Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 22nd 2008
Akira Nikaido is a serious slacker at school—he cuts class, disregards authority, and even picks on his own friends. But Akira's hard attitude is no match for the mysterious ways of Shirogane, a stranger who introduces him to the "shadow world," where dark creatures called kokuchi dwell. Most people can't even see the shadows, but they are starting to leak out and invade the human world—and Akira may be the last hope for maintaining order. In order to fight the creatures, Akira agrees to turn into a shadow himself, and with Shirogane's guidance, he must protect himself, his classmates, and even his best friend's sister from this growing paranormal threat.
So, a high school boy with an attitude meets a stranger from a parallel spirit world, who then tells the boy that he has a special ability that relates to that other world, and because of that ability, the boy is now destined to fight some great evil. What series is being described here? If you failed to answer Monochrome Factor, no one would blame you; this ripoff of a ripoff does such a good job of copying everything else in the supernatural genre that it's hard to tell where the imitation stops and an original story begins. If this complete lack of creativity hasn't caused you to flee in terror yet, there might still be some good points to discover in this volume—neat visual effects, flashy action scenes, and a couple of entertaining characters. But even these bright spots can't save a work that's trapped in the shadowlands of mediocrity.
The early chapters of this series copy the action-supernatural formula so closely that one could read it blindfolded and still know what the story was. But even within the bounds of formula, the storyline manages to stumble into some really dumb plot holes: when Akira asks about being the chosen one, Shirogane responds with "It's not a matter of having a reason or not having one. It must be you." Wow, how's that for logic? In fact, the more we learn about the shadow world, the more brainless it turns out to be. Akira is forced into becoming a shadow because Shirogane says so, which is about the most artificial way of advancing the plot. Later on, he discovers that he can't become human again because of the deal he made with Shirogane, but wait! He can still pretend to be human anyway thanks to a gigai—oops, wrong series, here they call it a doppelganger—which completely cancels out the point of being No Longer Human. It's like Kaili Sorano is just making up the rules of the shadow world on the spot, fudging over inconsistencies to suit the story—and if you can't trust the author, whom can you trust?
In the end, the only principle of the shadow world that makes any sense is the one revealed in the latter half of this volume: normal humans are starting to sense shadows more frequently because of the deteriorating barrier between worlds, and it's up to people like Akira and Shirogane to preserve the barrier. This is a far better motivation than "because the storyline said so," and it also introduces a couple of genuinely interesting characters—the bartender with psychic abilities who is aware of the shadow world, and Akira's best friend's sister, who is not only ESP-capable, but is also a source of humor with her obsession for hot guys. Thank goodness for lighthearted touches like these, or else the story would be a complete bore (right now it's more of a 70% bore).
Aside from the occasional humor, entertainment value can also be found in the action scenes and Akira's visions of the shadow world—they might be making up the rules as they go along, but at least it looks cool. Visual effects are certainly worth a look, like when Akira stumbles into the shadow world and finds everything "inverted," or when the ground starts to dissolve beneath his feet. Speedlines and sharp angles in the battles against the shadow creatures also provide a good dose of fast-paced excitement. Thankfully, the layouts are clean enough to follow what's going on, even in the heat of battle, and there's enough variety in the cast of characters to tell them apart. But just because the characters are varied in appearance doesn't mean that they're memorable—the swishy-haired character designs are merely an application of familiar clichés, and would hardly be recognized outside of these pages.
Speaking of clichés, no supernatural-action potboiler would be complete without cheesy dialogue, and this one gladly delivers—we've already got Shirogane's "It's not a matter of having a reason..." as well as other gems like "As we speak, I sense something strange in the air" and "... the balance between the two worlds has been disrupted." Isn't this the kind of stuff 15-year-olds come up with in creative writing class? Thankfully, the humor bits aren't quite as hackneyed, but the translated dialogue still feels pretty juvenile overall. Sound effects are left mostly untranslated, and the only extras to be found here are the artist's own notes and 4-panel gags.
After one volume, Monochrome Factor does very little to make the reader want to keep going. The second half is slightly better than the first half—mostly due to the introduction of a couple of entertaining characters, and less of the "let us introduce you to the shadow world by making up a bunch of patchwork rules" mumbo-jumbo. But taken as a whole, it's still in dire need of improvement. The flimsy copy-of-a-copy premise, the logical loopholes, the predictable plot devices, and the silly dialogue all add up to a dismal start, with only the occasional humor and action to keep it from being a total failure. Fans had better start hoping that "it gets better later on" real fast, or it's just going to end up in the ever-growing supernatural-action trash pile.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : C
+ Enjoyable action scenes and visual effects, plus a couple of appealing secondary characters.
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