Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Itsuki is in love? Maybe, or maybe it's just uncontrollable hormones. Ringo is worried (read: madly jealous) and Mikan is leery, but Simca, the object of Itsuki's attentions, is cute, she likes air treks, and most of all, she seems to need Itsuki's help. But Simca may be a little too tricky for a simpleton like Ikki to handle, a fact that becomes brutally obvious when Ikki and Simca's encounter ends in an ugly dogfight. Then Ikki shifts from beauty to the beast as he becomes aware of a grossly obese storm rider at his very own school who just might be a little more than he seems.
Watch out Shakespeare, Oh! great is out gunning for you. That's an exaggeration (okay, an outright lie), but this volume does manage to do what the opening volume didn't: it makes you care about the characters.
Distinguishing Ikki from the undifferentiated masses of spunky shounen heroes will never be an easy task, but he displays a gullibility, unconditional love for air treks, and genuine concern for Ringo here that will endear him to all but the most hard-hearted. Ringo likewise is allowed an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of her understanding of and devotion to Ikki that takes her a step beyond her one-note role in the previous volume. Even the ill-tempered Mikan softens her image by dint of her weirdly mean-spirited affection for Ringo and Itsuki.
Don't get the wrong idea. Air Gear isn't suddenly transforming into a shoujo romance. It is simply providing a emotional grounding for its lengthy action set-pieces. As a result, this volume's major fight is even more satisfying than the previous volume's. The fight's opponent (Inuyama) is actually quite sympathetic in his own right, but providing emotional motivation for the fight proves even more effective than creating a vile smack-worthy villain. The fight (from origin to conclusion) gets the lion's share of this volume's page-count, and features such exhilarating highlights as a credulity-straining semi-truck derailing, a train-top pursuit of a swallow, and Ringo's timely debris-riddled interference.
Unfortunately, Oh! great's panties-on-the-head taste in humor (that's on page 1 folks) continues to insert its hammy fist into far too many scenes. As fun as the series is, the humor, at best, only succeeds about fifty percent of the time, and the rest of the time is just interfering.
More than simply being crucial to the success of the fight sequences (and the manga in general), Oh! great's artwork is the wellspring from which every drop of quality in this manga originates. His grasp (instinctive or otherwise) of the importance of integrating his story and his art is as sharp as ever. Images bring real life to the otherwise standard story, and the story lends impact to the images. While it is pure skill with a pen that provides the details of Inuyama's close encounter with the semi (Oh! great's rendering of Inuyama's impressive physique makes the scene almost believable), it is Inuyama's selflessness and the inevitable consequences of the encounter that make it so awe-inspiring. The confluence of emotion and art transmutes a two-page spread of Itsuki's face from a portrait to a chilling challenge. Oh! great is also a master of action. Fluid, dynamic panel structures create visual excitement without ever being confusing, he excels at drawing and creating movement cinematically, he doesn't hesitate to draw complicated settings so that character placement and fight geography are crystal-clear, and impeccably timed one and two page spreads highlight important actions and provide slo-mo pauses in the action. On a purely aesthetic level, his art has a clean, cold beauty and (essential in any action story) a mastery of the functioning and proportions of the human body. And not just female bodies (Bad Boys, get your minds out of the gutter). Inuyama is a fantastic visual creation who effortlessly shifts from silly to frightening to sexy, all while sporting pompadour that would shame an entire convention of Elvis impersonators.
Del Rey continues their tradition of good books: nice covers, quality paper, printing that retains all of the insane detail of the artwork. Extras include the usual preview and useful translation notes, as well as more information about the functioning of air treks than you ever wanted to know.
Air Gear is one giant, unadulterated shounen fighting cliché, but the story is slowly adding some incremental depth to its characters, and the art is so expert, so delicious that the book is a culinary delight for the eyes from start to finish. The more cerebrally inclined may want to stay away, but those with a pair of eyes hungry for some candy, eat up.
Overall : B
Story : C+
Art : A
+ Great art; characters begin to grow on you; the art; oh yeah, and the art.
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