Osu!! Karate Bu (押忍!!空手部?, lit. "Go!! Karate Club") is a manga series by Koji Takahashi. The long running manga was published in Weekly Young Jump from 1985–1996 and centers on the misadventures of the various thugs and delinquent students that make up Kangokou High School's infamous Karate Club.
The series began as a fairly humorous and lighthearted satire of Japan's teenage delinquent-gang subculture told from the perspective of Matsushita Tadashi (who also narrates these early Karate Bu stories), a 2nd year student at Kangokou High and a constant target of Kangokou's numerous bullies who beat him up routinely after school. He is almost always accompanied by his best friend Saitou Takaki, who is also constantly harassed.
As the pair grow increasingly tired of being victimized they decide to join the titular Karate Club, which is notorious throughout Osaka's youth gangs for training and producing the city's most hardened and toughest teenage thugs while maintaining the facade of a legit school sports club. But when they join the club, they find themselves picked on just as much if not worse by the club's current members. But as the story progresses they grow to be increasingly capable fighters.
These early volumes of the series focused more on satirical jabs at the subculture of student gangs in Japanese high schools, as well as Osakan stereotypes (Osakans are often stereotyped as being loud and quick-tempered yokels). As the series went on it gradually changed its tone to a more serious and violent martial arts manga, with the narrative shifting from the perspective of Matsushita to Takagi Yoshiyuki, the smart mouthed, tough-as-nails captain of the Kangokou Karate Club.
In the early Matsushita-centered stories Takagi was more of a supporting character, but quickly grew to become such a fan favorite that he soon wound up as the main character for the rest of the series. While Karate Bu maintained much of its Osaka-related humor (particularly with the characterization of Takagi), the student gang element of the story was treated with increasing seriousness.
Along with the manga's change in attitude and central character, the various teenage fighters throughout the series grew increasingly stronger and even began to tap into superhuman ki abilities, putting Osu!! Karate Bu in the company of other similar epic Shōnen fighting manga such as Yu Yu Hakusho, Dragon Ball, and Fist of the North Star.
Osu!! Karate Bu was wildly popular in its native Japan, but is otherwise almost completely unknown in most other countries. It spawned a four episode OVA mini-series released over a period of two years from 1990–1992, a 1990 live action movie, and a 1994 Super Famicom fighting game.
There is often some confusion as to the title's English translation, as the word Osu!! has several meanings: it normally translates to Go!! or Push!! (to be used in the context of "to push through and endure any hardship" as the character can be transliterated as "pushing patience"), but it's also used as a Japanese kiai phrase in Karate (and various other martial arts), something very much in keeping with Karate Bu's subject matter. It can also be used as an informal greeting (roughly the equivalent of yo!!) as it is an abbreviation of Ohayou gozaimasu which means Good Morning.
- Matsushita Tadashi
The main character and narrator for much of the first volumes (that make up the less serious portion of the series). He is a 2nd year student at Kangokou High School and a walking target for beatings at the hands of the school's numerous youth gangs. He is rarely seen without his close friend Saitou at his side. His growing frustration at being the gang members' punching bag leads him to join Kangokou's "Karate Club", a fighting school for Osaka's toughest delinquents, gang members, and other unsavory teenagers that covers as a typical school sports club. At first he is picked on and harassed even worse by the club's members, but gradually learns a great deal about fighting and standing up for himself from his time with the club. In spite of his newfound confidence and abilities, he still has absolutely no luck with girls, as they tend get frightened off or quickly lose interest when he mentions which school club he belongs to. As the series goes on it shifts the focus off Matsushida and he becomes more of a supporting character. Matsushita is voiced in the OVAs by Honori Matsumoto.
- Takagi Yoshiyuki
The central character of the rest of the series after the first few volumes, Takagi started out in the early volumes as a mentor character to the protagonist Matsushita. But his never-say-die attitude, penchant for exaggerated macho posturing, and over the top Osakan sensibilities won over readers, and he quickly became the most popular character in the series. And as his popularity grew, the series became more and more centered on him, until he replaced Matsushita as the series main hero (or rather in his case anti-hero). He is the successor to Morigami Shingo as the Karate Club's captain. Morigami also passed onto him the mantle of "The Soul of Osaka III", a title which essentially means he oversees all the youth gangs in Osaka, and that all the other gang leaders answer directly to him. This title is obviously widely coveted by the other gangs, and Takagi is challenged for it frequently throughout the series. As a gang lord Takagi certainly can't be called a "hero", but he does have his own set of principles and a personal code of honor, making him fall more in line with a traditional anti-hero. Takagi grew up an orphan and doesn't really know who his real family was, but he strongly suspects Jinrai Isao (the original Soul of Osaka) to be his brother. As the series continues, Takagi finds himself forced to defend his title again and again from other ambitious would-be gang lords which takes a toll on him. So much so that at one point he finds himself re-evaluating his life and decides to leave the gang wars of Osaka behind him and start a new life in Tokyo. But even there he cannot escape getting involved in the raging battles between the Tokyo youth gangs, and it isn't long before he is forced to return to Osaka. But through it all he never loses his trademark goofy sense of humor. He is prone to making ridiculous and often corny Engrish puns, which only he himself finds hilarious. He also has a soft spot for Matsushita, and will come to his defense when he's getting picked on or losing a fight. Takagi is voiced in the OVAs by Tesshō Genda.
