Depending on the kind of person you are, the next sentence might be all it takes to talk you into reading Rooster Fighter… or turn you off entirely. It’s a manga about a rooster fighting giant demons. If you fall in the group that needs the extra convincing, here it goes:
Picture a lonely mysterious wanderer from old western movies, but in modern day Japan. The stoic anti-hero arrives in a town to find it in great distress. Monsters run wild like they’re the cock of the walk and humans are powerless against them. When all hope seems to be lost, the wanderer rooster steps up and with his mighty vocal chords crows his foes into oblivion. As the dust settles, before anybody can realize who saved them, Keiji, our stern Gallus gallus domesticus who refuses to be seen as a hero, marches towards the sunset. “Save the day? No. I just happened to be passing by, and I hate Demons!”
From Aesop’s Fables to the Ninja Turtles, there is just something about stories with anthropomorphic animals that has always fascinated humans. These stories often try to appeal to human traits we project onto these animals: the cunning of the fox, the wisdom of the owl, or the turtle’s innate talent for martial arts. In Shū Sakuratani’s Rooster Fighter, he chooses to portray the hypermasculine traits associated with roosters and take them to the most ridiculous extremes. I don’t know how much of it is intentional, but Keiji’s “real man” attitude along with the ridiculous premise of the story makes for a great satire of the testosterone dripping warrior stereotype. One thing is seeing Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star crossing the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world using pressure points to make punks explode from the inside out, but a rooster doing something similar with his crowing, now that’s stupid! Nevertheless, a rooster taking the role of your run-of-the-mill action hero fits just too well. During Keiji’s journey he is frequently breaking young chicks hearts, bonding with other macho animals and finding himself completely inept in any social situation that does not involve brawling, eating, or drinking. You know. Rooster stuff.
It seems like there is a trend in manga in recent years about demons, ghosts and other creatures incarnating from some uglier side of human nature. We see it in Chainsaw Man, Jujutsu Kaisen, Dandadan, Demon Slayer and many other popular series. The mutant demons in Rooster Fighter are also a manifestation from human desperation. They often appear out of nowhere yelling things like “This month I’ll finally meet my quota” or “I was with him for ten years, why won’t he leave his wife?” while casually destroying everything in their path. There might be some answers in the manga about the origin of its monsters, but although Keiji takes himself very seriously, the manga he is in does not. In the latest chapters, the manga has teased the reader with secrets about the origin of the monsters and Keiji’s quest to destroy them, but, during most of the manga run, that kind of plot development takes the backseat to make more room for the fighting and comedic interludes. If you ever wanted to see a rooster taking part in a Gokkon (japanese group date) with a bunch of pigeons, or passionately describing the nuances in the flavors of sea urchins and brazilian grasshoppers, then Rooster Fighter is probably for you.
When writing the series, Shū Sakuratani, much like many action movie directors, thinks about the action scenes and works backwards from there to create a story around it. The simplistic story of the wandering hero does not waste time before setting up the monster of the week, giving Keiji another reason to flex his feather-covered bird muscles. The author takes a realistic approach to drawing animals with the occasional exaggeration here and there (I’m pretty sure roosters don’t have pecs). This realism only makes it more hilarious when you see a cock defeating enemies hundreds of times his size or being kicked so violently you can see ripples spreading over his skin. However, the artist makes sure that his animals keep one specific human trait: the eyes. Manga artists have known forever that that’s one of the most efficient ways of conveying human emotions and we are primed to see human faces everywhere. Even though they are chickens fighting demons, their eyes make sure we know exactly what they are feeling at any given time. A counterexample to that is the 2019 The Lion King remake. With all its fancy CGI, it completely failed in that aspect, choosing to keep its animals as realistic as possible and compromising all the expressivity of the original in the process.
In spite of seeming gimmicky, Rooster Fighter will entertain you with storylines you could never get anywhere else as it leans heavily on the fact that its main characters are chickens. This manga will give you much to crow about as you follow the tale of Keiji teaching the bad eggs of the world they will not like it when this chicken comes home to roost.