Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Slowly but surely, Itsuki "Ikki" Minami has been mastering his new "Air Treck" flying skates. He's challenged a few opponents and beaten them, but he may have finally met his match—Buccha, the self-proclaimed "Night King" at Ikki's school! At over 6 feet and 400 pounds of ramen-devouring flesh, Buccha has already sent Ikki's two best friends to hospital and looks set to tighten his grip on the school's student body. But a high-flying race through the campus grounds will decide once and for all who really rules on the Eastside. Even if Ikki wins, though, more challenges await him, and mysterious rider Simca seems to know what's in store...
The third volume of Air Gear may be the closest thing that manga has yet come to an actual sports broadcast. It opens by shedding some light on a key player's background and motivation; it eats up most of the minutes with the main event itself; and at the end it throws a little boob-and-panty show to keep the essential male demographic hooked. Of course, with our heroes dueling on flying skates rather than with swords or guns, it's not exactly the most manly-man kind of story—more like a boyish-boy story, focusing on the thrill of extreme sports and pushing speed, style and power to their limits. If that's the kind of thing that turns your crank, then hooray! This is about as good as they come. If not, however, then there's not much else to see.
So first to the sports fans and action lovers: get ready to be blown away by Ikki and Buccha's race, which sustains the excitement for a remarkable almost-100 pages and features some of the finest tricks yet in the series. While Ikki's earlier exploits may have had him occasionally getting lucky and pulling off something mildly cool, this one showcases a number of premeditated moves, designed while Ikki was planning out his route around campus. In fact, the moment where he visualizes the entire school grounds is the first of many breathtaking moments in this book, and that's even before he gets his Air Trecks on! The finishing move—one which takes almost an entire chapter to pull off—is, of course, the real clincher, but there are plenty of other eye-popping two-page spreads throughout, adding boosts of energy to the series' already frantic pace.
And then there's the ... general lack of anything else in this volume. The race is such an electrifying presence in this story arc that it overshadows the oh-so-thin threads of plot that form the opening and closing chapters. Not that the plot was worth much, anyway—there are some murmurings about Ikki's untapped abilities, and a challenger who shows up near the end promising tougher things to come, which all just adds to the pile of shounen tournament clichés. And if you're into Air Gear for the curvaceous women, don't even bother getting up; Ringo is the only character who gets anything resembling a continuing role here, and Simca shows up in just the last couple of chapters to deliver words of warning to Ikki. A nudity-laden bathtime chapter at the end tries to make up for the fanservice quota, but it's too little too late for the droolers, and a gratuitous annoyance for the prudes.
Whether one thinks of this series as infinitely cool or infinitely lame, Oh!great's artwork is at least one thing that's beyond debate. His thrilling action scenes speak for themselves; there are few others who can capture so much energy on a page (or double-page) and do it with such style. With fearless linework and obsessive detail, the sense of motion is pushed to limit, and without lapsing into any fantasy silliness—a lesser series would inevitably use magic or spirit power as an excuse for superhuman feats. Whether it involves a high-speed dash or an airborne trick, this is eye candy of the highest order—at least for action fans. The other fundamentals of art are handled competently (good draftsmanship will always get you somewhere), but aren't pushed to the edge like the racing scenes. Expect some cool and cute graffiti-styled design elements, attractive but not too remarkable characters, and a sense of layout that works great during the race but gets cluttered when it comes to downtime and dialogue.
The slangy street talk of the series seems to have finally reached equilibrium in this volume—there are a few swears, a few Internet-isms, but nothing in the translation that feels overtly fake this time around. Ikki and Buccha's race has its fair share of trash-talk and internal monologue, all of which might seem a little wordy, but at least flows naturally. The back of the volume includes fairly extensive extras—a reference guide about how Air Treck riders challenge each other, plus a sketch gallery and character profiles for some of the supporting cast. Of course, there's also the usual glossary of cultural notes, most of which explain the elements of Japan's pop culture, as Oh!great drops quite a few contemporary in-jokes about his favorite things. Adding the final publisher's touch to this package is sharp print quality and sturdy paper that helps the bold artwork jump off the page.
For a terrific extreme-sports rush, it's hard to go wrong with this volume of Air Gear. Unfortunately, it also comes with all the caveats of watching actual sports: if you're not really into it, then there's not much else to enjoy. Going fast, jumping high and catching air are all exhilarating things, but only as long as you're in the right frame of mind. Sure, the visual bravado of this series does its best to bring that exhilaration to life, but it can't hide a story that's as formulaic as any other tale of a young boy discovering his skills and trying his best. Even the other great strength of any Oh!great series—the fanservice—falls behind in this installment, being relegated to one cheesecake chapter at the end. Are you looking for speedline-laced eye candy and the thrill of battle? Find it all here. Are you looking for a deep story? Try elsewhere.
Overall : B-
Story : D
Art : A-
+ Action scenes and a thrilling race that are unmatched for sheer energy.
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