Reviewby Nick Creamer, Dec 24th 2016
Mirai Kakehashi has had enough. After his family died in a car accident, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle, who worked him like a slave. With middle school ending and nothing to look forward to ahead of him, he decides to end it all - but is unexpectedly saved by Nasse, a beautiful angel. Nasse tells Mirai that he has been picked as a candidate for godhood and blesses him with the wings and arrows of her angelic kind. But Mirai is not alone. Twelve other candidates have also been given powers, and there can be only one God.
It seemed almost inevitable that Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata would reunite for a series like Platinum End. The two's first collaboration, Death Note, stands as one of the most successful manga and anime franchises in recent memory. Their second collaboration, Bakuman., followed a pair of aspiring manga creators who played as thinly veiled author surrogates, culminating in the creation of an-universe work called “Reversi” which hewed suspiciously close to Death Note's narrative. In fact, the final Reversi-related conflict concerned the creators choosing whether or not to continue their manga past its logical endpoint for the sake of adaptation, something that may strike Death Note fans as relevant to that manga. Now Platinum End offers something halfway between Death Note and Reversi, mixing rule-based thriller shenanigans and misanthropic theology to arrive at a battle royale based on candidacy for godhood.
The manga starts as all their manga do, with a sullen teenage boy who's too smart for this world reaching a point of utter fatigue with all the disappointment around him. In this case, Platinum End's Mirai Kakehashi has a very reasonable explanation for his malaise; with his family dead, he's been abused by relatives to the point of wanting to end it all. But Mirai's suicide is interrupted by the angel Nasse, who tells him he's a candidate to become God himself. Nasse grants Mirai wings that can take him anywhere, as well as arrows that can either kill others or make them fall in love with him. And so Mirai gains a new lease on life, which starts with taking revenge on the relatives who stole his happiness.
In part, Platinum End seems like an excuse for Takeshi Obata to wholly indulge in his love of the ornate, semi-biblical manga tapestries that gave Death Note such evocative cover art. Platinum End is easily the most beautiful work the two have constructed, combining Obata's wondrously complex background details and almost off-puttingly precise character designs to arrive at something as cold as it is striking. An amoral thriller with theological pretensions is the perfect fit for Obata; his style is beautiful but never warm, with characters sculpted like porcelain gods. His vision of heaven comes off as callous, remote, and unreachable, perfectly matching the tone of the material. And if you're here for fanservice, there's a whole lot of that: Nasse is basically naked at all times, and later chapters feature even more direct nudity courtesy of heaven's love arrows.
Of course, those arrows essentially bind someone's love against their will, meaning this volume's big fanservice tableau is a sequence of a famous comedian with angelic powers sexually assaulting a group of young idols. This awkwardness points to the fundamental awkwardness of the whole creation: Ohba's inhumane character writing.
Ohba's writing has always been defined by consistent strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to page-turning thrillers, he excels. He's good at pacing action and twists, and he has a gift for constructing conflicts that really make his characters seem smart and worth following. The powers and limitations of the god candidates make a decent portion of this volume play out somewhat similar to Death Note in reverse - Mirai wants to live his life in simple happiness, but he must keep himself safe from the other god candidates. There's a strong tension there, and the first volume's final cliffhanger implies that things will be going in exciting and unexpected directions.
Unfortunately, Ohba's talents don't really extend beyond constructing narrative beats, and his character and thematic writing is particularly abysmal. There's only ever two character types in an Ohba story: the smart, talented, under-appreciated male leads, and all of the idiots that surround them. Ohba crafts characters with the empathy of a dedicated solipsist, meaning most of the characters in Platinum End are either one-note villains or sycophants. Mirai's angel Nasse seems driven both by absolute concern for Mirai and a general belief in hedonism as the route to happiness, and Mirai himself is guided by the directive “our goal in life is to seek our own happiness.”
Platinum End strives for occasional philosophical depth in the way it engages with happiness and humanity, but its philosophy is too uncharitable to inspire much besides eye rolls. To give one example, the first time Mirai truly feels alive in this volume is when he's watching his evil stepmother bleed to death, having plunged a knife into her own neck in penance for her wickedness. Mirai is actually the kindest of this story's characters, meant to be a voice of reason standing against Nasse's “let's kill everyone you dislike” and the other god candidates' “let's rape and murder for the heck of it.” Stories that strive for insights about human nature require a less misanthropic hand than Ohba's to arrive at much worth saying.
That said, Platinum End doesn't really need to succeed as a character story or thematic treatise to be an entertaining pulp thriller. While its cast is largely unlikable and its narrative somewhat too reminiscent of Death Note, it's still full of hooks and blessed with gorgeous art. Ohba and Obata write mean and narrow-minded stories, but they are very good at what they do.
Overall : B
Story : C+
Art : A
+ Manages to recapture a significant portion of Death Note's page-turner momentum, art is gorgeous and perfectly suited to the material
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