School Judgement, Vol. 1

School Judgement Volume 1 by by Nobuaki Enoki and Takeshi Obata

This was a series that I expected to be wildly enthusiastic about, just for the Takeshi Obata art factor alone, so I was surprised to have a more measured reaction once I read the first volume. There were aspects of the setting and execution that didn’t sit well with me, but as always Obata’s art is beyond excellent.

School Judgement is set in an elementary school where conflicts are resolved by formal classroom arbitration, along with child prosecutors and defense attorneys. Two transfer students are introduced at the start of the volume. Abaku Inugami is a defense specialist whose hobby is arguing. He establishes his skills in an epic cross examination of his new teacher that results in her lifting the ban on video games at school. Pine Hanzuki is a prosecuting attorney who enjoys dressing up in magical girl outfits and is accompanied everywhere she goes by a rotund sidekick.

The new students are put to work promptly in “The Suzuki Dismemberment and Murder Case” where the Suzuki in question is a classroom fish. Tento Nanahoshi is the hapless student accused of fish murder, and when he is acquitted, he sticks around to provide a normal sidekick counterpoint to Inugami’s intensity. School Judgement is very entertaining when it sticks to power courtroom poses and mystery unraveling. I thought it was hilarious that the judges of the cases are babies who have prematurely aged due to their judicial duties, looking like wizened old men. Obata made Go dynamic and filled with suspense, so I was fully expecting dynamic courtroom scenes. There were some unexpected artistic choices too – when an adult is unmasked as evil, she’s suddenly rendered with a greater level of detail and rictus-like facial expressions that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror manga.

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It could be that I didn’t like many of the characters due to their single-minded obsession with arguing, but both Inugami and Hanzuki aren’t particularly sympathetic. Hanzuki’s a spoiled rich girl, and while it seems that Inugami’s obsession with the law is due to a tragic event in his past, he’s too abrasive to root for. Nanahoshi is around to be a counterpoint to all the lawyering, but for the most part he’s also bland and forgettable.

The aspects of School Judgment that I didn’t care for were the contrast of the lower school setting and the art, which looked more like Hikaru no Go Obata in style with some of the darker or more mature themes. In a shonen manga set in a high school, I’d not really care about random bath scenes for example, but in School Judgement when the character is 12, that creeps me out a bit. Also, another story line is an extended drug metaphor, which also seems to be a bit much with the current setting. I think I would have enjoyed this manga much more if it had either aged down and just been an all ages title with cases to solve that invoked lighter themes, or if was aged up and set in a high school with the same type of stories. As it was, I found the manga entertaining in spots, a bit unsettling here or there, and I didn’t really care about what happens to the characters at all. My quibbles are mostly with the writing, because I think any manga by Obata ends up being a master class in illustration. So I’d recommend this for the art alone, even though I didn’t enjoy the story.

Assassination Classroom Vol 1

Assassination Classroom Volume 1 by Yusei Matsui

To be perfectly honest, I would have bought this manga for the title alone. The fact that it is a story about a mysterious tentacled alien teacher looking after a classroom of misfit teenage assassins is just a bonus. The premise of the manga is set up in an effective way, with some elements explained and others just left for the reader to simply accept and move on with the story. The manga opens as the happy face octopus stands in front of the classroom wearing an academic hood and gown. As the day opens the entire class leaps up from their desks with guns and begins to fire away. Their assassination attempts are fruitless, because their teacher can move at super speed and has amazing healing abilities. The assassination classroom is a room full of misfits held in the annex of a normal middle school. One day their teacher showed up, disintegrated a large portion of the moon and said that he would do the same to Earth in one year. Kuro Sensei inexplicably wants to spend a year educating the youth of Earth before he destroys it. The government has offered up a bounty to the member of class 3-E who succeeds in killing their teacher.

