Rooster Fighter is one of those rare books that delivers exactly what you would expect from the title. I had every hope this book would not simply be about a rooster who fights other roosters, but instead one who fights people. Shu Sakuratani does one better as this rooster is out there fighting demons. Gigantic, building wrecking demons that are suddenly spawning all over the place. In the vein of something like Kaiju No. 8 or One-Punch Man, someone has to stop the demons from destroying towns and the lone wandering hero of this tale happens to be a rooster.
Told like an epic samurai saga, it opens with the line “This is the story of how one rooster saved humanity.” With that level of investment, we see a tale unfold of a wandering rooster who is righting wrongs where he finds them and hunting demons. It is not until very late in the story we learn his name is Keiji, which means “the Rooster’s Will” in Japanese. His brother was killed by a demon, thus his quest for vengeance drives him on, searching for the demon with a spiral mark behind its ear. Demons are people whose hearts are infected and they mutate into gigantic monsters fixated on what vexed them in their human lives. We do not learn why this happens, but late in the story, we see it happen. There is still plenty to be explored by the author in future volumes on how or why this all began, but in this first volume, we get a sense of how big this problem is.
Along the way Keiji makes some animal friends who provide aid and lessons. There are victories that increase his fame and losses that affect communities. Throughout it all you can feel the influence of books like Usagi Yojimbo and Lone Wolf and Cub, but in a modern setting. There are panels that look like they are from epic sweeping samurai films, but again, with a rooster as the hero standing in front of a blazing sun. There are running themes, like a new food discovery in almost every chapter like stink bugs, Brazilian grasshoppers and sea urchin. He doesn’t like children, human or animal, but he protects everyone equally. He has a strict moral code, like any good samurai, and he lives on his terms.
Obviously, this is a very silly conceit, but it manages to pull it off by taking itself seriously enough and drawing from such recognizable sources. The art is fantastic and while some of the demons are not quite as clean and crisp as other characters, they are certainly impressive in scale and work for the story. This isn’t going to win any awards for dialogue, but the fun isn’t in how well-constructed each exchange is, it’s in lines like “My comb is burning with rage!” The scope of battles and design of the fights makes me think of a book I’ve already mentioned in One-Punch Man, and much like that book this one has signature moves with their names emblazoned across multiple panels.
This is published by Viz Media who rates it Teen+, for older teens. There is no bad language in this book and the violence is a rooster fighting demons, so it is hard to say that it is inappropriate for anyone in particular because it can’t be replicated in real life. The only awkward moment reading this for me was on page 8 Keiji was mating with a hen (for a single panel) because he was “in heat.” While I get what the author was going for as a story device several pages later, it did make me think this might rule it out for younger readers who would have had no other problems with this book. This is a quick, funny, light read that is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes off-beat manga. It feels very familiar while also being unlike anything I have read recently. I think it is a good investment for libraries looking to diversify the types of manga they offer with something that I think spans a good age range of readers.
Rooster Fighter Vol. 01
By Shu Sakuratani
VIZ Signature, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)