Platinum End Vol. 1

Platinum End Volume 1 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

I approached reading Platinum End with mixed feelings, I was interested because this series is another work from the team that brought the world Death Note, and I greatly enjoyed Death Note. On the other hand, I wasn’t looking forward Death Note 2: Electric Boogaloo. I ended up putting down the first volume feeling like I was cautiously interested in seeing where Platinum End was going.

The volume opens with Mirai Kagehashi, a high school student who has decided to kill himself. He’s foiled in his attempt by the sudden appearance of an angel who rescues him. Mirai is stuck in despair because he was orphaned when he was young, and taken in by relatives who abused him. His new angel announces that she’s going to make him happy and gives him some new abilities – he can choose between having wings to fly anywhere or mystical red arrows that will cause anyone to fall in love with him. Mirai responds that he’ll ponder what he wants if he’s given both gifts and the angel agrees.

Mirai’s angel Nasse functions more like the devil on his shoulder than a good conscience, as she encourages him to use his powers for the most selfish of reasons. Mirai gets a sense of how deadly the ability to make anyone fall in love with him can be, when he returns to his aunt and uncle and learns the truth behind the death of his parents. In true shonen fashion it turns out that Mirai is caught up in a cosmic game, where God has decided that he’s going to elevate a human to become the next God. 13 angels have been assigned to 13 chosen humans, and the last one left gets to be in charge of the universe.

Mirai says that he would be just content with normal happiness, but Nasse keeps pushing him to use his angel-given superpowers to manipulate and murder his way to having money and happiness. In a way, Platinum End seems more like a horror title than anything else, as Mirai wakes up from nightmares with horrific visions. The other contestants for godhood aren’t using their powers for good either, as one of them decides to disguise himself as a superhero and pick off his opponents one by one, killing a comedian who decides to use the love arrows to assault a group of women.

Platinum End is rated mature and aside from that, one could develop a drinking game centered on the number of panels where Nasse’s disembodied butt is hanging in the air randomly in many panels. The art from Obata is good as always. Overall, this was an interesting manga to read, but not very pleasant. It seems like Platinum End is going to be even darker in tone than Death Note, and that series was pretty dark. At the same time, seeing if Mirai’s inherent sense of morality is going to hold up to the temptation of godlike power is an interesting story to explore, even though it is thematically a bit too close to Death Note. I put this volume down feeling a bit cautious about this series. I’ll be curious to see if in the next couple volumes Platinum End develops into a manga that I’m looking forward to reading. If not, there’s always Death Note!

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Welcome to the Ballroom, Vol. 1

Welcome to the Ballroom Volume 1 by Tomo Takeuchi

The ballet manga Swan is one of my all-time favorites, and dance manga doesn’t get translated into english very often so I was very interested in checking out Welcome to the Ballroom, which has a shonen take on learning how to dance.

Like many shonen protagonists, Tatara Fujita is aimless and without purpose. When he’s saved from being bullied by Kaname Sengoku, Tatara is dragged along to a ballroom dance studio where he is part of a new student round-up campaign. Kaname yells at him, “Through dance, you can absolutely achieve your adolescent fantasies of touching someone’s body!” Conveniently Tatara discovers that Shizuku, a girl at his school has been taking dance classes at the same studio. Tatara is too self-conscious and poor to sign up for lessons, but later on at home he watches a dvd of ballroom dance performances and decides that he’s finally found something that he can care about.

When Tatara shows up at the studio again and announces to Kaname that he’s going to turn pro and wants to learn how to dance, he’s set up for some serious hazing. Kaname instructs his new student in the box step and tells him to practice until he is given permission to stop. Tatara practices all through the night and into the next morning. It turns out that while he isn’t great at following directions, if he sees a dance performed he can successfully mimic some advanced movements.

I enjoyed the art in this book, while the dancing doesn’t reach level of the ballet in Swan, the dance scenes are suitably dynamic. I was impressed at how Takeuchi handled the varying looks and somewhat split personality of Shizuku’s partner Hanaoka, who shifts from being a polished and commanding presence on the dance floor to a scruffy student with a cold. The contrast between the dancers in daily life and their costumes and bearing during competition showcases how ballroom dancing is an entirely new world.

