Review

by Carlo Santos, Jun 26th 2010

Black God

GN 9

Synopsis:
Black God GN 9
Keita Ibuki's existence has been anything but ordinary ever since Kuro, a mototsumitama (divine spirit) in the guise of a young girl, entered his life. Now he's involved in a supernatural war where he and Kuro must protect the balance of Tera (spiritual life force) in the world and stop the power-hungry Kaionji Group from disrupting that balance. After returning from a major battle in Okinawa, things seem to be cooling down for Kuro, Keita and childhood friend Akane. But a new spirit arrives from Korea, and she immediately starts causing all sorts of havoc for Keita! The Kaionji Group, meanwhile, is still on the move. Clearly, Keita and Kuro will have to improve their fighting strength, but the person who could help them with that has gone missing. It looks like Kaionji will do anything to eliminate those who stand in their way.
Review:

Well, it had to happen eventually. Black God's all-Korean creative team, aside from being a pain to semanticists trying to argue "the proper definition of manga," have finally brought a Korean character into the mix. Far from being just a manifestation of national pride, however, the introduction of Namu adds some spice to a storyline that might otherwise have lingered in post-climactic doldrums. After all, the Okinawa incident was a seriously big deal, and when the smoke clears after a major plot point like that, there's always a dialing down of tension—the calm after the storm, so to speak. Some series just fall into a stupor and coast along until it's battle time again. This one, on the other, is at least trying to keep things interesting.

Not everyone will agree with the way this volume tries to keep things interesting, though. The circumstances of Namu's arrival end up setting the tone for the next few chapters: a screwball comedy, with mishaps flying thick and fast, and occasional outbreaks of fanservice for the discerning reader. Keita and Kuro's initial encounter with Namu adds some slick fast-paced action to go with the humor, but things soon go downhill after that. The next few scenes turn into a gimmicky harem comedy where Namu keeps trying to convince Keita to let her stay at his place, culminating in a gratuitous bathtub scenario that thankfully marks the end of such mindless shenanigans. Admittedly, this style of sitcom humor has its place, but that place is not necessarily in a complex supernatural action manga.

Fortunately, things get better in the second half of this volume—the plot is no longer aimlessly adrift, showing the characters' everyday lives and engaging in silly harem antics. Instead, the bad guys are on the move again, with the action ramping up in the last few chapters and closing on a triumphant cliffhanger that showcases Namu's fantastic repertoire of moves. Unfortunately, this portion of the story also falls victim to the much-overused formula of "Here's what the bad guys are up to, but we're not going to tell you what it is, other than that they plan to do very bad things." The scenes involving the Kaionji faction are laughably campy in their presentation, often ending in dramatic facial close-ups as the villains make ominous pronouncements like "Kill them all". No doubt it's fun to watch the good guys pick up the pace and get into some fights—but they seriously need better bad guys to fight against, not just scrubs and goons sent out by the higher-ups.

No matter what the story's prevailing mood may be, the artwork is usually up to the task, either carrying the comedic energy of Namu's misadventures or showcasing the spiritual sorcery that the protagonists are capable of. The bold lines and busy backgrounds always provide some point of interest on the page—especially in the special-effects-laden fight scenes—and the clean, rectangular layouts keep things moving at a steady pace. Occasional lapses into gag style during lighthearted moments also add visual variety. The character designs themselves aren't as praiseworthy, however, relying on familiar cues and stereotypes: Keita the spiky-haired everyman type, Kuro and Namu the lovely magical maidens (whose similar hairstyles make them difficult to distinguish when they're not in costume), Akane the stylish "normal" person, and of course, dozens of dark-clothed tough guys serving as the villains. If anyone wanted a prototype for how to build a solid but unspectacular action series, this would be an ideal title to steal the visuals from.

What this series lacks in creativity, it tries to make up for with attitude and energy, which is not only reflected in the art but also in the dialogue. The characters are a bit more talkative than average for the action genre, but their exchanges are always fun, especially when Keita and Namu are mouthing off at each other. Even Namu's taunts and come-ons when she faces Kaionji's thugs are worth a rousing cheer. We can also be thankful that these chapters are less fixated on made-up paranormal jargon—the characters still occasionally lapse into Tera/Root/Sub/Mototsumitama/Sanshinryong gobbledygook, but telling an exciting story takes priority here. A thorough translation job also provides enough information without getting in the way: sound effects are preserved in Japanese, but translated on the side, and a brief set of notes in the back provides some interesting linguistic points.

Like waking up the morning after a rowdy night out, it can be hard for an action series to get back on track after a climactic plot point. Certainly, Black God tries its best—introducing a new character right after the Okinawa arc, then jumping back into some brawling action after a few chapters—but the execution and plot elements are as ordinary as they come. Namu's feisty character is appealing, to be sure, but her back-and-forth bickering with Keita is typical of any domestic-life comedy. The fights with Kaionji's agents are enough to get the blood pumping, but don't expect to see any plot advancement while our heroes are laying the smack down on anonymous meatsacks. And the chief executive villains, despite their best efforts, still look like a bunch of sneering stereotypes everytime they stand around declaring how evil they are. Make no mistake, Black God is still a fun supernatural-action thrill ride—but it shows little interest in becoming anything more.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B-

+ The addition of a new character, some fight scenes near the end, and bold, action-packed visuals keep things interesting in this volume.
Predictable comedy antics, low-level opponents, and shallow plot developments are all sources of disappointment.

Story:Dall-Young Lim
Art:Sung-woo Park
Translation:Jong-Choul Jang

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