The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Getter Robo Devolution
What's It About?When he was little, Ryoma Nagare found his murdered parents' bodies dangling from the ceiling. That sight has haunted him to the point where he no longer allows himself to form friendships for fear of losing more people he cares about. Now a high school student, Nagare is trying his hardest not to feel for sweet Michiru, a girl in his class, but he can't stop himself from saving her when she's being bullied by a group of jealous boys. Everything turns to ash, however, when a giant monster known as an “Unevolved” attacks his school, killing Michiru and everyone else but him. A strange man calling himself Professor Saotome appears in the aftermath, accompanied by three mecha. He asks Nagare if he'd rather join the side that takes rather than having everything taken from him. If his answer is yes, all Nagare has to do is become the pilot of the third mech, something the robot has apparently been waiting for.
Getter Robo Devolution is based on a manga by Go Nagai and Kenji Ishikawa and is written and illustrated by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi. It will be published in June by Seven Seas and sells for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
If the art and writing style of this eleventh remake of Go Nagai's classic Getter Robo manga from 1974 looks familiar, that's because the team working on Getter Robo Devolution is also responsible for the Ultraman manga currently being released by Viz. They're a good fit for this series as well – as they've proven with their Ultraman work, this is a duo who has an aptitude for taking pulpy or corny older titles and making them feel right at home in the contemporary manga landscape. That said, this is still a reboot of a Go Nagai series, so there's a lot more blood and exploitation here, which doesn't make this a shoo-in for fans of the Ultraman manga.
The story takes its time getting off the ground, and over half of this first volume is set up. That's not an issue for a first book in a series unless it distinctly feels like set up, and that's unfortunately true of this title. Chapter one introduces us to Ryoma, our main protagonist, and his horrible life, comprised of dead parents, emotional distance, and truly nasty classmates, with the one bright spot, good girl Michiru, coming with a big old “don't get attached” warning. No sooner has a hoary old mad scientist shown up to make cryptic comments than the story shifts to Jin, and how he came to join Professor Saotome, before shifting in chapter three to Musashi. His chapter feels a little more relevant in terms of progressing the plot, because we find out that everyone thinks he's dead, something that will presumably happen to Ryoma as well once he agrees to join Saotome and the other two. We do get back to Ryoma at the end of Musashi's chapter, and by that point it feels like something of a relief, because neither Jin nor Musashi's chapters have the same level of intensity as Ryoma's. While the background information that they provide is important, the way in which it's presented leaves something to be desired.
Despite that, this is still a fast, exciting read. There are just enough almost-facts thrown out to make us very curious about what's actually going on and why Ryoma himself was chosen to be one of the pilots of the three eponymous mecha, the Getter Robo, and that he's uneasy about the whole thing comes through clearly. It's easy to see how he's keeping his emotions as much in check as he can, possibly because he doesn't want anyone to see how much he's hurting, both from the old wound of losing his parents and the newer one of seeing Michiru go before his eyes. We don't know what Saotome's goal is yet, but it's an easy bet that Ryoma's is going to be to save and protect as many people as he can, and that may put him at odds with the rest of his new teammates. This is feeling like a promising update of a classic, and if it's stumbling in the opening stages, hopefully that just means that it'll be smooth sailing now that they're over.
Getter Robo Devolution volume 1 is so sparse on dialogue and heavy on action that it's a lightning-fast read, ensuring readers will reach the end of the volume before they even have time to think. However, that's a drawback as well, considering there's no time to get to know the characters, empathize with them, and even become more than nominally aware of the conflict at large that requires main character Ryoma to suit up in a mecha and take on these alien invaders. In an effort to be shocking, Ryoma's the only character from the first chapter who even sticks around beyond that. The moment that sets into motion his change from sullen student to mecha pilot is dynamic, staged with effective art to contrast the before and after. However, it's also virtually meaningless, considering how little time we were given to get to know his classmates—and how flat and stereotypical they seemed in the pages they did have. The fact that Ryoma, who recently lost his parents, remains sullen and virtually emotionless throughout the first chapter—really, throughout the first volume—does little to endear him to the reader beyond the fact that his attitude is expressing his epic “manpain.” Professor Saotome, though callous and cartoonishly over the top, at least seems somewhat interesting because he has a noticeable personality, albeit an unrounded one. The other secondary characters joining the Saotome Institute are largely forgettable and one-note at present.
Shimoguchi's art is the highlight of the volume, experimenting with panel layout and full-page spreads to give off the right visual impact at just the right moment. Fairly detailed background art does an effective job of establishing location and the damage done by the battles that take place. The mechs and monsters are so finely-detailed as to almost seem realistic, and while the human character designs are nothing special, the art as a whole comes together to present the action effectively.
Mech fans are likely to get more out of Getter Robo Devolution volume 1, but even then, they may feel that this first installment leaves something to be desired. There's some bigger picture to this series that the first volume fails to effectively convey, though considering it's based on a Go Nagai classic, there are established fans in place likely eager to pick up this volume regardless. It's clearly a plot-driven manga rather than a character-driven one, but when the plot fails to properly grab the reader's attention, there's little left to recommend it other than the art. Thankfully, the art more than makes up for what the narrative lacks, ensuring this fast read at least has value to the fans of action and mech manga in particular.
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