In some 20 years between River City Ransom and this rousing 3DS sequel, bullying turned into a Japanese epidemic. Tokyo Rumble begins with a kid, Hiroshi, bullied and beaten in front of his school. Series protagonist Kunio then selflessly snaps to Hiroshi’s defense.
Kunio’s aesthetic rises from the American ’50s, that cool kid who smokes, wears leather, and leans on the wall around the back of the school. Bare knuckle brawler by trade, Kunio’s place is defender against the defenseless. He joins with other outcasts and begins to pick away at the seams of an entire bullying outfit, eventually turning international. The fantasy is sharp. Mean spirited and touch vengeful too, if playfully goofy – the iconic call of *Barf* remains.
Culturally, River City consistently breaks from Japanese tradition. Kunio’s an outlier, dissociating from social norms. Japan doesn’t work that way – the cause for the bullying surge. Different means you’re designated a target, leading toward a national outcry in 2012 after a kid was force fed bees by classmates. The bullied student’s eventual suicide made the issue one of public urgency. As it goes in River City, anti-victim policies leaves everyone to their own. No one helps Hiroshi to stop the melee happening before them. Intervention is frowned upon, except with Kunio.
Kunio’s lack of conformism is certainly freeing for a society designed on structure. Drawing from antics and wild martial arts allows for ample social escapism. Satisfaction draws from harmlessly beating up penultimate school age villains, and in terms of allowing a fictional release for those bullied. Underneath is a lively, enthusiastic punch-a-thon with all the zest and energy of its NES elder. Clever ties to the Technos library (including obvious and non-obvious throwbacks to Double Dragon) make River City nostalgically digestible too. An already lost classic for 2016.