the flashiest or most polished manga, but it is a very satisfying read. I enjoyed Wolf immensely.