It’s time to take a look at the next in the line of Shonen Jump cancelled titles. Neru always looked fun when it started although it was completely overshadowed by Red Hood. I don’t recall seeing almost any discussion for this one while Red Hood was always on the webs. That said, the series is quite solid. I can unfortunately see why it ended up getting slammed but the title had a lot of promise and ultimately could have made it to the next level. That just wasn’t in the cards this time though.
The series starts off by introducing us to our lead Neru. He is a guy who is completely obsessed with martial arts and trains nonstop at all times. As a result he hasn’t made very many friends…in fact Mikio is his only friend. Still, that doesn’t really bother him because he’s never really thought about it before. Neru is just satisfied improving his craft but one day a mysterious girl beats him up and invites Neru to join her martial arts school. He will have to pass some exams though but now he finally has something to work towards. Can Neru actually make it in?
When it comes to the Jump main characters you’ve usually got 3 kinds. The inept ones, moderately talented, and the genius fighters. Neru is certainly in the latter category as he starts out as one of the most powerful characters in the series and ends on that note as well. The series was over before it could really introduce a whole lot of characters who could defeat him so as a result Neru ends up slaughtering most of his opponents with ease. Metaphorically btw, as he doesn’t destroy his opponents like that.
Right away one of the strengths of the series is the action scenes. I like the martial art battles and considering that this is a new series, I thought it looked really well polished. My only issue is that a few of the characters have very similar designs which can make things a bit tricky. The actual artwork is on point though so I definitely have no issues on that front. The series is also fast paced so things happen right away. If it had kept up that pacing throughout the series I think it may still be going but unfortunately things slow down a whole lot near the middle. It’s not as noticeable when reading all the chapters through but it does mean that weekly I’m sure these chapters were rather low ranked.
You can really divide the 18 chapters into a few different parts. Of course you start off with the introductions as Neru loses to the heroine Akebi and then meets his match against her brother Jokuro who is one of the most skilled fighters in the whole school. The fact that Neru is self taught and keeping up with these guys is really impressive. It’s a solid start as we get the hype of preparing for entering the school and also have two intro fights right off the bat. You couldn’t ask for much more than from the intro so I thought this was executed really well.
After that, Neru has to pass the test to get into the school. I think this will always worry people since they say you don’t want to do exams early on in a manga anymore. Fortunately this is very short though plus the exam has a combat element. So Neru gets to do the paperwork in about 1 chapter and then we get the battle chapter where even the advanced ninja class is no match for him. It’s a bit slower but still works out well. Now Neru is part of the school so it definitely changes up what you would expect from the series going forward. I’m not even sure what I would expect, it could go for a happier tone like Prince of Tennis where the characters have friendly battles or we could have some evil schools and combatants who show up to make things complicated.
Once Neru gets into the school we start to meet up with a bunch of the new characters including the character who seemed primed to be the real main heroine. With how quick the series ends though it’s hard to say who should really be considered the heroine. Either way the mini arc here involves a hazing from the upper classmen. Neru and Kaname have to compete to find an arrow and the winner gets to live in the dorm while the other has to camp outside for a while. Naturally Neru isn’t the kind of guy who worries about such things so he’s willing to let Kaname get the win but they have some nice teamwork moments here. It’s not as exciting as the intro but it’s really to develop the characters more.
Then we enter the climax which is that Neru needs to find a match so that he can try and rank up. Unfortunately nobody wants to fight him until the psycho Enkoji shows up. This worries Neru’s roommate Ryuzen who has resigned from fighting due in part to a sob story with Enkoji. Neru has to convince this guy to fight again so they can have the match. This part can drag a bit since you likely don’t care about Ryuzen at all yet and you just want to get to the fight. Once we get to the fight it’s pretty hype though. Then of course we get the inevitable 5 year time skip since the series was cancelled.
So I had a good time with this series. It really ends in a flash but you get to have a good time throughout the series. It has solid action and a good cast of characters. There’s no time for any of the characters to be great or anything but they had a good amount of potential. From the cancelled series I’ve read recently I would definitely put this as one of the more impressive ones. We also don’t really see a lot of series about martial arts so it would have been fun to have seen this one last in the end. It’s also borrowing a lot of elements from the God of High School which of course was a really fun series that really went all out by the end. You have the mysterious grandfather who disappeared one day, the fact that Neru uses a martial arts style that revolves around his legs, etc. I could see this series going down that route although minus the gods and aliens. There was a lot here.
That said, the grandpa plot never ends up going anywhere since the series ended so fast so you don’t need to worry about that. In fact, there are no true villains in the series so far since we’re still in the school phase when it ends. I mean Enkoji’s effectively a villain because of how crazy he is but technically the guy is just another classmate so I wouldn’t count that. It’s why I’m not even positive if this would be the kind of series with big villains and everything or if it would be treated more like a sport series about martial arts. It’s just too early to call there although I assume it would involve true villains and end of the world stakes soon.
Personally I think the series ended up being cancelled because of the lull in action near the end when Neru is trying to set up a match. I don’t think people really cared a whole lot about the setup and why Ryuzen quit. I know I didn’t care a whole lot. Not something I would cancel the series over of course but if all the other titles were beating it up at the time then of course being cancelled would make sense in the end. So to avoid cancellation what I would have done is have the first match start right away. Don’t have people dodging Neru in terms of battle and give him a few solo wins before he has to go into doubles.
After all, I don’t see how everyone could dodge him. The series never actually goes into the rules of this but this is a martial arts school. Everyone is so scared of the new kid that Neru can’t get any challengers? To me that just speaks very poorly of the school itself if the students are that scared. Also, if you need to fight in order to advance then I imagine that there should be mandatory fights. I don’t get if it’s a 3 year type school that you can accelerate and you still have to go through most of the time or if fights just directly skip everything. Perhaps the martial arts part is just a small part of the school. Either way we could use more answers but I understand why the series wouldn’t want to waste time on exposition.
