Black Gate Volumes 1-3

Black Gate Volumes 1-3 by Yukiko Sumiyoshi

Usually I love omnibus editions because they give me a good excuse to devour two or more volumes of manga in an afternoon. I found it hard to get excited about Black Gate, an omnibus of a complete 3 volume series that features attractive art that is hampered by a lack of compelling storytelling. In Black Gate, there are light and dark gates that exert a powerful influence on human spirits. When someone is ready to die, they naturally go through a gate into the next world. Black gates are malign forces that try to take human souls too soon. Mitedamashi have the power to seal gates. Senju is a guardian to Hijiri, a rather bratty boy with a powerful mystical heritage. The fate of humankind may hang in the balance as Hijiri finds out the secret of his past, but will he be mature enough to harness his natural power?

One of the more unfortunate aspects of Black Gate is the lack of real character development. Hijiri’s main mode of expression is irresponsible brat, and while he exhibits a little bit of character growth he mostly remains static. Senju is haunted by the death of Hijiri’s parents, but he keeps plugging away at his part-time job (being a gatekeeper pays very little) and raising Hijiri as best he can. I found Senju a more compelling protagonist than Hijiri, so I was disappointed when he abruptly disappears for a long stretch of the book. Senju is replaced in Hijiri’s life by the sudden appearance of the Sugawara cousins, a pair of teen boys who also serve as guardians. Hijiri struggles to become a gate keeper himself and he tries to partner up with with Michizane, the half brother of one of the guardian cousins. The second and third volume become weighted down with a bit of plot mish mash involving a gate keeper serial killer, spirit possession, inadvertent immortality, and a struggle between the human and spirit worlds.

I usually tend to enjoy manga with themes like Black Gate, but I found it hard to get interested in this manga because Sumiyoshi tends to gloss over character development. None of her characters have terribly unique personalities, and the protagonist Hijiri isn’t very nuanced. I found myself not really caring what was going to happen to Hijiri, and that made it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for this manga. Sumiyoshi’s art is slick and competent, and she has a knack for creating attractive character designs. I really wish she’d been partnered with a different author because I think the work would have been so much better if the art was created in service to a more interesting story. I tend to place a little more importance on story than art when reading manga, but the art has to be absolutely gorgeous for me to overlook dull storytelling. Biomega might be incoherent, but it has the advantages of lovely art and a gimmicky supporting character that I adore. Bride of the Water God is gorgeous, and relies more on mood and extra pretty characters than story. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough in Black Gate to compensate for its narrative shortcomings. I read all three volumes of Black Gate, hoping the story would get better and I ended up disappointed. Someone who reads manga primarily for the art might find Black Gate much more fun than I did.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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