Call of the Night Vol 1

Call of the Night Volume 1 by Kotoyama

I’m always a little curious about Shonen Sunday titles, as they tend to be a little more sophisticated than Shonen Jump manga so I was intrigued by the idea of a shonen vampire romance like Call of the Night. Ko Yamori starts out by being the typical hapless shonen protagonist but he’s isolated and has just started having terrible insomnia. He’s not attending school regularly and one night he slips out of his house and starts wandering around in the middle of the night while searching up ideas for insomnia cures on his phone. Seeing many people posting about the benefits of alcohol he stands in front of a vending machine contemplating buying a beer when he’s suddenly accosted by a mysterious blond girl in a cloak who says she can help him if he’s having trouble sleeping. She brings Ko back to her place to crash, and he quickly discovers that his new acquaintance is a vampire named Nazuna.

Call of the Night

Ko finds the idea of becoming a vampire immediately intriguing but Nazuna finds the topic incredibly embarrassing because the only way for a human to become a vampire is to fall in love with one and let that vampire drink from them. Ko is determined to make this happen, and while Nazuna likes to joke about sex, the idea of any type of emotional intimacy is something that she shies away from. Ko and Nazuna keep finding each other in the middle of the night and hanging out. There’s an undercurrent of loneliness to this manga that makes it a little more interesting and poignant than I was expecting, as Ko and Nazuna keep seeking each other out. Ko’s not done with the human world though, as he reconnects with an old friend of his who encourages him to go back to school. Kotoyama’s art is stylized and angular, making the world of the night seem more mysterious. I definitely felt intrigued by the end of the first volume and I’m curious to see how this relationship will develop over time.

Blue Flag Vol. 3

Blue Flag Volume 3 by KAITO

Blue Flag continues to be an incredibly nuanced and introspective look at teenage life with an unconventional love quadrangle that shows characters intersecting in different ways, producing moments of self-reflection. As the volume opens Taichi has redeemed himself from a trauma in his childhood by saving a kitten from being struck by a car – only for his old friend Toma to break his leg saving Taichi. Toma’s stuck in the hospital and unable to lead his high school team to victory in the baseball championships but one of the biggest conflicts in this volume isn’t due to physical pain as Taichi’s crippling insecurity causes him to lash out at the people around him. Having an event that he genuinely feels guilty about causes him to feel even worse about himself.

Blue Flag Volume 3

Toma betrays his own feelings when Taichi comes to apologize, saying that Taichi’s life is more important than baseball and then attempts to cover it up by saying that Taichi is his best friend. Taichi is so used to comparing himself to Toma unfavorably that he’s not even able to really process this information, and it seems like his insecurity is preventing him from acknowledging the genuine friendship that Toma is offering. Taichi even lashes out at Futuba when she attempts to comfort him, pointing out that he’s only a means to an end for her crush on Toma. Masumi steps in to help Futuba process her feelings for both Taichi and Toma, but I hope in future volumes she gets a little more of the spotlight herself, instead of being a default teenage relationship counselor for the other kids.

Throughout this volume KAITO’s art portrays teenage drama and introspective moments with the same amount of facility and care. While there are plenty of dramatic incidents in each volume as the protagonists start trying to figure out who they are and what they want in terms of romantic relationships, it is clear to see that they are moving forward. While Taichi’s self-loathing is still ensnaring him he’s still moving forward in terms of having more of a genuine connection with other people than he’s had before. I’m hoping that these friendships help him feel better about himself and his place in the world as the series develops.

Chainsaw Man, Vol 1

Chainsaw Man Volume 1 by Tatsuki Fujimoto

Monster or demon hunting manga is a fairly common shonen manga scenario, but Chainsaw Man keeps it fresh, thanks to the introduction of chainsaws!? Actually Denji starts out in such a difficult situation, it is hard not to sympathize with him. He’s sold off some of his organs like his eye and he struggles every day to piece together a meager living from monster hunting, helped out by his pet demon dog Pochita who manages to look adorable despite having a chainsaw for a nose. Denji dreams of the day that he’ll have enough money to actually put jam on the slice of bread that makes up most of his meals, but it wouldn’t be the first volume of a shonen manga if there weren’t some powered up surprises in store for the hero.

There’s a level of off-kilter humor in Chainsaw Man that I find endearing. I found Denji heading into the woods to cut trees with his dog’s chainsaw nose extremely amusing. When Denji tells Pochita that if anything happens to him, the demon is free to take over his body and live his best life, his dog unexpectedly answers saying “I’ll give you my heart, in exchange show me your dreams.” Denji wakes up with his wounds from a recent attack healed, and a chainsaw pull sticking out of his chest. In some illustrated action sequences that show an impressive command of body horror, Denji cuts his way out of a pile of demons do to his sudden ability to manifest chainsaws on the top of his head and one of his arms. An attractive girl accompanied by additional agents suddenly appears and gives him a hug and introduces herself as a devil hunter for public safety. Makita offers him the choice to be slain as a demon or live as her pet, and she’s willing to provide incredibly yummy breakfasts.

