Barrage Vols 1 and 2 by Kouhei Horikoshi
Barrage is a bit of a rarity, a two volume complete shonen series. I tend to read less shonen than shoujo just because of my interests as a reader, but I also have a certain hesitation to commit to a long-running shonen series when there are so many shoujo series that I’m following. I think I enjoyed Barrage more just because at two volumes the story didn’t start to get spun out to the point where the manga overstayed its welcome.
Barrage is very loosely based on The Prince and the Pauper. Astro is a plucky slum kid in a futuristic world called Industria where the humans have completely been overrun by aliens, who function as a version of the mafia on the poor stressed planet. Astro has adopted other orphan kids and tries to hold down a job despite his difficult boss just so he can feed his adopted family. One day an arrogant prince named Barrage gets his attention called to Astro and proposes a switch in identities because the boys look so similar. A stray laser blast promptly sends the prince to his death, and a group of handlers take Astro to the palace. Astro agrees to serve as the prince, and he’s given help in the form of the Knight Tiamat, who is aces at fighting and incredibly frightened of women. Astro also demonstrates an uncanny ability to weild the weapon of the royal house, a bracelet called the Orgue which can transform into a powerful energy weapon based on the wielder’s intentions. The first volume mostly serves as set-up, as Astro takes his place in the palace despite his misgivings, and he learns that he has to travel from town to town to fight off the invading aliens. Astro’s motivation stems mainly from his desire to protect families in any form, and the stress that the aliens place on normal people trying to live their lives is almost unbearable to him. Tiamat is filled with exasperation at having to train a newly minted Prince imposter, but he also has some hope for the new state of affairs as Astro takes his responsibilities much more seriously than the previous prince.
The second volume settles in to more of an in-depth storyline as Astro and Tiamat head to a new town and meet Tiko, a young girl determined to avenge the death of her parents at the hands of the alien invaders. The art for Barrage is generally detailed and interesting, with plenty of variation in the aliens’ character designs. Barrage takes down a mountainous rock-like alien and one that looks a bit like a tadpole. Astro’s past is filled in a bit as he gears up to fight an alien who he previously knew in his life as an orphan. While by the end of the second volume I felt like there could have been at least one more volume of story, things were wrapped up nicely and I enjoyed being able to read a complete, short, shonen series. While there might not be anything super innovative about Barrage, it was fun to read and I thought that using the Prince and the Pauper as a set up made the basic story a bit more interesting that I would otherwise expect.