Assassination Classroom is filled with humorous elements interspersed with dynamic scenes of assassinations being foiled with ease. For poetry class, Kuro Sensei requires everyone to end their poem with the word “tentacles” and he is always using his supersonic flying power to randomly buy himself treats from around the world. The standout student is Sugino, who spends his days making careful observations of his teacher, slowly gathering intelligence that might eventually lead to a successful assassination. As the volume progresses, more members of the class 3-E are introduced, all of whom have unique abilities. The most amusing aspect of the volume is the fact that for all Kuro Sensei plans on wiping out all of humanity in a year, he is really dedicated to being an excellent teacher. He intervenes in the lives of his troubled students and actually does manage to teach them some useful life lessons. The uplifting aspects of the manga contrast with Earth’s imminent doom in an interesting way. The art is well-executed but somewhat generic. It is amusing to see the variety of expressions on Kuro Sensei’s face, and the unexpected ways his alien powers manifest. I think this series would really appeal to fans of Death Note. So far, Assassination Classroom seems like an ideal pick for people who enjoy manga with a healthy side of dark cynicism on the side.

World Trigger, Vols 1 and 2

World Trigger Volumes 1 and 2 by Daisuke Ashihara

World Trigger starts out with a very Attack on Titanesque set-up, expressed simply in one page. Monsters from another dimension are invading the earth. A paramilitary force shows up to fight the monsters. Daily life for the rest of humanity is often interrupted by these “Neighbors” who look a bit like giant eels and the humans who fight back against the invasion.

Osamu is a bit of an unassuming student, but he finds his life complicated when a mysterious new transfer student named Yuma shows up. Yuma seems to not know very much about basic human behavior. When a Neighbor attacks outside of the usual boundaries, Osamu reveals that he’s actually a trainee for the Border Defense Agency, with a small amount of power that he’s determined to use to protect everyone in his city. Yuma turns out to have some extraordinary powers himself. He claims to also be a Neighbor, from the dimension where the monsters come from. He also has the ability to use a trigger, the weapon/body exchange protocol that allows users to fight off the monsters.

In the ensuing battle, Yuma fends off a powerful monster after Osamu proves not to have the level that he needs in order to destroy his enemy. Osamu turns to helping out however he can, by evacuating residents and helping everyone stay safe. Members of the Border Protection Agency turn up, suspicious of the recent events and determined to follow correct bureaucratic procedure. The cast of the book gradually expands beyond Osamu and Yuma to include many of the typical foils for a shonen protagonist. There’s a cool older male mentor, a type A overachiever warrior girl, and a host of bureaucrats in the Border Protection Agency that will surely make life difficult for Osamu.

The Border Protection Agency seems more chaotic than a force for either good or evil, as a squad starts to hunt down Yuma. Osamu tries to intercede, but Yuma’s level of power is such that he’s able to evade attack from multiple agents at once with only some slight injuries. One interesting aspect of the story is that Osamu keeps getting promoted within the Border Protection Agency simply because he is often in the right place at the right time and occasionally forced to take credit for some of Yuma’s actions in order to maintain his new friend’s cover. Osamu’s leveling up though being an unassuming nice guy who is incredibly lucky is a bit unexpected for a reader expecting a more typical brash shonen hero, and this was one aspect of the book that I found intriguing.

There’s a fair amount of world building as the characters go into details about the alien tech infused battle system, but I didn’t find this very interesting. The art is workmanlike and easy to follow, but it doesn’t have that extra bit of style or distinct quality that would make me want to pick up the manga just to see some fabulously paneled battle scenes. The story is solid, but there isn’t much that’s surprising about it so far. The anime for this series is starting to air, so I imagine that will fuel interest for this title. I didn’t find myself inspired to keep reading the series, simply because there are other titles out there that are much more entertaining. I can read One Punch Man if I want something funny, Attack on Titan if I want to read about a dystopian future where humanity is fighting off giant invaders, or Seraph of the End for more attractive art and interesting world building. Overall, this is a solid if not super compelling shonen title, and I imagine that someone less picky about shonen manga than me will enjoy it.

Barrage Vols 1 and 2

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.