Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Feb 21st 2016
Seigi is just your average middle school student with nothing remarkable about him except for his devotion to (and proficiency in) martial arts and a compulsion to protect the weak inherited from his martial arts master grandfather and his policeman father. One day his good deeds backfire on him when he saves a homeless man from a group of thugs and is rewarded with a strange tattoo on his hand. It turns out be a top secret biological weapon known as a Spell Crest, and now that it's on his hand, Seigi is under the watchful eye of not only other, unscrupulous Spell Crest users, but also the American government's special agent Bluesy Fluesy, better known as Easy. Easy wants to take Seigi under her control and command, but he's not so sure about this…too bad Easy isn't going to take no for an answer.
If you're tired of the basic shounen action story when an average guy meets a crazy girl while gaining some sort of amazing supernatural power, then you're probably not going to be charmed by Taboo Tattoo's first volume. It plays out very much by the book, running down the checklist of basic tropes with a practiced ease that makes the story comfortably familiar, even as it throws in a few curve balls and doesn't hold back on the violence.
The story follows middle school student Seigi, whose name means “justice.” Whether it's because of this or the fact that his deceased father was a police officer, Seigi takes the idea of justice very seriously, and even though he's average in just about everything else, he's a stellar martial artist and devoted to helping those less fortunate. This makes his childhood friend Touko nervous, but she mostly allows him to do his thing. Everything changes, however, on the day that Seigi helps an older homeless man and is given a piece of crystal with a strange symbol on it in return. The crystal melts into his hand, leaving behind a tattoo of the symbol, which is later revealed to be a strange bioweapon developed by the fictional South Asian kingdom of Selinistan. Selinistan and the US are, if not at war, at least on very uneasy ground, and the spell crests appear to be part of that. Seigi would like to get rid of it, but he can't – at least not without giving up his arm, according to youthful-looking American soldier Easy, who forcibly takes him under her wing/command.
As I said, the checklist really is strong with this one. Touko is the perfect Childhood Friend character, from her need to take care of Seigi to her obvious crush on him, while Easy, also known by her truly ridiculous real name of Bluesy Fluesy, is the Dangerous Mysterious Transfer Student, a blond American gifted in violence who attaches herself to the hero after meeting him and quickly shows up at his school. Seigi, meanwhile, is the Clueless Earnest Guy, devoted to justice and the sole human capable of wielding his randomly acquired spell crest, which is, of course, the mysterious one no one had thus far been able to use. Add in the shady organizations, vast array of thugs, requisite girl-on-girl boob grope, and a bit of a daddy complex and Taboo Tattoo's opening volume could belong to any number of other shounen series.
This is not, however, to say that it isn't worth reading if these elements are ones you enjoy. Seigi is actually a very competent hero, and the fact that he wins his weapon defending an older homeless man rather than Easy herself is a nice touch. He's also not traditionally good-looking, with hair in a scraggly bob and a physique that couldn't really be called “toned.” He's patient with Touko, giving the impression that even though she can be annoying, he genuinely cares for her, and Touko returns that affection even as we readers recognize something else underneath it. Easy and her fellow soldier Tom have a professional relationship despite her deceptively youthful appearance, and not once is a loli complex comment made – in fact, there's a sense that Tom respects her rather than lusts after her; even though he is shown blushing at one point, it appears to be from embarrassment at how out-of-character she's acting. The larger war story hasn't been developed enough yet, but at this point it looks to have potential beyond the more stereotypical fact of its existence, and Shinjiro does not hold back on the violence. Although largely bloodless, or at least artistically bloody rather than gruesomely, there's a sense of real damage being done, and, towards the end of the volume, a credible threat to both Seigi and Touko's lives.
Shinjiro's art is quite busy, with a lot of lines and tones used to denote action and mood, which can get overwhelming at times. It's apparently always cold in Taboo Tattoo's world, with most of the fanservice coming from the girls' almost constantly erect nipples, although there are a couple of gratuitous panty shots as well, and all of the characters look distinct, which is always a plus. As was mentioned before, the action isn't particularly gruesome, but there's a good sense of weight to the fight scenes, like real damage is being done even if we don't fully see it. Easy does give off the professional air of a trained soldier, not fluttering about her torn clothes or letting anything distract her when she's actively engaged in her mission, which is another good touch.
Taboo Tattoo's first volume may not be particularly unique in the world of shounen action, but it does a solid job with the tropes and conventions it's using. The alternate world with its power struggle does have potential when it gets ready to delve more into what is clearly a tense three-way political issue, and Seigi is a hero who is human enough for us to get behind. If you're tired of the genre, it isn't likely to appeal, but fans should be entertained.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Some good attention to detail with Easy's character in terms of work and her relationship with Tom, Seigi is a hero we can get behind. Interesting world.
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