Aiki tells the story of a certain martial artist, whom at the age of 16 was renowned as one of the worlds greatest martial artist, but his father, a legendary physician, feeling this talent was making his road too easy, sealed a large portion of his power away through weakening his physical capabilities in hopes that he would come to appreciate the power he once held. Now, with his father dead and martial artists seeking him out, Kunitoshi Joukyuu searches for a way to restore his body to its former optimum condition.
The purpose of any story is to invoke enjoyment and with each continuous advancement it makes towards its end, the level of enjoyment should rise alongside its expansion. Aiki may have started lacking substance in terms of story and engrossment due to its minimal plot progression but with each chapter and battle, it improved on itself and slowly drew the reader in more, consequently increasing the enjoyment and exciting the reader after each chapter. Aiki is largely driven by its battles and fan service, but through the middle and latter half of the manga, it finds a good balance along with the story, character dynamics and humour as well.
Once the story moves away from Joukyuu’s disciples (Miu and Rin) and towards a more serious setting which focus around Joukyuu being stretched to his current physical capability extremes, the interest the reader begins to have for Aiki increases considerably. The second half of the manga brings with it a much more filling story and on top of more wacky characters, the battles becomes more intense as well. Truly Joukyuu’s battles are a spectacle to see, but there are times when it gets in the way of other characters potential to shine and grow. This most likely comes back to the serious setting the second half of the manga is based around but Joukyuu’s associate, Balboa, and his disciple, Akemi, more often than not get the short of the stick when engaging against their opponents. One way or another, it ends becoming a situation in which Joukyuu has to intervene and deal the decisive blow. Only until later in the arc do those two get moments to shine.
The battles overall are extremely fun to read due to the wacky nature of the characters and their styles/weapons, and given that they are illustrated creatively as well through Isutoshi’s unique and dynamic art style, it becomes quite the thrilling display of martial arts to see. As I said before, Joukyuu’s battles are a real spectacle, his ability to dominate his opponent so meticulously and sadistically leaves you both in awe and amusement. Joukyuu’s easy-going personality and unfettered approach which torments his opponents mentally only adds to the ridiculous enjoyment you get by seeing Joukyuu troll everyone (poor Bull-kun). And when Joukyuu does go all out against his opponent pushing both his body and control, he just oozes out badassness that is just so satisfying to watch.
One thing I would have loved more from Aiki is more focus from the support characters and their character development. For the first half of the manga we have Miu, who served as a satisfactory main female lead, but in the second half there wasn’t really a main female protagonist that shone much, though the main female antagonist did substantially. And concerning character development, there isn’t really much of it through the manga, though this picks up near the end. This should hinder attachment to the characters but by using the character interactions with each other coupled with humour, your amusement to their charm serves to create the connection.
Overall Aiki is a decent manga that pushed forward on three points: battles, fan service and humour. And while it is lacking story-wise and character development-wise, its handling of the elements it does focus on is enough that if you are interested in a martial arts manga, you will enjoy Aiki quite a bit. I know I found myself engrossed with it by the end.
Enjoyment level: 8.5/10