Dr. Stone, Vols 5 and 6

Dr. Stone Volumes 5 and 6 by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi

Dr. Stone’s science-infused shonen post-apocalyptic story continues to be amusing. The fifth volume works through the shonen staple of a tournament fight in order to decide the chieftain of the small village that Senku intends to use to build his Kingdom of Science. There are opportunities to expound on the benefits of optics in battle, both for improving eyesight and setting things on fire. The tournament doesn’t last overly long though, and Senku turns his attention back to manufacturing basic antibiotics in order to save the life of Kohaku’s sister.

Dr Stone 6

I was glad to see this series take more of a detour into the backstory of the event where everyone turned into stone, with an appearance by Senku’s father who was an astronaut. The decisions he made up in space during the event ended up ensuring that Senku would find allies once he woke up. The contrast between a crew of castaway astronauts living in Senku’s past and building the idea of oral traditions with Senku’s contemporary science-based approach was interesting. The looming possibility of conflict between Senku’s Kingdom of Science and Tsukasa’s growing empire continues, as a raiding party attacks and Senku’s allies narrowly escape. Boichi’s art is always dynamic, but I particularly enjoyed the scenes in this volume where a poisonous wind is portrayed as a terrifying giant looming over the landscape. Occasionally seeing the characters portrayed as tiny against the immense backdrop of nature just brings to home how difficult it is to cobble together a society with only a few resources.

I’m still getting more impatient for another appearance by Taiju, but I’m hoping as Senku and Tsubasa race towards an epic confrontation he shows up again. This is still a fun series because I never know what type of invention will be featured next, and Senku’s cerebral enthusiasm makes him an entertaining shonen protagonist for anyone wanting a slightly different slant on fight scenes.

Komi Can’t Communicate, Vol. 1

Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 1 by Tomohito Oda

I tend to be a little leery of shonen comedies, but I found Komi Can’t Communicate both amusing and endearing. I think in general I tend to have better luck with Shonen Sunday series like this one as opposed to Shonen Jump titles. Komi Can’t Communicate is told though the point of view of Tadano, a timid freshman who just wants to get through high school without standing out too much after some disastrous attempts to distinguish himself in junior high. However, as is fairly typical for any manga protagonist wanting a normal high school life, this doesn’t end up happening.

He meets his classmate Komi, who is held up as the class princess due to her beauty and aloof nature. But as he encounters her by the lockers and in the classroom, Tadano begins to realize that she’s not silent because she’s stuck up, she actually has a psychological condition that prevents her from talking to people. They find a fairly adorable workaround by having a conversation through writing on the chalkboard, and Tadano vows to help Komi achieve the goal of having 100 friends. This unfortunately means that Tadano is going to have to ramp up his own social skills if he’s going to serve as a friendship wingman to a girl who is having such difficulty with verbal communication.

I enjoyed the way Oda’s art showed Komi’s body language as she struggles to get through school, with her poses that could be mistaken for snobbishness or extreme social terror at the same time. She also sometimes reverts into wide-eyed chibi mode when something happens that is particularly alarming. In their quest for friendship Tadano and Komi meet Najimi, a classmate who appears to be gender fluid, but who is a totally social butterfly and the most popular person in school. While enduring the awkwardness of high school creates plenty of comedic situations, I thought that the first volume of Komi Can’t Communicate actually had a great deal of heart, which made it much more fun for me to read than a comedy that’s more mean-spirited. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Tadano and Komi at their extremely quirky high school.

Dr. Stone, vols 3 and 4

Dr. Stone Volumes 3 and 4 by Riicharo Inagaki and Boichi

Dr. Stone’s premise of a post apocalyptic world where the heroes have to invent their way back to human civilization while battling factions of Luddites is much more of a higher concept than one tends to get in shone series, and so far I’ve been enjoying seeing how Senku attempts to invent his way out of sticky situations. In volume 3, the cast of characters for Dr. Stone expands as Senku stumbles across a small village of people who are to him, the missing manpower ingredient need to power even more ambitious science experiments.

