Saturday, September 29, 2012

Code:Breaker (manga, vol. 1) by Akimine Kamijyo

Code:Breaker is an on-going shounen manga series, although I haven't been able to confirm that new volumes are still being released in English (the first couple volumes were published by Del Rey). An anime adaptation will begin airing in Japan in just a few days.

Synopsis:

Everyone who sees Sakura assumes she's exactly what she looks like: delicate, elegant, graceful, and well-mannered. Every guy at school can't help but think "she's the kind of girl I'd like to protect"...except Sakura doesn't need their protection and isn't the slightest bit interested in their protestations of love. When she spots a mystery no one else seems to be paying attention to, she latches on and doesn't let go.

That mystery involves a murder Sakura is convinced she witnessed. Although police say it was just a campfire, Sakura is sure she saw several gang members get burned alive by blue flames. Only one person was still alive in those flames - and that person, Rei Oogami, turns out to be a new transfer student at her high school.

In public, Rei is a cheerful, seemingly normal teenage boy, who just happens to wear a black glove on his left hand. In private, he's much more menacing. When Sakura witnesses him burn several more gang members alive using blue flames that came from his left hand, she's not sure what to think. On the one hand, Rei's bloodthirstiness is terrifying, and there's a strong possibility he's a much a villain as any of those gang members. On the other hand, there was a moment that made her wonder if there might still be some humanity in him. Sakura becomes determined to get to the bottom of the mystery that is Rei Oogami and, hopefully, stop him from killing more people.

Review:

This review was requested by x3amykawaiix3, who may unfortunately be disappointed by my lukewarm reaction. This first volume of Code:Breaker wasn't necessarily bad, but had very little that made me want to continue reading.

The mystery surrounding Rei and what Code:Breakers and Deviant Breeds are should, in theory, have inspired me to want to know more. The difference between Rei when he's trying to act like an ordinary high school boy and Rei when he's being a merciless killer is remarkable – he's so hard to read that it's tough to say for sure whether his small kindnesses towards dogs and children were true kindness or inspired by something else. His vague explanation about Code:Breakers, that they're “nonexistent” and can't be punished by the law, imply that he's working for powerful people, but this first volume only shows readers the barest sliver of whatever is backing Rei's actions. At this point, it looks like he gets ordered to go out and kill people, with no restrictions put on him. If other people die while he's going after his true targets, well okay then.

Of course, Rei is no ordinary assassin – he has that hand of fire, after all. There are indications that Sakura may unknowingly have some connection to the organization Rei works for, and she may also have special abilities of her own (Rei can't burn her with his fire). At this point I am...still only mildly interested.

Part of the problem, I think, is that Kamijyo lets readers know some of what was up fairly early on, and then doesn't move things much further for the rest of the volume. The basic template is this: Sakura bursts in on some bad guys who laugh and indicate they will do Bad Things to her. There is a quick demonstration of their willingness to do bad things to other decent people (or animals). Rei appears and kills all the bad guys, painfully, after saying “An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. And evil for evil.” Sakura can do nothing but feel horrified and outraged at the murders he has just committed. It was somewhat repetitive, so, if I do continue on with this series, I hope that Kamijyo shakes things up.

And also lays off the emotional manipulation a little. I sniffled a bit after the scene with the first quivering dog, thought Kamijyo cheated with the introduction of the second quivering dog, and was completely unmoved when the drug-addicted guy was dragged on-page and dropped a cellphone featuring a photo of his formerly happy family, complete with adorable munchkin.

One thing I did like about this volume was the way Kamijyo poked fun at the potential for romance between Sakura and Rei. Sakura's intense focus on Rei and determination to keep him from hurting others is frequently mistaken by her classmates for romantic interest. When another guy tries to fight Rei for Sakura's affections, Sakura puts herself bodily between them. Everyone around them thinks she has feelings for Rei and is trying to protect him, when, in reality, she's worried that Rei might kill anyone who tries to hurt him. The mismatch between what everyone thinks is going on and what's really going on is worth a laugh.

At the moment, I'm not sure if I'll continue with this series. I think it has the potential to grow more interesting, but this first volume didn't really grab me.

Extras:

There are a couple pages with short gag comics and comments from Kamijyo. There are also a couple pages of translation notes. These might more accurately be called "Japanese culture notes," since they cover stuff like the significance of transfer students in Japanese high school dramas, school lockers, and the whole "Sakura's walking three steps behind Rei!" thing.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Death Note (manga) story by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata; Death Note (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another mystery series starring an anti-hero who kills criminals and acts like he's above the law might want to try this. The anime is a bit cheesier than the manga, but both are darker (in terms of overall tone) than Code:Breaker so far seems to be, although I'd vote for Code:Breaker as having more on-page violence.
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - This is another series starring an anti-hero whose intentions aren't necessarily bad, but who has a tendency to destroy anyone in his path, even if they don't necessarily deserve it. I'd say this series is more of a serious sci-fi drama - don't expect anything like Code:Breaker's humor.
  • Darker Than Black (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another series starring an assassin who seems to be a strange combination of pitiless and soft-hearted might want to try this. Again, not much in the way of humor, but quite a bit of action. Plus, the various characters have fascinating abilities (and drawbacks that come with those abilities).
  • Parasyte (manga) by Hitoshi Iwaaki - When I tried to think of something that best fit Code:Breaker's overall tone, this was what came to mind. The main character's right arm is taken over by an alien parasite, forcing the two of them, alien and human, to learn to co-exist. It's a series that combines horror, action, and humor in a mix that, for me at least, works (although I'll admit I've only read a bit of it).

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