- Saitou Takaaki
Matsushita's fellow classmate and constant companion, he is like Matsushita in that he is always targeted by the school bullies and hooligans. However unlike Matsushita he is far more quick tempered and less willing to take the beatings lying down. Later in the series an old junior high classmate of his named Yamane Junji reveals to him that he's joined the Yakuza, and forcibly steals the Karate Club's money from him. Saitou is voiced in the OVAs by Ryō Horikawa.
- Morigami Shingo
The original captain of the Kangokou Karate Club, as well as the second Soul of Osaka. He shares the same star shaped buzz cut as Takagi (the trademark of the Soul of Osaka) and has an enormous scar over the right side of his face which he got from his battle with Jinrai, when he became The Soul of Osaka II. He is one of Takagi's mentors (his "senpai of Soul") as he was the first to see potential in him, and appointed him both the new Karate Club captain and The Soul of Osaka III. Unlike the outrageous Takagi, he is a very calm and level headed fighter.
- Honda Momochiyo
The main female character of Karate Bu, she is the manager of the Kangokou Karate Club, and Takagi's love interest. She is extremely loyal to him, so much so that when Takagi left Osaka for Tokyo, she went with him. Takagi has also trained her to fight so she could handle herself if threatened. She once attempted to adorn the Karate Club's uniforms with hearts. Honda is voiced in the OVAs by Megumi Hayashibara
- Kabada Wasaku
Kabada is the vice-captain of the Kangokou Karate Club. He is mean and sadistic, but also very weak and overweight. The only reason he earned the position of vice-captain is because he came to the club every day, even on holidays. He initially entered the Karate Club because he worshiped his senpai, Morigami. In spite of the fact that before he joined the club he was as bullied as they were, he enjoys picking on Matsushita and Saitou when Takagi isn't around. Kabada is voiced in the OVS by Yō Yoshimura.
- Andou Makoto
- Captain of the Kangokou High Boxing Club and one of Osaka's five most powerful gang leaders. Andou once beat Takagi in a fight, but only because Takagi had bought some baby chickens that morning and was keeping them in his pockets. Later that day, Takagi defeats Andou soundly. As the chickens grow up, they become recurring sight gags, popping up in random, inexplicable locations. As with most of Takagi's defeated opponents, Andou subsequently becomes a trusted ally and teaches Takagi his fighting techniques.
- Imawara "Kira" Takashi
- Takagi's childhood friend and training rival, Kira always harbored a secret and bitter jealousy of Takagi. Takagi would usually receive praise and accolades for his fighting skills that Kira felt entitled to, as he was usually a more technically skilled fighter than the hotheaded Takagi. This envy spurns Kira to challenge Takagi for the mantle of Soul of Osaka, adding to the number of thugs and gang leaders vying for Takagi's head. He uses an anonymous and cryptic letter sent to much of Osaka's gang leaders warning of an invasion that will "reign blood on Osaka" as an excuse to challenge Takagi's authority, claiming that Takagi doesn't have the nerve to hold the gangs together against the threat. It's when Takagi is knifed by a random thug seeking a reputation in killing him that Takagi is moved to deeply reassess his choices in life. He decides to leave Osaka and disappear to Tokyo to start over, faking his own death in the process (the truth only known to Momochiyo, Morigami, Matsushita, and Saitou) and leaving his title to Kira. As the fourth Soul of Osaka, Kira quickly realizes that while he possesses the fighting skills to be the next Soul, he cannot command the respect of the other gangs the way Takagi could.
- Jinrai Isao
- The original Soul of Osaka and mentor to Takagi and Kira (and possibly Takagi's brother). Jinrai lost his title to Morigami Shingo, whose face was scarred in the fight. Afterward, he disappears from Osaka altogether for some time, but re-emerges as the leader of a new and rapidly growing gang known as the Shikoku Alliance. He is the one who sends the letter threatening much of Osaka's gang leaders of a coming invasion in order to weaken their confidence and instigate infighting. He then intends to use the Alliance's vast numbers to undermine the authority of the Soul of Osaka, thus reclaiming absolute control of the gangs. His reappearance is another factor in Takagi deciding to leave Osaka; he has no wish to fight his former mentor, friend, and suspected brother. When Takagi eventually returns to Osaka after being trained in the art of Tai Chi Chuan and ki manipulation by an old martial arts master named Kou Ryuun, he defeats Jinrai in an epic fight. In latter volumes he and Jinrai slowly rebuild their friendship and Jinrai saves Takagi's life on several occasions. Like Morigami and Takagi after him, Jinrai sports a buzz cut in a "star" shaped pattern, the signature of a Soul of Osaka.
Only one video game was created for Osu!! Karate Bu, a 2D fighting game for the Super Famicom developed by Culture Brain. It was unique in that instead of fighting traditional best of three round bouts, the fights would be one continuous round. But when a player loses all their health, rather than being defeated then and there, they are given a three count similar to wrestling. Within that three count they could get back up and have some health restored to continue the fight, depending on how much energy they have left in their ki gauge. The more ki they have left, the more health is restored. However if they don't have enough ki, or fail to get up before the count down reaches zero, they lose the match. The player is also only given three chances at this. In other words, after three knock downs they lose regardless of how much ki they have left.
- Takagi Yoshiyuki
- Andou Makoto
- Suenaga Zen
- Tanaka Hiroyuki
- Kou Ryuun
- Rick Powered
- Sakuma Jujirou
- Sotogawa Tetsuya
- Kira Takashi
- Nakai Touru
- Jinrai Isao
There are also two hidden characters (Honda Momochiyo, and a powered up version of Takagi) who can be unlocked with a code.
- Cromartie High School (A parody of the Japanese juvenile delinquent genre, with many overt similarities to Osu!! Karate Bu)
- Sakigake!! Otokojuku