Have you ever wondered what it would be like to participate in the Japanese delinquent world? With its immersive atmosphere, highly decompressed storytelling, and blow-by-blow action, Worst offers readers that experience.
Other manga such as Tenjou Tenge and School Rumble feature older-looking high school students who have the features of young adults rather than teens. Worst takes this a step further: most of its brawling gang bosses appear to be in their twenties or thirties, despite being high schoolers.
Artistic quirks aside, Worst is an intriguing look at the brutal world of high school delinquency. A high degree of idealization is present, but for this reviewer it was merely entertaining rather than debilitating. Unlike, say, Akagi, where descent into delinquency means involvement with yakuza, criminal enterprises, and shootings, Worst manages to retain a certain purity and innocence even as it depicts ugly brawls.
This scales all the way up from the personal level to the organizational level. When two rival gangs get together to have a grudge match, the mediator suggests five rounds of single combat between champions for each faction, and it actually happens. Of course, there is a limit to how far the author stretches this suspension of disbelief – one combatant pulls a hidden knife, and the inevitable free-for-all between rank and file is merely delayed, not averted.
Nevertheless there is a certain innocent honesty throughout the work that may be likened to the Western ideal of chivalry. In the hyper-masculine world of Worst, strength is self-worth, and combat is the true test of that strength. Weapons, rather than being the tools of warfare, are foreign objects that have the potential to alter the balance in the contest of strength. Reliance on them is seen as dishonest, even as reliance on poison or “witchcraft” was seen as an affront to the fairness of a medieval European duel. Honesty and loyalty are valued above intelligence, and “street smarts” above intellectual pursuits.
“I want to check what sort of man I am, in a world like this,” proclaims the cover of the ninth tankobon. It is the fighters’ reason for striving, the justification for the mad effort involved in an increasingly elaborate system of ranks, matches, and grudges that few in the larger world will ever know or care about. In the end, the reader is left asking: what kind of manga fan am I? Reading Worst is a step towards finding out.