Manga in Minutes: Heroman, Vol. 1

(Here's a new column from a neat manga critic, Ken - Brian)

Heroman, Vol. 1Created by Tamon Ohta, Original Concept by Stan Lee and BonesVertical, 195 ppRating: Not Rated

From American comics legend Stan Lee, and Bones, the anime studio behind series such as Eureka Seven and Full Metal Alchemist, comes Heroman. Tamon Ohta handles the manga adaption of the gleefully retro feeling anime series about a boy, his toy robot and an alien invasion.

I have to admit that when Heroman was originally announced I was a bit skeptical of the whole thing. While Stan Lee is often credited as one of the co-creators of many of America's beloved superheroes, he really hasn't done anything memorable in the last decade or so. In addition to this, his first project with a Japanese creator, Karakuridoji Ultimo, was met with a resounding yawn by American audiences. While my own toe dipping into the series yielded a pleasant surprise, I have found myself putting off buying subsequent volumes in favor of other series. Still, when the Heroman anime began streaming on Crunchyroll I decided to give it a chance, and I was very glad I did. The anime was a lovely, pure superhero story that was reminiscent of the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth; a young hero, Joey Jones, pure in his desire to help and protect people, ruthless insectoid aliens known as the Skrugg with insane plans of world domination and more. While the series lagged a bit in the middle, the beginning and closing arcs were a lot of fun. So, naturally, when Vertical announced that they'd be bringing over the manga I was determined to give it a look.

The manga does follow in the anime's footsteps and the basic plot is the same. Young Joey Jones is from a poor family and struggles to help support his elderly grandmother by taking up a waitering job while also attending high school. After finding and repairing a broken toy robot he and the toy are struck by a mysterious lightning bolt, which causes the toy robot to tranform into the massive robot known as Heroman. It's a timely transformation, too, as the earth finds itself under threat from the Skrugg invasion shortly after. Scattered throughout the manga are a few twists and turns to the anime's basic plot. These include the addition of a group of Skrugg "special forces" soldiers based upon different insects, and an enchanted suit of samurai armor. While not major changes, they do provide little tweaks and twists for those who may already be familiar with the story. Sadly, the translation, something that's not usually a problem with a Vertical manga, is a bit of an awkward, stilted read at times. There are several lines of dialogue which are just weird sounding, and I found that Joey's constant referral to Heroman as H.M. threw of the rhythm of several heroic and dramatic moments.

Tamon Ohta's artwork is true to the original and the new characters and villains introduced fit in seamlessly with the established characters. The Skrugg "special forces" he introduces in the second half of the book look right at home next to the alien foot soldiers and also seem to echo, and possibly foreshadow, certain characters and developments from the anime series as well. The action scenes aren't quite as explosive or as elaborate as I'd like, but Heroman's attacks are suitably energetic. All that said, there's just something a little bit bland about it. It just feels like there's a little extra oomph that's missing from it, leaving the artwork with a solid, but unspectacular feeling.

I had high hopes for the Heroman manga, perhaps too high. While it's not quite as exciting or fun as I had hoped, it was still a fairly enjoyable read whose weakest link seemed to be the awkward writing. The slightly old school, superhero vibe of the story was nice and it seems like something that has potential to hit it off with American superhero fans, and fans of Japanese super robots.

Heroman, Vol. 1 is available from Vertical Inc.

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