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By the end of the volume, Tatara has found his purpose, started to practice with great devotion, and continued despite all of Kaname’s attempts to discourage him. It is possible to see the possibility that he might make it as a dancer, and I’m thoroughly enjoying seeing some of the shonen staple sports manga plot elements being applied to ballroom dance.

Kuroko’s Basketball, Vols. 1 and 2

Kuroko’s Basketball Volumes 1 and 2 by Tadatoshi Fujimaki

I enjoy a good sports manga, and this omnibus of the first couple volumes of Kuroko’s Basketball was entertaining, due to a unconventional protagonist.

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The manga opens with a bit of a prologue discussing an unbeatable team at Teiko Middle School that was split up and scattered as the team members, known as “The Miracle Generation”, all went to different high schools. While five players were the superstars, there were rumors of a shadowy sixth man who was actually the key to the team’s success. Flash forward to the present day at Seirin High School, all the clubs are out in force trying to recruit new members. Taiga Kagami is an intense first-year student with a superior attitude because he played basketball in the United States who signs up for the club. Tetsuya Kuroko, an unassuming student who formerly attended Teiko signs up for basketball as well.

Taiga is drawn to look a bit like Hanamichi from Slam Dunk, and while both characters share a brash personality and an abundance of natural talent, Taiga isn’t as idiotic as Slam Dunk’s protagonist. The fact that the manga is called Kuroko’s Basketball is a signal that the stereotypical idea of who the hero is in sports manga is going to be subverted a little bit. It turns out that Kuroko has a unique talent of appearing invisible when he’s playing basketball, which turns into an incredible advantage for the Seirin team, as he’s constantly overlooked and underestimated, only to make key passes and plays for all the other players on his team.

Kuroko’s unassuming nature is often played for laughs, as he frequently seems to pop out of nowhere when he’s just overlooked. His talent doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, as when he’s actually playing a game he is paying such close attention to everyone around him and adjusting in response to opposing players, that he can’t log a significant amount of minutes devoted to basketball invisibility without becoming exhausted. The first couple volumes shows the Seinen team coming together under their bossy girl coach Riko. She begins to get a sense that with Kuroko and Taiga on the team, she may be able to build the Seirin team into something special.

I feel like after reading Slam Dunk, the art for any other basketball manga is going to suffer in comparison, especially because as Slam Dunk wrapped up the art was so glorious. But comparing other manga artists to Inoue is like comparing people to Kirby, just fundamentally unfair. So I suffered a few involuntary pangs of wanting some mindblowing basketball action paneling in Kuroko’s Basketball, but on the whole, it was easy to follow all the action in the basketball games, and Kuroko’s deadpan expression is used effectively to provoke a variety of reactions in his teammates.

As this omnibus volume was wrapping up, a tournament style struggle is set up, with the Seiran team placed in a position where they are going to have to face off against other high school teams, each with a standout player from the Miracle Generation. Kuroko is now playing only for the love of the game, he comments that he didn’t want to play with anyone from his former team because they were so focused on winning at all costs, they weren’t truly appreciating basketball. The dynamic that will be explored in future volumes is if Kuroko’s abilities combined with his new team will actually mean that the sixth man will emerge triumphant. I have to say I’m very happy that with Kuroko’s Basketball, Haikyuu!!, and Yowamushi Pedal (which I haven’t read yet), there is a bumper crop of sports manga coming out in English right now.

Haikyu!!

Haikyu!! Volume 1 by Haruichi Furudate

I’m always curious to check out new sports manga, mostly because we tend to get so few licensed over here. Haikyu!! is a shonen volleyball title. I still have fond memories of the shoujo series Crimson Hero, so I was curious to see the world of volleyball manga yet again.

