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Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Astro, a scrappy young teen from the slums of Industria's capital city, values nothing more than his family of adopted kids. His life is hard, but no more so than other trying to eke out a living during the Warring Planets Period in which he lives...or so he thinks until he has a chance meeting with Prince Barrage. Spoiled and selfish, Barrage is running away from his royal obligations, and when he sees that Astro could be his twin, he passes over the symbol of his office to the street rat. Now Astro is, for all intents and purposes, the prince of this war ravaged planet and it is up to him to save it. Will his love for his family be an asset, or will it hinder him in his new job?
Astro is a fifteen-year-old living in the squalor that is the slums of Industria's capital city. Despite his habit of speaking when perhaps he ought not to, Astro desperately wants to work (and work hard) in order to support his family – six younger children whom he took in after various circumstances landed them on the streets. Himself a street rat of unknown origins, Astro feels that there is nothing as important as family and he will do anything to protect and provide for his. The other kids all call him “big brother,” but Astro sees himself as more of a father figure, and that is a position that he will do anything to keep.
Unknown to him, or at least of secondary importance, is the fact that Industria was once a peaceful, prosperous planet. With the commencement of interplanetary relations, however, alien races set their sights on its pastoral goodness and began staging invasions. Now Industria is ravaged by war and the age is known as The Warring Planets Period. The aging king needs his son Prince Barrage to step up to the plate and help out, but Barrage is a self-absorbed, violent brat who wants nothing to do with his royal duty. He escapes the palace and meets up with Astro, who is fresh off of a bad encounter with a vicious alien. Barrage and Astro are shocked to see how much they look alike, and while Astro is marveling, Barrage sees his way out – he forces the symbol of his princehood, the Orgue, on Astro and switches places with the other boy. Now Astro, who could physically be the prince's twin, is stuck taking on Barrage's responsibilities. Is it even something that he can do?
By this point readers familiar with Mark Twain's 1881 classic The Prince and the Pauper will see some distinct similarities, if not suspect Horikoshi of an outright retelling. There wouldn't be a problem if he was, but Horikoshi is instead using Twain's framework to create a shounen adventure about the power of love and selflessness. Barrage, after all, is an irresponsible prince who cares about no one but himself, while Astro is utterly devoted to caring for those under his wing. Horikoshi uses this selflessness to show how Astro makes a better prince when he sees himself as responsible for everyone's welfare, even if amazingly skilled royal knight Tiamat sees that as something of a liability. (Horikoshi takes care to make one of Astro's children an alien of the same species that tries to kill him early on.)
Barrage's first volume suffers from some uneven pacing, with the first half of the book taking its time to set Astro up as the new prince and then the second rushing along, as if Horikoshi had planned for more than two volumes initially and suddenly been given the news that he would only have a duology to work with. Both paces work for the story, but the transition between them makes for an awkward bit of reading while you adjust. Tiamat, a young and skilled warrior with decided reservations about Astro's abilities, and Astro himself make up the primary cast, with the kids, a maid, and the king taking backseats. The interactions between Tiamat and Astro are interesting from the perspective that each sees himself as needing to be a caregiver (from a tough love standpoint in Tiamat's case) and doesn't quite understand where the other's coming from. Neither of them fully understand the Orgue either, which adds some danger to their battles.
Horikoshi's artwork is pleasant to look at without being revolutionary or too typically shounen. A couple of background characters have a decided Tezuka look, aliens are all differently bizarre and dangerous, and everyone is easily distinguished, background players included. Pages can get very crowded with busy panels though not much grey space is used, which makes the crowding a bit easier to decipher than it could have been. Viz' translation is smooth and very readable, and if this isn't an especially remarkable book, it is at least an interesting and relatively easy read.
It may be damning with faint praise, but Barrage's first volume is simply a pleasant entry into the Shonen Jump catalogue. It isn't revolutionary or particularly unique, but it does provide a likeable hero with a very big heart and an exciting adventure for him to go on. It's a shame that there's only one more volume, but at the same time, Astro's impersonation of the prince also won't have time to grow stale. In any event, Barrage is a decent shounen action story, and if you enjoy that, you'll probably like this.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Astro is likeable and his relationship with his kids is charming. Good interactions between Astro and Tiamat, interesting aliens.
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