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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
Published by Viz
Rating: Older Teen
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.
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