In that case it should have just kept the fights going and that would have worked really well. I think that’s the best bet the author could have done to have kept this going. It might not be fun for the author to have to move fast and keep the action going at first but you really gotta do it that way instead of going more for the plot and character elements. At the very least I’d say it’s safer to be really action packed at the start and work from there. Now lets talk about the characters.
As mentioned, Neru’s a fun main character. He’s very invested in his goal of being a martial artist in part so he can find his grandfather. It’s a noble goal and he’s a nice guy who stands up for the weak. He’s a very solid fighter and I’m glad that he doesn’t fall for tricks very easily. He was able to adapt to each of the ninja’s moves very easily and that really helped him stand out here. I wouldn’t say there’s anything unique about him just yet but all of his character traits are good so I definitely have no complaints.
Then you have Akebi who shows up in the opening chapters but vanishes until the end otherwise. She would have been a fun character though. She would have served in the mentor role for a while although it seemed like Neru was close to surpassing her early on so this may not have been a role she’d have stayed in for long. She doesn’t enter tournaments like the other characters so I’m assuming we would get some kind of backstory behind that eventually. She’s definitely a fun character and would have been a good member of the main cast.
Jokuro is the next guy up and we don’t get to see a lot of him but he does get the opening fight which will have to do. I like his confidence and he seems like another fun character here. He also seems to have a bit of a friendly rivalry with his sister Akebi which would have been a fun dynamic. Having Jokuro be one of the strongest fighters was a good idea because he’s a likable character so that would make for a positive obstacle in Neru’s path.
Shoze seems like he was being built up as the rival in the series. He’s a first year student like Neru who was in the exams but the tricky thing is that Neru seems to have already been stronger than him from the start. So maybe saying they would be rivals is a stretch but everyone else is impressed with the guy in the series so it still seems that way. I guess it would depend on if Neru would be a rival to the masters like Jokuro or if he would be a rival to Shoze. It all depends on how fast Neru ended up improving so I suppose that could go either way. I’m not a big fan of Shoze though, the kind of guy who will look the other way when someone is getting beaten up so he can succeed. It’s perhaps not unexpected for this guy but it’s not something that will help me like him.
I should give Mikio a quick mention but he’s Neru’s friend from the old school so I suspect that he would not end up doing much at all in the coming chapters. Nice enough guy even if he is too quick to spill all of his secrets about Neru to Akebi though. I see where his priorities are now and Neru can’t really trust him. Toriichi seems to be the replacement as he’s also a super nice guy who’s rather meek and mild mannered. I don’t see this going over well for him at a martial arts school though so I question why he is even here. Maybe his family forced him to come? That would at least make some sense I suppose.
Next up is Kaname, one of the heroines in the series. So she is the sister of one of the “Big 3” fighters in the school. Her family are all made up of fighters but they say that she shouldn’t be fighting along with them because she’s a girl. It’s definitely a very classic kind of character arc and she needs to learn to fight really well to show them that she is ready for the battle field. Her personality is very tsundere type with Neru. She can’t fight super well yet from what we can see but with her determination I’m sure she would go far. I liked her character even if we didn’t get to see her a whole lot yet. Even if I probably wouldn’t be on board with the romance, I could see her having a solid dynamic with lots of good banter in there.
Finally we get to the fighters from the last battle. There’s Ryuzen who doesn’t like fighting anymore and the reason feels unique but doesn’t help him a lot. Basically if Ryuzen takes any damage he has a hard time withholding his urge to kill and so he’s decided that it would just be safer if he didn’t fight at all. If he can’t control himself of course that is correct but he might as well not attend the martial arts school in that case. His decision to stay tells me that it is possible to graduate without fighting though which is definitely interesting. I didn’t end up liking Ryuzen even by the end though. The guy’s rather mean to Neru for no good reason and he takes forever to do anything. He was even letting the villains double team Neru while he was busy getting ready.
Enkoji is the only villain as mentioned before and I wonder how he was not expelled. He basically confirms that he intentionally injures his opponents to scar them so he can match their scars with self inflicting wounds. He really injured Ryuzen’s partner quite badly and is happy about it. He has no problem saying all of this in front of everyone by the way. Does the school just tolerate anything? It appears that way of course. Enkoji’s whole character is that he’s insane and likes dishing out pain so I can’t say that there is anything interesting about him. You’re waiting for the heroes to beat him up and that’s about it.
So for the most part we’ve got a good cast here. I imagine we would start to meet a lot more and of course there are other students that I did not mention. They would likely get more of a role going forward as well with all the fights coming up. The series may not have made it as long as the author would have hoped but it does succeed in telling a complete story. The series did a good job of having everything wrap up cleanly. The grandpa plot is ignored but we get to see how Neru’s path ended and see that the world is just not too out there this time. Based on the timeskip the world around the heroes is really quite normal and everyone’s just having a good time. No end of the world plots or anything but I wouldn’t say this definitively means that the series was going down that route since the series was ending here anyway.
Overall, Neru: Rise of the Martial Artist is just a fun series. You’ll have a good time reading through it because the characters are pleasant and the story is good. It had a lot of potential. I don’t think it was ever going to be one of the all stars but it definitely would have been another solid installment to the Jump lineup. Hopefully the author is successful in their next endeavor and I would like to get another martial artist series at some point in the future. There’s really a lot you can do with that. If you’re looking for a series to sit down with and spend an hour or two, this is certainly a good option.