He meets Kohaku, the daughter of the village chief who promptly becomes an ally when she realizes that the power of science might save her sister and tribe shamaness Ruri from a terminal illness. Chrome is another villager who is a self-styled sorcerer due to knowledge gained from his own scientific experiments and rudimentary mineral and chemical gathering. With allies in place, Senku decides to build a new “Kingdom of Science” and power his inventions even further out of the stone age, in an attempt to get in a better place to deal with threat posed by the anti-science Tsukasa. The villagers are naturally extremely suspicious of the newcomer, but Senku has a unique solution in the form of food science. He decides to reinvent ramen in order to woo people to his side.

The village brings with it extra drama, as Senku races through inventing electricity, iron, and glass in order to have a functional chemistry lab to produce medicine, Kokaku has to worry about the battle for Riri’s hand in marriage that will determine the next village chief. Her friends prepare to fight to save Riri from the thuggish Magma. Even Senku’s ability to synthesize energy drinks might not be much of a help in a bracket-style fighting tournament that will decide Riri’s future. These two volumes were plenty diverting with the struggles of recreating inventions full of dynamic adventures, but I can’t help but wonder what on earth Taiju is up to! Hopefully in the next few volumes Senku’s expanded science team will come together again.

Dr Stone, Vol. 2

Dr. Stone Volume 2 by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi

The second volume of Dr. Stone featured fewer scenes of crazy science action, but it did spend a more time on world building and setting up the conflict between the friends Senku and Taiju and newly revived but reactionary classmate Tsukasa. Senku is determined to push technology forward by manufacturing gunpowder, in order to give his group an advantage. The gunpowder sets off a plume of smoke which is answered by another smoke signal, indicating that the teenagers might not be alone in their post-apocalyptic world where everyone has been turned into stone.

Dr Stone 2

There was a flashback chapter showing Senku, Taiju, and Yuzuriha when they were young and pursuing Senku’s childhood dreams of rocketry. It was nice to see a glimpse of this mini friend group as little kids, and it played in well to how they work together to survive a hostile environment. Taiju and Yuzuriha have to figure out how to rescue their mad scientist friend, and we also get a glimpse of what Senku went through on his own, when he was the only human to wake up. There’s still plenty of dynamic science action in Boichi’s art, and while the second volume was a little less entertaining for me than the first simply because I was no longer as diverted by the initial premise of the manga, I’m curious to see how the conflict between Senku and Tsukasa is going to play out over the long term.

Female characters who exist mainly to be decorative and supportive is one of my shonen pet peeves, and at the end of this volume Dr. Stone seems to be heading in that direction. I’m not sure if all the genuinely enjoyable yelling about paleolithic science will be enough to offset those sort of plot developments, but I’ve liked the series so far.

Black Torch, Vol 1

Black Torch, Vol 1 by Tsuyoshi Takaki

I was surveying my stacks of manga and decided that I needed to make more of an effort to get into the Halloween spirit. I figured that Black Torch was an ideal candidate since it features supernatural beings and a black cat, who is also a supernatural being. Spooky!

Jiro is the plucky protagonist of this manga, who has some unique abilities. He has the ability to talk to animals and is descended from a long line of ninjas. He also has absolutely no tolerance for animal cruelty, as the opening scene in the manga shows him driving of a gang that was bugging a stray cat and raven. Jiro’s Grandfather seems to mainly enjoy yelling at his grandson about ninja traditions. Jiro finds out about a cat in distress and goes to rescue it. He finds Rago, a demon (or mononoke) trapped in the form of a black cat. Jiro learns that Rago was caught up in a demonic struggle, and doesn’t remember all the details of his past. Jiro is determined to help Rago, even though the demon attempts to leave Jiro, he is relentless in his desire to help. This is one of the more endearing aspects of Black Torch, even though Jiro ends up getting trapped in a deadly mononoke battle. Rago and Jiro end up being fused together, as Rago goes to help his reckless ninja friend. There are elements that are somewhat predictable in most shonen manga, like a supernatural protection agency and the hints that Rago and Jiro will soon join a team fighting evil.

Black Torch 1

The art in Black Torch has a slightly scratchy quality that I enjoyed. Rago’s surprised cat faces were hilarious, and when his mystical powers manifest in the form of swirling black tendrils surrounding his cat form, the effect is suitably dramatic and mystical. The action scenes are dynamic. While Black Torch doesn’t stray far from the typical shonen manga formula, Jiro’s devotion to animals, the odd couple relationship between him and Rago, and Rago’s hilarious cat expressions go pretty far in making it an enjoyable supernatural action manga.