Sunday, December 19, 2010

Toriko Volume 3

By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

In re-reading my review of the 2nd volume of Toriko, I seemed to be rather grumpy about it, feeling that it had lost a lot of the qualities I liked in the first one. This 3rd volume seems to correct that balance a bit - Toriko still seems to be a hammy jerk, but we see more of the sharp mind behind it, and his defense of a mother wolf and her newborn shows his kinder side.

One thing I liked a great deal is how this manga deals with Komatsu, its normal character. Like a lot of Jump manga, it sometimes seems like he's there to stand at the side of every battle and shout obvious commentary (see Beauty from Bobobo for the prime example). But this book reminds you that while Komatsu may be a complete weakling when it comes to capturing insanely dangerous food, he's not called a master chef for no reason - put carving knives in his hands, and he's a genius. He, rather than Toriko or Coco, is the one who saves the day and gets them their dish of puffer whale. More to the point, he *is* getting braver, if not stronger - when an entire arena flees from danger, Komatsu is asked why he's not running, and he notes that after traveling with Toriko this just seems normal to him now.

I also like the way the manga handles the animals we see. They're all super-special gene-crossed animal hybrids, but we have yet to find any cute talking rabbits or ferrets here. These are psychotically dangerous beasts, and they know it. And Shimabukuro's art shows us this, as without any need for dialogue he shows us the animals' smug ego, and their terror when meeting a fiercer predator. The shot of the newborn wolf on the 2nd to last page here is heartbreaking, and it's great how well that comes across.

That said, I wasn't especially pleased at seeing a fighting tournament when we've only got to Volume 3. Even if it was just animals fighting each other. It's become such a cliche of Shonen Jump series that I had hoped that the series could have avoided it and gone on another couple of epic quests - especially as we even get one set up here, with the GT Robot's devastation, but it's handled rather obliquely. And, of course, much as I admired Komatsu's development, this is at heart a bunch of muscular guys standing around going 'grah!'. Toriko is about the fights and the insane animals, but lacks a true heart as of yet.

Still, it has intrigued me enough to get me to pick up the next volume. It even introduced a female character! ...who's a total cliche. Sigh. Well, if you license a Jump series, you have to be prepared to get what is basically a Jump series. Toriko will not be breaking any rules or setting new boundaries. But it's pretty fun, especially for young teenage boys. And it's a huge hit in Japan, being one of the two series in 2008 to really take off (Bakuman being the other). It's even getting an anime this April. So definitely see if it's your cup of tea.

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