It has been a good while since I indulged in some shonen manga so today I take quick looks at Soul Eater volume 2 and Slam Dunk volume 8.
People might remember that I had a number of issues with the first volume of Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo. The second volume corrects two major problems that makes this a much more engaging and flat-out readable comic for me. First, the fanservice is toned down to almost nothing (really just one page of group female nudity, but that one page is minor compared to the excesses of the first volume) and second, the two main protagonists’ characterization and roles are much more fully developed.
The second volume of Soul Eater allows Maka, the “meister,” and Soul, her weapon, or “scythe,” to develop personalities instead of shrill one-note reactions in their attempts to become proficient in “reaping” the souls of bad people. (Serial killers and nasty witches and the like are their usual targets). This volume pits them against Dr. Franken Stein, a creepily amusing “villain,” who ends up being more a learning experience for Maka and Soul rather than a real opponent. As Maka and Soul work together more and more I am starting to see a solid foundation develop to help move the story forward — not only through action but also through some breakthroughs in emotional maturity. I was particularly interested in the way Soul puts his own life in danger by offering himself as not only a weapon for Maka to wield, but by becoming her shield as well. When Soul ends up sacrificing more than Maka bargained for in order to keep her safe, their dynamic gives some much needed substance to this style-heavy comic.
Although Soul Eater is slowly building characters that we can care about or even root for, as a whole things are certainly moving in the right direction.
The eighth volume of Slam Dunk almost reads like the most awesome after school special ever — if after school specials offered high school basketball as the answer to juvenile delinquency. I had originally been a little taken aback by the title’s sudden turn to gang violence in volumes 6 and 7 and missed the self-absorbed antics of slam dunker-wannabe Hanamichi. Well, I should have had more faith in Takehiko Inoue because all roads lead back to dreams of basketball greatness in this title.
Finally, the vicious beat-down of members of the basketball team by a bunch of angry thugs comes to an abrupt end when Hanamichi unleashes his fists of fury. Once the tide turns it is revealed that one of the instigators of the fight actually used to be on the team. Like most nasty villains he really just wants love…not from a person but from the sport that he believes has left him behind. Inoue launches one of those great sports-team origin flashbacks that show how Akagi evolved into the player who could become Captain, giving us a portrait of his Hanamichi-esque days as a newly minted player (i.e. big and clumsy with enough raw talent to power a big city). You can also see the seeds for Inoue’s other great basketball series, REAL, being sown with this volume’s emphasis on physically and psychically disabling injury and the possibility for redemptive recovery.
The eighth volume of this series is a fine return to form after a bit of a departure in subject and tone. Even two and a half volumes structured around the characters’ juvenile delinquency exploits can’t hide the characters and creator’s love of basketball.
Review copies provided by the publisher.