Blue Moon Reviews — Summer Fun with Shonen Jump

In this column I take a look at four entries from VIZ's Shonen Jump/Shonen Jump Advanced line-up, with mixed results. On the agenda are Tegami Bachi, Gin Tama, Waqwaq, and Naruto.

Grade: B-

Gauche Suede (yes, really) is employed as a Letter Bee in Amberground, a land of perpetual darkness. Letters are very important to the people of Amberground, who might be living far from their loved ones and unable to cross the dangerous wilderness between towns, and Gauche takes his job delivering them very seriously. When one of his letters turns out to be a young boy called Lag Seeing (yes, really), Gauche faithfully delivers the boy to his aunt, but on the way they battle a bevy of giant bugs and share some of each other's memories. The second chapter takes place five years later, with Lag on the way to becoming a Letter Bee himself.

Tegami Bachi is easily the most beautiful Shonen Jump manga I've ever seen. The cover is gorgeous and the artwork within is also very attractive, featuring a plethora of sparkly stars and a faithful canine companion who looks like she came straight out of xxxHOLiC. If this were merely the tale of Gauche and Lag traveling across a desolate, nocturnal landscape, pausing to admire the strange scenery while learning to trust each other—and there are moments like these—I'd probably love it quite a lot.

Unfortunately, each fellow is saddled with an angsty backstory of absurd proportions and the repeated emphasis on the importance of heart (some mix of sentiment and magical energy) gets old quickly. These flaws aren't enough to dissuade me from checking out volume two, but they do prohibit me from giving the series my unqualified endorsement.

Grade: D

After aliens invade Edo and pass a law outlawing swords, former samurai Gin Sakata, as The Story Thus Far puts it, “sets up shop as a yorozuya—an expert at managing trouble and handling the oddest of jobs.” In volume thirteen, these odd jobs take the form of a mother who is searching for the son who left home years before, a wife who is convinced that her husband is cheating on her, and a shopkeeper who needs Gin's help in a contest against some alien competition. There are also a couple of chapters featuring the wacky adventures of side characters.

I don't wish to offend fans of Gin Tama, but I must ask... what exactly is it that you see in this series?! I'm honestly confused, for I find it to be extraordinarily crude, unfunny, and pointless, with characters so unlikable they border on despicable. It required an effort of will to finish it. The art isn't bad—if one can look beyond what's actually being drawn, like flatulent old ladies and guys crapping themselves—but egads! Pass the mental soap, please.

Grade: C+

In a land known as Waqwaq, conflict between humans and machines has raged for centuries. Humans carve villages out of mountains and live in hiding while seven Guardians (humans who merge with friendly machines for the purpose of battle) take on the task of fighting the machines. Many pray for the return of the kami, a legendary being with red blood (the humans of Waqwaq have black blood) who is believed to have created humans and machines and who has the power to grant one person's wish. There are some who seek to manipulate this situation for their own good, like the shadowy figure who summons a teenage girl—evidently from our own world and time—and proclaims that she is the kami. He visits two of the Guardians and urges them to fight their brethren for the right to have their wish granted. And, apparently not suspicious of amorphous dudes who appear out of nowhere, they take the bait and try to claim the kami for themselves.

Standing in their way is the newest Guardian, Shio, who inherits his position when his father dies after defeating a particularly nasty conglomeration of machines. It's Shio who is tasked with protecting the kami and seeing her safely along her journey and Shio who begins to see the effect she has on the world—though she protests that she has no powers at all—when she is able to free a machine from its compulsion to attack humans.

If this plot sounds convoluted, that's because it is. There's a lot going on and Fujisaki's muddled art doesn't aid the reader's comprehension much; I still don't have a clear idea of what Shio's Guardian form looks like, for example. Even with its flaws, though, I found Waqwaq to be pretty interesting, especially the post-apocalyptic setting. I'll probably check out the second volume to see how the story develops.

Grade: C

It's been a really long time since I've read any Naruto. In the meantime, everyone got older and Sasuke went rogue, vowing revenge on the village of Konoha because of something bad that happened to his brother in the past. As the volume starts, he and some other folks are trying to capture a guy called Killer Bee, whose possession by an Eight-Tailed Beast allows him to transform into a bull-headed octupus... thing. Meanwhile, Naruto is receiving lessons on a new source of chakra from little amphibious guy. The rest of the volume is mostly a lot of people I've never seen before talking about things I don't understand. Oh, and Konoha gets attacked.

The one thing I was reminded of most while reading this volume was a Saturday morning cartoon. And really, that's exactly what Naruto was intended to be: entertainment for young boys. For an adult like me, and a female one at that, it's kind of fun to pop in for a volume and see what's going on, but I can't imagine reading this series regularly. If you want to see ninja frogs or Sasuke's monumental levels of angst, this volume's worth checking out, but definitely don't go into it expecting much to make sense.

Review copies provided by VIZ.

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