Denji has difficulty integrating into his new Public Safety Demon Hunter squad, with some altercations with a new rival, and some funny slice of live scenes that showcase his unending devotion to jam at breakfast. There’s also plenty of juvenile humor as once Denji has the basics of food and shelter secured he promptly decides that his next mission in life is to touch some boobs. Overall, I found the monster fighting, buckets of gore, and humor in Chainsaw Man plenty amusing. Denji is an incredibly damaged but potentially powerful hero, so I’m definitely intrigued by seeing him chainsaw his way through further adventures.

Blue Flag, Vol 1

Blue Flag Volume 1 by KAITO

It is fair to say that I read plenty of manga, but now and then I read a series that is just so well executed that it feels incredibly refreshing. I knew Blue Flag had plenty of fans, and I was excited to read it when I heard that it was licensed, but my high expectations were surpassed by the first volume.

The volume opens with some character introductions that remind most readers of standard characters, but the insightful look into Taichi’s inner thoughts as he starts a new school year plays against readers expecting something more stereotypical. Taichi has a small friend group, who all look like they came out of a shonen playbook of nerd 101. He’s fairly content with remaining under the radar at school, but something quickly breaks him out of his usual routine. Taichi’s elementary school friend Toma is going to be in Taichi’s class for the first time in several years. Taichi and Toma are opposites in many ways. Taichi is short and has hair that seems to defy any grooming attempt. Toma is tall, athletic, and extremely popular, but his effortless way of making friends is the result of him being genuinely nice rather than anything overly calculated. Taichi’s friends consider Toma to be a different species than them, and are mystified that Toma keeps popping up to keep randomly talk to Taichi even though Taichi claims that they aren’t close anymore.

Taichi seems to have a special kind of antipathy to Futuba Kuze, a girl in his class who is painfully shy and clumsy. He starts to realize that he’s reminded of his own failings when he looks at her, because she’s similar to him. After an incredibly awkward chance encounter in the library, Futuba asks Taichi for advice because she has a crush on Toma. He thinks that any help he would provide would be useless, but she’s incredibly determined, following up with any random reference that Taichi tosses out. Eventually Taichi agrees to serve as Futuba’s spectacularly uninformed tutor in the ways of teen romance. Taichi is brutally realistic with Futuba about her chances of attracting Toma, but she’s not fazed by the idea that she isn’t his type. Eventually Taichi and Futuba strike up an odd friendship as he keeps trying to draw her in to his usual interactions with Toma. Blue Flag is invested with a ton of emotional resonance as the characters investigate childhood games, deal with homework, and share memories. Futuba explains to Taichi that one of the reasons she’s been nursing a crush towards Toma is that when he accidentally knocked down her plant in the school garden with a stray baseball, he returned every day until it was healthy again.

Towards the end of the volume, the reader gets a sense of what is actually happening in Toma’s head and the realization that the love story that’s unfolding is going to be much more complex and surprising than one would think. Blue Flag rewards the re-reader, who will be able to go back and detect hints in the body language and attitudes of the characters. This is by far one of the most promising shonen series I’ve read in a long time, and the focus on the emotional complexity of teenage live reminded me a bit of Cross Game. I highly recommend Blue Flag, and I’m impatiently waiting for the next volume.

Jujutsu Kaisen, Vol. 1

Jujutsu Kaisen Volume 1 by Gege Akutami

Fending off supernatural threats is a shonen staple, so how does Jujutsu Kaisen stack up? It very much felt like an early effort from a mangaka, which it is, but the first volume has a few flashes of humor and a central premise that is both disgusting and entertaining.

jujutsu kaisen volume 1

Yuji Itadori is a teenager who enjoys hanging out with the occult club despite his superhuman strength and speed. He’s being targeted for his athletic abilities by the track coach, but manages to maintain his new supernatural hobby by winning a bet about his shot put abilities. Megumi Fushiguro, a student from another school with actual occult abilities, is investigating the presence of a cursed object when he encounters Yuji and his new friends. It turns out that the occult club has gotten their hands on an artifact that is actually quite cursed, and Yuji and Megumi have to team up to save his friends from demonic destruction. Along the way, Yuji casually eats a demonic finger in order to get cursed energy to fend off the evil spirits. This ends up giving Yuji a semi-manageable case of spirit possession, but also makes him useful to demon hunters because he’s basically a walking container for cursed objects, as long as he eats them. There’s a particular demon who is the source of the cursed digits, and Yuji is going to join a team hunting down the relics of the evil Sakuna.

The art throughout this volume is serviceable but a bit rough, there’s little mobility in the characters’ facial expressions and while the action scenes are easy to follow they’d be a lot more entertaining with some shifts in perspective or more dynamic paneling. I’m curious to see if the art improves more as the series continues to develop. The demons do look appropriately freaky and scary.

Yuji’s motivations for fighting demons are introduced with a lack of subtly. Then again, I guess one does not expect delicately and subtle plot points from a Shonen Jump manga. There were a few moments that I thought were hilarious enough to be engaging. When Yuji is figuring out how many digits he is going to have to consume, the total number is high due to a surprising reason which is tossed off in casual conversation. I also enjoyed Yuji’s low-key approach to performing dramatic physical feats. The end of the volume sets up the new occult fighting team and their sparsely populated high school that has a curriculum dedicated to fighting evil, and it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. Ultimately this first volume reminded me that sometimes one has to give a manga two volumes before deciding to follow a series or not, and that is what I’ll be doing with Jujutsu Kaisen.