Older teen and adult manga comes to the shores once again on Manga Island, with the controversial manga “Air Gear,” and the manga version of “Old Boy” that inspired the movie adaptation. Violence and adult situations abound in both of these books, but for manga fans looking for fantastic urban fantasy or gritty realism (respectively), these two books are not to be missed.
I have to admit that after seeing how laughable and un-scary rollerblading villains were in the Aerosmith arcade game “Revolution X,” and several failed “Extreme” rollerblading movies, I was a little hesitant to check out “Air Gear.” I really enjoy Oh!Great’s art and storytelling and the internet buzz on this book was out of control, so I decided to check out what all the fuss was about (figuring for every “Revolution X” there had to be a cooler “Jet Grind Radio” type of game.) I’m extremely happy that I did. The book is clearly geared towards older teens and does have a few ESPN 2 style scenes, but it is great fun for action/adventure enthusiasts looking for some urban drama and a little sports styled fantasy mixed in with their gang wars and fanservice.
“Air Gear” volume 1 introduces us to the tough and arrogant Itsuki Minami, a punk who has carved a niche out at his high school for being the toughest around. Known as the “Babyface” (for his looks and the fact that “babyface” is a term for hero in pro-wrestling lingo) of the Eastside, he has stood up to the Westside punks and their gangster connections, until he attracts the attention (and ire) of a roller blading gang called the Skull Saders. The Skull Saders are known to be ruthless and their Air Treck (the ultra cool and ultra powerful rollerblades they use for travel and combat) skills are legendary. When Itsuki is mercilessly beaten by the Skull Saders, he is helped out by the another well known gang, the Sleeping Forest, who just happen to include his roommates, the Noyamano sisters (who are more like sisters to him as well). It is up to Itsuki to swallow his pride and accept both their help and the Air Trecks they give him. It is hard for him to accept that his roommates could be the infamous Sleeping Forest gang. However after training to get revenge on the Skull Saders, and seeing them in action, Itsuki finds that not only are they a force to be reckoned with, but there is also a lot more going on beneath the surface of the gang wars. This sets up mystery for future volumes, which I am anxious to see played out.
Oh!Great once again knocks it out of the park in the art dept. His action sequences are top notch and the rollerblading adventure flows fluidly and at a fast pace. His highly detailed art style, combining tons of fanservice with intense action are the hallmarks of a typical Oh!Great manga, and “Air Gear” doesn’t disappoint. Even though Oh!Great concentrates on setting up highly detailed characters and backgrounds, he is not above the occasional super deformed facial features and cartoony comedy moments that are the hallmarks of manga. These elements blend well with the rest of the art. He also has a keen graphic design sense, as established by the logos and the uniforms of the gangs and the various Air-Treck paraphernalia and advertising.
It is hard to just review “Air Gear” without delving into some of the controversy surrounding the book and the author’s previous book “Tenjho Tenge”; perhaps making Oh!Great’s “Air Gear” one of the most anticipated and controversial books to come out this year. Hot on the heels of one of the most talked about censoring cases on otaku forums the world over, in the form of CMX’s “Tenjho Tenge,” manga fans were cautiously optimistic over the fact that Del Rey had acquired the book. The author is notorious for over the top violence and fanservice, and even though “Air Gear” is toned down from the aforementioned “Ten-Ten” (as “Tenjho Tenge is affectionately known by its fans), skepticism from the online community waited to see how the book would be treated by Del Rey. Known for putting out manga that is unedited and uncensored, fans waited to see how the manga would fare. The good news was that the book came out looking gorgeous with all the artwork intact, however there is some bad news for the fans in that some dialog relating to the subject of rape is toned down in the first printing of the book. Since this dialog is important to further developments in the book, the hardcore fans questioned (and sometimes ranted to) Del Rey. In an unprecedented move by a manga publisher, Del Rey’s Director of Manga, Dallas Middaugh has confirmed that the second printing of the book will contain dialog that more closely matches the author’s original intent.
Between the hot girls and hot action, “Air Gear” is a manga that should be on the list of must-haves for every shonen manga lover. Book 1 sets up a great foundation, with our hero taken down and slowly battling back, and an ending with new characters an mysterious beginnings. Del Rey includes their usual high quality extras and translation notes (I hate to say, I almost take for granted how well they do their books these days, certainly a high mark in manga publishing) I’m anxiously awaiting more of the series which, for me, has lived up to the hype.
The story of “Old Boy’s” mysterious protagonist begins with his incarceration in a one room hotel-like cell for ten years. He has no recollection of why someone would want him imprisoned and no clue why he is released back into the slums of Tokyo, but it is now up to him to find out. When he befriends a young girl in the outside world, it seems as if his luck is changing, and he enlists her aid in finding out who his former captors were, and what business they had incarcerating him in the first place. After ten years of training his body, with nothing but a TV and his guards to keep him company he has become a lethal combination of physicality and resourcefulness. His focus is narrow, but he still has a heart, and a longing to put together his past.
The team of writer Garon Tsuchiya and artist Nobuaki Minegishi work well together when weaving this tale of revenge. Minegishi’s artwork at times reminds me of manga classics like Eagle and Silent Service, classics in their own rights. He is able to deftly draw both realistic people and urban landscapes, and is the perfect draftsman for this tale of isolation and revenge.
Even after seeing the movie, the manga kept me captivated, and interested in seeing how this version plays out. I have to warn readers who aren’t familiar with the film that this tale is not for the faint of heart. If it plays out remotely like the movie, there are more than a few gut-wrenching twists throughout. However, if your tastes run to works like “Sin City,” Tarantino movies, and Richard Stark (a.k.a.Donald Westlake) novels and adaptations, you owe it to yourself to pick up this release. Dark Horse once again handles this more adult material very well, and the printing art direction and translation is top notch. Sound effects are kept intact and translated where need be, along with unobtrusive notations placed where they are needed. It seems as if Dark Horse knows its audience and delivers another compelling adult epic for the manga and comics fan looking for a bit more than typical shonen fare.
No matter what your age, there is plenty of action and adventure to be had in manga lately, and these two titles are certainly ones I will be following for the near future. Now that things here on Manga Island have smoothed out, I hope to bring you many more dispatches from the shores and even more coverage of the manga influenced books coming from the publishers on the Western shores of the Island (I’ve read some great ones lately!). Until then, keep reading, as there are plenty of great titles to check out. As always feel free to write with recommendations, and keep up the discussions in the CBR manga forums, I hope to hear from you soon.
Publisher: Del Rey
Volumes: 1 (of 14+)
Rating: Older Teen 16+ for action, violence, and sexual content (including allusions to rape)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Volumes: 1 (of 8)
Rating: Mature for violence and adult themes and sexual situations
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out now. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.