The King of Fighters – A New Beginning says on its cover that it was “Written by SNK Corporation” with “Art by Kyotaro Azuma”. This is confusing as, within just four chapters, it’s clear that while it obviously features the characters and setting of KOF XIV, the game is just a “select your fighters, run through the other teams, see an ending catered to your team”. Beyond a plot point surrounding new protagonist Shun’ei and the final boss, there wasn’t much to talk about. So I think it’s safe to say that this is probably written by Kyotaro Azuma as well, or if not, it’s written by someone who isn’t getting his due credit!
Not that I’m saying the plot is Shakespeare or anything. In fact this is the most faithful adaptation of a game I’ve ever seen, with the first two chapters being called “Member Select” and “Order Select” and in- between chapters have pages with the moves featured in the manga along with their corresponding input data from the game itself. The teams even keep their names from the game, even when in-world it doesn’t really make any sense (Teams like “Fatal Fury Team” and “Team Art of Fighting” are named after the games they originally appeared in)
The “plot”, such as it is, features teams of three fighters from all over the world arriving for the big King of Fighters tournament, this year hosted by Mr. Satan rip-off Antonov. After a long introduction sequence, we kick things off with Team Japan, the lead protagonist team from the first few games (or first story arc, if you will) and their rivals, Team Yagami. Any brief player of a King of Fighters game will know about the rivalry between Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami, so it was great seeing them (along with their teammates) fight with rather gorgeous artwork.
In fact, let me highlight that: the artwork is lovely. Extremely detailed and the often crazy designs are kept in model. Even the backgrounds in certain scenes are nice, and the kinetic action is handled with skill. As a fan of this series for a good decade or two, it’s nice to see the source material handled with such care, it’s just a shame it took King of Fighters XIV for it to happen.
That leads me to the question I pondered in the review blurb: is this approachable if you’re not a fan of King of Fighters? That’s a hard one. It’s the start of a new story arc (for those not in the know, KOF games run like this: Three games with a central protagonist and a storyline, a non-canon game featuring all characters that appeared in the previous games, then a new three-game story arc with a new protagonist, though the previous protagonist normally appearing in some capacity as well, and so on) so it’s more approachable than it could be, but there are references to past storylines already within these four chapters. They dropped the XIV part and called it “A New Beginning” with the hope to draw in a new audience that can follow the new protagonist Shun’ei, but then they almost immediately go into a Kyo v Iori fight and start mentioning first story arc lead antagonist Orochi.
I guess if you’re just looking for a well-drawn action manga with some great-looking characters (and practically no plot) you’ll enjoy it with only a little referencing that’ll go over your head, but if you’re a fan, then you’ll have a real blast. I’m looking forward to more!