Drawing good manga is about making characters feel real. There are any number of paths to achieve this, but if an author can’t make his cast feel compelling early in, the series typically isn’t worth continuing. There are few manga artists I trust more than narrative-box placement specialist Noboyuki Fukumoto when it comes to delivering that whole package. The fourth part of his award-winning Kaiji series had been relatively bland by his standards up to this point, lacking real moments from the title character as it focused on 3 brand-new characters stuck in what I’m sure will eventually turn out to be an iterated prisoner’s dilemma. It was enjoyable, but not intense. This chapter broke through that ceiling, though, delivering some heart-warming backstory for Chang, an illegal immigrant and second son under China’s one-child policy.
Chang, born as an illegal second son to parents who were already poor, seems to be stuck into a life of cheap, forced labor not unlike the work Kaiji himself was forced to do in part 2. Feeling the burden of a short, cheap life ahead of him, he gradually becomes fixated on a faint hope; emigration to Japan, where he could earn a year’s salary in a fraction of the time and use it to carve out a better life for himself. However, there’s a huge obstacle in the way of that hope: he doesn’t speak Japanese. One day, he gets some free time in town, and, before he’s about to blow his savings on some very lip-smacking food, he notices a Japanese textbook out of the corner of his eye:
Chang eventually chooses to forgo the temporary satisfaction of his appetite in favor of a chance to grab onto a possible future. In doing so, he exhibits a willpower far superior to that of the title character, who was scammed out of hard earned money with food and beer early on in the second installment. It’s a hard choice made by a strong character, one that makes you absolutely want to root for him. All this development looks to bring some big improvements to the manga in general. It’s a lot easier to get your head into a game when you feel empathy for the characters playing it.