Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 28th 2008
From the moment Itsuki "Ikki" Minami first put on a pair of Air Treck powered skates, he entered a world of extreme sports—as well as extreme combat. Now Ikki and his team must face a series of one-on-one cage matches against the fearsome Team Behemoth. Can Ikki's pudgy school friend Onigiri survive against the feminine wiles of Ryou Mimasaka, the so-called Gorgon Shell? Or will Ikki's gal pal Ringo have to step in and save the day? Meanwhile, Ikki must dodge the deadly punches of his opponent Bandou, and team leader Agito goes up against Behemoth's top guy, Akira. Things don't look very good for these one-on-one matches, but Ikki and Agito might have a fighting chance if they team up...
How do you know you're in an Oh!great manga? When the first page consists of a girl's naked butt right in your face! Yes, folks, the fanservice flies thick and fast in this one, but only for as long as there's a female character involved. Otherwise, it's typical fighting-action fodder, and unfortunately, that seems to be making the series worse. The hyperkinetic visual style may be unlike anything else out there, but it's a waste of creative energy if it's all going to be spent on guys powering up, discussing how ridiculously superhuman their abilties are, and yelling out the names of their attacks. When did Air Gear turn into yet another drawn-out fighting tournament series? More importantly, when are we going to get out of this interminable Behemoth battle arc?
This volume isn't entirely terrible, though. The first few chapters show a fight done right: Onigiri versus Gorgon Shell, where our hero is thrown into peril but overcomes the odds through his own innate skills and a touch of psychological warfare. After that, however, things quickly take a turn for the worse as Ikki and Agito's respective fights turn into some kind of double feature that drags on and on and still isn't over by the end of the volume. That, in itself, is not the problem—anyone who's ever been exposed to anime or manga should be familiar with fights that span multiple volumes or episodes—actually, the real problem is that the Behemoth fight is long for the sake of being long. There is no sense of escalation, no epic struggle; the guys just keep duking it out for over a hundred pages without ever getting anywhere.
If it's not bad enough that the fight drags on without purpose, the scene transitions wreck the flow of the story as well. Managing two battles at once (Ikki's and Agito's) is not an easy task, and jumping haphazardly between them doesn't work at all. A number of quick flashbacks to Agito's past also make the storyline even more fractured than it already is. Amidst all this chaos and lousy plotting, one thing seems to have gone forgotten: Ringo, who supposedly came by to provide some kind of support, but instead ends up standing idly by with no impact on the fight. It's not like she provides very much useful commentary; in the end we're stuck with a side character who's so far off to the side that she might as well have not bothered showing up.
Oh, but there are other very good reasons for characters like Ringo to show up. Air Gear would not be what it is without the T&A factor, and Ringo's ridiculous outfit provides plenty of curvaceous eye candy for those who find such things to their taste. The same can be said for Gorgon Shell, whose battle gear of choice involves a thong and pasties. However, the fanservice goes on hiatus after about the first quarter of the book, to be substituted instead by the trademark action scenes that make the series unique. Visual metaphor comes into play many times here, often in intense detail: Onigiri as a pig, Gorgon Shell as a snake, Ikki as a crow, Akira as a mecha-monster hybrid. Add in the tilted angles, exaggerated sense of perspective, and uncountable speedlines, and the fight scenes are no less than a masterpiece, especially with the full-page spreads. There's just one little problem: with the chaotic scenes and highly detailed style, it can become a nonstop visual assault, with little room to rest the eyes.
The dialogue throughout this volume is decidedly in-your-face, with confrontational language and an assortment of swears. The commentator for the battle is particularly colorful with his choice of words, and this translation sprinkles in some Japanese words ("Ikku yo!" "Sugoi!") to give his speech patterns an idiosyncratic quality—but some may find this more annoying than quirky. Some may also be surprised to find that the dialogue can get quite wordy, as the characters discuss their tragic past or their fighting techniques. Sound effects also play a big role here, transcending the line between text and artwork, and the graffiti-inspired lettering can be so overpowering that any attempt to provide a translation on the page pretty much gets lost in all the action. At least the glossary is more noticeable, covering various pop-cultural references throughout the story.
If there's one thing that's consistent about Air Gear, it's that it continues to provide nonstop eye candy—whether that comes in the form of buxom girls in various stages of undress, or supercharged guys in various stages of battle. But amidst all this mind-blowing action, the story has taken a sharp turn south, wallowing in the mediocrity that we know as the fighting tournament format. It was okay the first few times, when Ikki and friends got into battles that lasted maybe several chapters at the most, but when you start measuring the length of a fight in volumes, that's when things get tricky. Either it's an epic battle that gets crazier and more imaginative with each new move ... or, as it turns out in this volume, it's a fight that's long for the sake of being long, and you only wish it would end already.
Overall : D+
Story : D
Art : B
+ A healthy heaping of fanservice and all-out action scenes provide a welcome treat for the eyes.
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