Manga in Minutes: Inazuman, Vol. 1
My look at the Shotaro Ishinomori series currently available from Comixology continues with the first volume of Inazuman! Created in 1973, it follows the by now familiar pattern of being a tie-in to a live action superhero show of the same name. Unlike Kamen Rider or Kikaider though, Inazuman lasted merely 25 episodes, never spawned a long running franchise, and has only appeared sporadically since the 70s. The story follows young Sabu, a teenager who’s seemingly gifted at everything he does. He aces tests without studying, is physically fit and has something of a cocky attitude. Unbeknownst to him his talents are the results of his being a mutant, someone born with special abilities, abilities which are about to draw him into the conflict between two forces of likewise gifted individuals and change his life forever.
While the basic premise may look familiar to anyone who’s read Ishinomori’s superhero series it offers up a few twists and is done in such an engaging and entertaining way that it stands out from similarly themed series. Sabu often finds himself wrestling with the consequences of his actions while regretting the violence he inflicts upon others. On more than one occasion he ends up in situations that are a bit outside his level of expertise to handle, lending the character a human and vulnerable edge that’s lacking in some of the other Ishinomori heroes. In addition, Sabu’s written as an incredibly charming and likable character. His cocky attitude hides a soft and smooshy interior which comes out through his moments of self doubt and his concern for his family and friend, Miyo. It also shares several things that fans of American superhero comics will recognize as familiar superhero tropes. Despite discovering his powers and being drafted into a shadow war between two groups, he still attends school, has to deal with his parents and the other responsiblities that come with a normal teenagers life. This leads to a secret identity, the need to protect it. Keeping the story grounded in a familiar reality is a good move and one that allows you to feel what’s at stake if Sabu screws up, or if he fails in any of his assigned tasks or battles with his opponents. It’s simple and basic, but it helps the story and characters in a big way.
After nearly five weeks I feel like I’m running out of ways to discuss Ishinomori’s artwork. Still, one must trudge ever onward! Inazuman’s visuals have the familiar, cartoonish feel to them, more so than some of the other works I’ve gone over this month. While there are some cases of comical over reaction, they never really feel intrusive or out of place within the story and its visuals. The cartoonish style also helps with the visual expressions and the characters clearly emote throughout the story. The backgrounds are solid, fading in and out when needed but never to the point where the characters feel unstuck or that the story is taking place in some sort of timeless, featureless void. Indeed, the use of backgrounds, as basic as they may be since Inazuman is set in a modern Japanese city, does a lot to help ground the story and reinforce the idea of Sabu attempting to maintain some semblance of an ordinary life despite everything that’s happens to him.
After reading the first volume I was surprised that Inazuman doesn’t get quite as much love as some of the other series and characters in Comixology’s Ishinomori offerings. With the exception of Cyborg 009, this was probably my favorite of the Comixology series currently available. The artwork is slick and more visually interesting than Kamen Rider, while the story and characters are a little more engaging and likable than Kikaider. All in all, it really feels like the sleeper hit from this first wave of Ishinomori books.
Inazuman, Vol. 1 is available now from Comixology.