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.

Dr. Stone, Vol. 1

Dr. Stone Volume 1 by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi

Dr. Stone is a shonen series that is entertaining due to the combination of post-apocalyptic setting and mad scientist hero. The first chapter opens with overly enthusiastic high schooler Taiju vowing to confess his love to the girl he’s had a crush on for the past five years. His cynical scientist friend Senku wishes him well in a backhanded fashion. Just as Taiju is about to launch into his confession a mysterious light appears in the sky and all the people in the world get turned into stone, frozen in place for several thousand years.

When Taiju wakes up again, he comes to in an overgrown area littered with stone fragments of people. He wanders around and sees one of his most powerful classmates, Tsukasa, also frozen in place. Senku pops up and tells Taiju that he overslept terribly, because he’s been awake and on his own for the past year and a half. Senku is determined to restart civilization, but he needs additional help, and Taiju is going to serve as the muscle in his scientific endeavors. Senku has a habit of making grand pronouncements about the rate of his ability to reconstruct stone-age scientific discoveries by yelling “Get Excited!”

There’s certainly a lot of yelling, naked men wearing leaves, and hazardous attacks from both animals and other survivors in Dr. Stone, but I enjoyed the emphasis on adventures driven by ancient science. The dynamic between the two protagonists, with one of them being super smart and the one mainly having enthusiasm on his side also set up plenty of amusing side scenes in between all the fighting and scrabbling for survival. I tend to not always be that enthusiastic about non-sports shonen manga, but I was definitely intrigued by the first volume of this series.

Dr Stone

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, Vol 1

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, Volume 1 by Kagiji Kumanomata

This manga was an unexpected delight. I was initially curious about Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle due to it being a Shonen Sunday title, which is a bit of a rarity. I feel like fantasy comedy series can be a bit hit or miss, but I found this title quite entertaining, mostly due to the way it subverts the whole idea of kidnapped princesses.

Syalis is the kidnapped princes in question and while the people in her kingdom pine for her and a idiotic knight vows to rescue her at the start of each chapter, she is solely concerned with getting some good rest. The demon castle lacks high quality pillows and bedding, and she is determined to secure what she needs by any means necessary. Syalis casually embarks on a reign of terror in the castle as she locates unique demons to use for her own purposes. She harvests fur from her guards, who look like fluffy teddy bears. She locates giant scissors and cuts off the body of ghosts in order to get some high quality fabric. Throughout most of the manga, her facial expressions are totally stoic, in contrast to the demons who are being driven frantic by her casual escape attempts. She also seems to have a knack for finding rare magical objects and repurposing them as sleep aids. There’s really only one joke in this manga, but it is executed very well. The unique character designs of the demons and the expanding cast of characters keeps the manga entertaining, even though the plot points in each chapter are so similar. I’m not sure how long the central joke can be sustained, as this series lasts for several volumes, but the first volume was so entertaining I’m definitely going to give it a try.

The Promised Neverland, Vol 1

The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu

This series is one of more intriguing debuts that I’ve read from the Shonen Jump line in a long time. It is also a very difficult series to write about due to a pretty dramatic plot twist that happens around 40 pages into the manga, but I’m going to be deliberately vague and avoid spoilers.
The series opens with a semi-idyllic portrayal of life in an orphanage in what looks like a non-specific European country. Emma, Norman, and Ray are some of the oldest orphans, and each is gifted with some special talents. Emma is a tremendous athlete, Norman is incredibly smart, and Ray is a strategic thinker who is constantly honing his powers of observation. The orphans are cared for by a woman named Mom, who they all love as the only adult in their lives. As the first few pages unfold, small details in the art start to unsettle the reader. Why do all the orphans have numeric sequences tattooed on their necks? Why do they all have to dress in white? Why are they subjected to what looks like insanely detailed IQ tests in the morning, and then given the freedom to roam around the woods that surround the orphanage in the afternoon?

The orphans make a discovery that causes them to question the environment that they’ve been raised in, and their unique personalities and perspectives cause them to band together to start to assess their situation and develop a plan of action. While Emma is smart, one of the greatest things she brings to the team is moral clarity and a sense of urgency. The two boys are more cerebral, with Norman being more book smart, and Ray serving as a mastermind who is initially focused most on what is practical to accomplish. This volume focuses mainly on the orphans testing their assumptions and working together to figure out how The Promised Neverland doesn’t really live up to the fairy-tale aspects of the title. The art in the series features faces that are a but smushy, but very expressive of emotion. Emma’s hairstyle looks like a reference to Duck in Princess Tutu, so I found that amusing. The Promised Neverland is incredibly dark, but seeing how resourceful the orphans are brings an element of hope into play for the reader. The first volume of the series easily draws the reader into the sinister world the orphans are resisting. Extremely entertaining, and I’m already impatient for the next volume.

Art of Pokemon Adventures

The Art of Pokemon Adventures by Satoshi Yamato

The young children in my house have firmly moved on to Yu-Gi-Oh from Pokemon, so this book did not immediately get stolen which is sometimes what happens with the manga that arrives in my house like Haikyu! or Kuroko’s Basketball.

However, as an art book I do think this would appeal to Pokemon Adventure fans. It is a solid book with full-color illustrations printed on glossy paper, with plenty of fold-out posters. Along with the finished art, plenty of sketches are included so the reader can get a sense of how the drawings evolved from idea to finished illustration. Line art is also included, as well as a couple sample panel layouts and some color guides for the characters. The librarian in me appreciated that an index was included in the back of the book, so all the illustrations can be matched up with the manga that they originally appeared in. A bonus short manga chapter concludes the volume. I thought the production quality of this volume was solid, it made me think I should check out other Viz art books.