Monday, May 16, 2011

Kekkaishi Volumes 1-3

By Yellow Tanabe. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

It is a known fact that one simply cannot read everything. Oh, maybe it was possible back in the 1990s, when most things were still 32-page floppies, but these days there just isn't the time and the money. And so certain things get put aside. And then, after a while, when you discover that all your friends are talking about them, you go back and discover... hey, when did that get to be 33 volumes? Now, of course, it's too intimidating to try to read all that.

So Viz has taken to doing omnibuses. Unlike the fancy large-format VIZBIG works, these have no added extras or fancy color pages. In fact, the pages are actually of lesser paper, in order to make them thinner and fit them on the shelves. This is purely a case of 'we are re-releasing these in bunches of three to try to get more readers who didn't buy the first time'. They first did it with One Piece, and it seemed to work out well, so we now get four more omnibus re-releases. The super-popular Naruto, Bleach, and Fullmetal Alchemist... and this one, Kekkaishi, a Shonen Sunday title that just ended in Japan earlier this year.

Like most action-oriented Sunday titles of recent years, Kekkaishi never quite caught on sales-wise the way that Naruto and its fellow Jump titles did. It didn't get an anime premiere in North America until last year, and then it was on Adult Swim rather than Naruto and One Piece's kiddie slots. (Of course, one may argue that in the case of One Piece, having that slot is what killed it for North America.) Sales aren't bad exactly - it's still coming out on a bimonthly basis, which is more than I can say for Hayate the Combat Butler - but certainly an omnibus would be a good idea to show people why this manga deserves more attention.

The plot revolves around Yoshimori Sumimura, a demon hunter from a long line of demon hunters, who uses his powers to capture and eliminate rogue demons. He's helped in this by his familiar Madarao, a demonic dog spirit, and his childhood friend/crush/rival Tokine Yukimura, the daughter of a rival family of demon hunters, who's older than him and better at demon hunting - at least at first. Yoshimori has a huge amount of raw power, but tends to simply use it as a hammer most of the time. After a first chapter showing him as a rather reluctant hunter when he was a child, the manga picks up on him in 8th grade, after a rtaumatic incident left him with a much greater resolve to be a good demon hunter.

Except... what he *really* wants to be is a patissier. Yes, his lifelong ambition is to make cakes. The interesting thing about this is that it's not all that belittled or shown to be a mistake. Yes, he's a demon hunter *now*, but just because he inherited his family's ridiculous amount of power, does he have to let that drive his existence? What's more, for a 14-year-old, the boy's great at making cakes. Given so much of shonen manga is about dreams, it's great to see the manga portray his ambitions in a positive light.

I also really liked the heroine, Tokine. Making her two years older than Yoshimori is a great move, in that it allows her to be the one more in control and reserved - as well as allowing any feelings she may have for him to remain in the background. I've no idea whether romance will feature in this manga, but for the moment Tokine seems to simply see Yoshimori as an exasperating friend with a ton of power who doesn't use it all that well - which turns out to be the opposite of her own powers, which aren't all that colossal but are very precise. There's a great shot of the two of them separately training in an effort to surpass the other. And yes, inevitably there is a chapter that shows that Tokine is terrified of bugs, the standard "Oh look, she's human after all" type of thing. But it's funny.

The stories themselves in the three volumes we get here are very much meat-and-potatoes shonen, combining the monster-of-the-week with longer arcs that reveal more of the backstory behind the two main families. I particularly liked the attention that the villains received, with even the nastiest of them being shown great sympathy. Viz also has a solid translation here as well, though I did note that Yoshimori's familiar was referred to as female in the first volume - possibly as they hadn't read Volume 3 yet, where Tanabe-san reveals that he's male - and gay! Extra bonus points to Tanabe-san for a gay demon dog, something I think is unique to shonen so far.

There weren't any totally amazing moments in these first three volumes, but everything was very solidly good. For a shonen series that's just finding its feet, this is a triumph - most shonen series I can think of start off very slowly and awkwardly, not really getting into a groove until several volumes in. The characters are less eccentric than your standard Jump heroes, but I think that makes them more realistic and human. I definitely want to read more Kekkaishi after these three volumes, though, and urge Jump readers who are looking for a nice change of pace from ninjas and pirates to give it a shot as well.

1 comment:

  1. How I love Kekkaishi, let me count the ways...

    To be fair, I'm current with Viz's releases, and don't remember the first 3 volumes all that well, but it was a solid start for a shonen manga that gets better with every subsequent arc-something incredibly rare in manga.

    Yoshimori is a fun protagonist. He shares plenty of his traits with other shonen leads-over protective of his friends, recklessness, raw power without control-but he also resents being heir to the family business (not original) and would prefer to spend his time baking the ultimate castle cake! (Very original, at least in a manga that's not about food). His modern mentality is reflected in his sneakers. Sure, he wears the traditional costume of his kekkai-casting ancestors, but he wears sneaker and drinks coffee milk on the job. Other demon killing characters use cell phones and other modern amenities, mixing up the modern and traditional for a very cool effect!

    Tokine is a breath of fresh air. A heroine who is older, more disciplined and more mature than the male protagonist. Tanabe balanced out the expectation that the teen male protagonist has to possess the most raw power with a female protagonist who can hold her own despite that. Even in situations in which she's in distress her first move is to try to get herself out of the mess rather than wait around like a poor damsel who needs her prince to save her.

    The anime is my only caveat to potential Kakkaishi readers. The anime seems to have been made with a younger audience in mind, and the plot and characterizations come across as dumbed down in the interpretation. The animation is clunky and mediocre, every character and plot point is spelled out (literally, the screen is full of nametags every time a new character pops up), and the pacing could be better. I watch it because I already like the manga and the characters, but it probably would've worked better teamed up with Naruto on Disney XD or Dragon Ball Evolution on Nicktoons than [Adult Swim]. The manga is a much better launching point for anyone over 15.

    Thanks for the great review! I hope you get a chance to continue reading and enjoying this title!

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