Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Fuko's the kind of girl that's hard to bring down – all she really wants out of life is the money to buy a cellphone and an ionic hair dryer to tame her persistent bedhead. She's got a few schemes involving her camera and contests to get the money quickly, but all of that is derailed when she sees a boy walking down the outside wall at the old school building! It's one of her classmates, Ruka, and Fuko throws herself into trying to befriend him. Ruka's reluctant, and not just because Fuko comes on strong – it turns out that his gravity-manipulation powers are contagious!
If you've ever wondered what a stereotypical Ribon manga circa 2002 would look like, here's your answer. Ryō Azuki's Anti-Gravity Boy is probably the most typical manga of that period of the anthology's publication, with its wide-eyed, energetic heroine, a stoic-but-sweet (and a little bit scared) hero, and just a soupçon of supernatural powers and romance. Even Azuki's style is incredibly representative of the art prevalent in Ribon in the early 2000s, with its slightly stiff bodies, huge round eyes, and flyaway hair. That makes this an interesting choice for an English-language release, because such stock works don't often get a translation, being edged out for less innocuous fare.
That does not mean, however, that this was a poor choice to bring over or not worth reading. There's a charming innocence to Anti-Gravity Boy with its low-stakes plot and comfortable storytelling, and this is prime middle-grade fiction, perfect for getting someone in that age range into manga who isn't interested in shounen (or Shounen Jump) fare. And despite being mostly run-of-the-mill for its time period, the story still takes a few interesting risks that even more modern shoujo for this age group isn't always willing to take.
The most surprising is the fact that our heroine, the bouncy Fuko, has had a boyfriend before she falls for Ruka. It wasn't a hugely serious relationship, nor was she doing anything remotely adult with him, but the simple fact that Ruka isn't her absolute first is striking in a genre that does its level best to promote the idea of first love = true love. Azuki doesn't go out of her way to refute that – Fuko's first boyfriend was clearly much more into her than she was into him – but it still stands out as unusual. Similarly, the two secondary characters who make up the rest of Ruka and Fuko's friend group are a couple; they're plainly devoted to each other and Fuko is able to strike up a friendship with both of them. While Ruka once had a crush on Yumi, and that naturally becomes a plot point as Fuko crushes on him, there's virtually no sense that she would ever leave her boyfriend, and the two of them are impressively solid.
The romance plot is not, however, entirely secondary to the rest of the story. The title indicates that: it comes from the fact that Ruka has a superpower – the ability to alter his weight and gravity at will so that he can do things like walk on walls and ceilings or even across water, or ride away on a helium-filled balloon. This in itself isn't hugely interesting; the catch, which is what makes the series stand out more, is that his powers are contagious, and people who spend a lot of time around him end up with his anti-gravity powers too. That's partially why he's still close with Yumi and her boyfriend – they caught his powers back in middle school. Because one of them was injured using them – it takes practice to use them well – Ruka is hesitant to make any new friends, lest they also get hurt because of his weird genetic quirk. (The powers do run in his family, although they've skipped several generations.) That makes Fuko's fascination with Ruka, and his hesitance with her, both part of the issue he has with his powers. It is his abilities that initially attract Fuko to him, just like it's her mastery of them once she spends just a bit too much time in his presence that makes him really pay attention to her, but ultimately they have to see beyond the powers to the person using them to form a solid friendship, and later something more.
Azuki's use of Ruka's powers is another particularly good aspect of this series. The story does a nice job of making it clear that, while his powers are something he can use for fun, ultimately they've become a negative influence in his life, forcing him – or rather making him think that he's forced – to drive others away in order to protect both them and himself. Two specific incidents in Ruka's past have reinforced this idea, one of which ultimately resulted in him leaving his parents' house to live with his maternal uncle in order to “protect” his younger brother Ru. (Ru gets his own side story in volume three, revealing that Ruka's reasoning is flawed.) The other friend who caught Ruka's powers and was injured refuses to let Ruka escape, and his determined, steadfast friendship forms the groundwork for Fuko to finish convincing him that he's not a danger to others. Interestingly enough, she doesn't tell him that being around people will be worth the potential harm to his heart; instead Azuki lets the story show Ruka coming to that conclusion without ever explicitly stating the fact.
Ultimately that's where Anti-Gravity Boy shines: the story may be full of basic shoujo plot events (A trip to Okinawa! Romantic rivals!), but it lets its characters come to their own emotional conclusions. Ruka and Fuko's relationship is, at the end of the day, based on their feelings, not plot contrivances like anti-gravity powers, and that makes this a fun reading experience. It does still feel fairly rote, and the translation isn't terrific, but it's a satisfying middle-grade-level read. It's simply a pleasant series. While that may feel like damning it with faint praise, Anti-Gravity Boy is really like a literary nostalgia trip, taking us back to a time when every story didn't have to be about Something Important. There's something to be said for that.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C+
+ Story driven by its characters more than its contrivances, just pleasant reading.
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