Shoyo Hinata saw a volleyball tournament when he was younger, where a shorter than average player made up for his height with some wonderful athleticism. Shoyo is determined to become an elite volleyball player, and he’s not going to let the fact that he’s the only member of his volleyball club in middle school stop his dreams. Eventually by his third year, Shoyo manages to put together a small team and play in a tournament, where he faces down Tobio Kageyama. Tobio is a star player, and he knows it, yelling at his teammates constantly and trying to win on his own. Shoyo loses, but displays a ton of heart in the process and manages to score some great points.

Fast forward to the following year, and it is no surprise that Shoyo and Tobio are starting on the same volleyball team in high school. The captain Daichi Sawamura immediately sees a problem with the two new rookies and tells them that they can’t even practice until they can work as a team. While undisciplined enthusiasm and athletic snobbery might not be the best thing for the disgraced former champion team of Karasuno High, Daichi thinks that they could be an unstoppable team if they are able to work together. Shoyo and Tobio have to earn their way back to the team by facing off against the other first-years.

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The art in Haikyu!! uses plenty of action and unconventional angles to display the tension of the volleyball game. Shoyo leaps all over the place for the ball, and Tobio tends to lurk around in a gloomy manner, then suddenly strike like a snake. The character designs are well-executed, with a large supporting cast all given distinct looks and personalities, making it easy to navigate the mass introductions that come with reading the first book of every series. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the upperclassmen on the team, who range from being able to give wise volleyball philosophical advice, to being knuckleheads. The dynamic between Shoyo and Tobio is interesting, because it is so antagonistic but it is clear that there’s a lot they can learn from each other. This first volume mainly served to set up the characters and their long road to a possible championship, but it was definitely entertaining.

My Hero Academia Vol 1

My Hero Academia Volume 1 by Hohei Horikoshi

So Viz has one hilarious send-up of the superhero genre in One-Punch Man. I was curious to see how the more mainstream and shonen take on the superhero genre would read. My Hero Academia seems to be gunning more for traditional western superhero genre, with the issue numbering rectangle on the top left of the cover just as you would expect from an American comic.

The set-up for My Hero Academia also reminded me of Tiger & Bunny a bit, in the way that super villains and superheroes are treated like an extension of celebrity culture. Over 80 percent of the world’s population has unusual abilities, or “quirks”. Like most shonen heroes, Izuku Midoriya is nothing special. He’s unusual in his ordinariness, as he is one of the few kids in his class at school who has no abilities. He’s picked on and bullied by the other kids in his class, but he’s determined to get into the hero training program somehow. Izuku has a fateful encounter with the superhero All Might, who looks like a slightly better proportioned Rob Liefeld character.

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It turns out that after All Might uses his power, his muscles deflate and he becomes a skeletal creature who suffers from a variety of physical problems. He can only sustain his power for three hours a day before he reverts into his normal form. All Might decides that it is time to pass along his power to a new person, and he picks Izuku, after witnessing Izuku take on a super villain with nothing but the determination to save someone else. Izuku is a pretty typical shonen hero in his determination to become a hero, but his immediate reaction when he sees someone in danger is to sacrifice himself. Although Izuku might have All Might’s power as a legacy, he has no idea how to control it.

Ikuzu winds up going to hero training school along with his school bully, and meets some other kids who are also determined to be heroes. Izuku’s lack of control of his new powers causes him to perform heroic acts with just his fingertip, because the power is too much for him. There’s a lot of set-up and story packed into this first volume, so I’m actually interested to see what happens next once all the characters and background are established. Horikoshi switches between different styles of characture with ease, and the contrast between All Might’s heroic and ordinary form is funny. Ikuzu spends most of this volume looking either incredibly hopeful and enthusiastic or absolutely terrified. The action scenes were for the most part easy to follow, but some of the paneling was a bit cluttered at times, and I think occasionally the art suffered a bit from being shrunk down from the original magazine format it was serialized in. My Hero Academia was quirky enough to appeal to me, and I’m generally picky about shonen series. I’ll see if the next few volumes continue to hold up well.