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Blue Moon Reviews — Black Cat, Vols. 1-2

Black Cat is a series I missed while it was coming out (the twentieth and final volume was released in May) but recommendations by trusted reviewers compelled me to check it out. I’m glad I did, since reading it reminded me of the best and most addictive qualities of shounen manga.

Black Cat, Vols. 1-2
Kentaro Yabuki
Published by Viz
Rating: Older Teen

Score: B+

Black Cat is the story of Train Heartnet, who used to work as an assassin for a powerful organization called Chronos. After an encounter with a female bounty hunter (a.k.a. sweeper) named Saya (whom we only glimpse near the end of volume two), his outlook changed and he gave up that life. Now it’s two years later and Train has become a sweeper himself, collecting bounties on criminals with his partner, Sven. Train’s motto is “more money, more danger… more fun!” and his pursuit of the latter two usually means the duo doesn’t get much of the former.

Though the idea of the “protagonist who used to be a killer but has now become more kind” is not new to shounen manga, it’s employed a little differently in Black Cat. While many such heroes have made it their pledge never to kill again, Train has no problem with offing the criminal element, though he’s scrupulous about not harming innocents. This allows for the potential of a deadly showdown with his former partner, Creed, who was responsible for Saya’s death and upon whom Train has sworn to exact revenge.

After going after a few minor targets, Train and Sven are approached with a proposition by Rinslet, a notorious female thief. She’s been hired to steal some research data from a criminal bigwig, and wants Train and Sven to help make her job easier by capturing the bigwig first. They get the reward; she gets the loot; everybody’s happy. Of course, things don’t exactly go as planned, since the bigwig invokes Creed’s name and makes Train go rather nuts. Ultimately, Train and Creed confront each other, inflicting enough wounds to prove they are well matched as opponents but living to fight another day.

These first two volumes skillfully introduce Train’s past, his current circumstances, and the lingering threat of Creed and his band of revolutionaries (who seek to overthrow Chronos and want Train to join them) without inundating the reader with information. One of the best things about this series is the nebulous notion of “pacing,” which to me means that when I read it, it feels like I am watching a television show, with a variety of perspectives and camera angles and a natural flow to scenes and conversations. The story is also structured similarly, with the introduction of a villain who then retreats into the background for a bit while the protagonists get on with the daily grind of their occupation, calling, and/or duty.

My favorite aspect of the series, however, is the strength of the partnership between Train and Sven. It’s clear that these two trust each other professionally, but it goes deeper than that, as exemplified by Train’s reaction when Sven gets wounded during an attempt to apprehend a target. Their relationship actually reminds me some of Ban and Ginji in GetBackers, with the energetic but extremely powerful guy using the nickname –chan to refer to his more cerebral partner who possesses some sort of eye-related power (though this is only a hint so far in Sven’s case). That’s a pretty superficial comparison, but the overall affectionate feel is pretty similar.

Thankfully, the similarities between Black Cat and GetBackers do not extend to the art. Yabuki’s illustrations are clean and easy on the eyes, with a minimum of screentone and quite a lot of speed lines. Even without looking at the cover, one could probably tell that this series ran in Shonen Jump. Speaking of the cover, that’s the one area where Yabuki’s art becomes unattractive. Rinslet in particular looks much, much better in the interior art. One artistic element that does puzzle me is Train’s coat. What exactly are those brown things?! They look like miniature life boats but I have a sneaking suspicion they’re meant to be cat nipples.

Bizarre sartorial choices aside, what it all boils down to is that Black Cat is a lot of fun. The well structured story and the camaraderie between the leads elevates it beyond typical shounen fare and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the rest of it plays out.

Volumes one and two of Black Cat are available now.

9 Comments

[...] and intend to read the rest of the series. You can find my review of volumes one and two over at Comics Should Be Good. Michelle 17 June 2009 Manga, Shounen Monkey High! 6 by Shouko Akira: [...]

I’m so glad you enjoyed this! Despite the fact that neither its setting nor its surface plot elements are especially original, the characters and their relationships really pulled me in, and that’s what I read manga for anyway. :) There are few shonen series I’ve enjoyed this much.

Yeah, I’m less interested in the plot itself than I just think it’ll be cool to watch our heroes fight Creed’s people, with everyone having different types of skills and abilities and stuff. So, that’s what I meant by addictive qualities of shounen, but it also has characters one can care about.

Danielle Leigh

June 17, 2009 at 8:14 am

ohhhh…I think I would also like the relationship between Train and Sven. Thanks for the great review! Luckily, I think my library has this series as well so I can test it out. :-)

I’ve read a few volumes, and while it’s a good series, it’s not something I’d spend money on. I’m not a huge fan of the art. Plus, I’m getting way too many other manga and comics as it is.

Yeah, Michelle, one of the things that kept me hooked to the series, actually, is that the fights remained interesting to the end, which is not something I’d usually say about this type of manga. Heh.

Joe: To be honest, my local library carries Black Cat and I intend to read the rest through them and not actually purchase it. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s totally fun but, like you, I am already spending tons of money on manga and I’m running out of storage options!

Ehhh, Black Cat is alright. It starts off pretty promising but I think it devolves rather quickly into a bunch of shounen-manga tropes, which is a shame. Art is pretty good though, if a tad bit generic.

Yeah, I suppose it is a bit generic. That’s pretty much what I meant when I said you could just look at it and tell it ran in Shonen Jump. They have kind of a… house style or something. :)

I’m sorry to hear its quality deteriorates in later volumes. It seems so well structured and well planned at the outset.

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