Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Hyde & Closer
Shunpei Closer is the grandson of Alsyd Closer, the famed "King of Sorcerers" who went missing years ago. Shunpei's skills have yet to match those of his famous relative, leaving him vulnerable to evil sorcerers who want to gain the power of the Closer bloodline. Fortunately, Shunpei is protected by Hyde, an enchanted, chainsaw-wielding teddy bear that was Alsyd's last gift to his grandson—or at least, he was protected by Hyde, until the mysterious villain known as the Watcher in the Window sliced the bear in two. Now Shunpei is completely open to attack ... which is not a good position to be in when a power-hungry tycoon has just employed the services of a hundred sorcerers. If he is to survive, Shun must quickly learn some high-level sorcery, regain the confidence to fight, and possibly even bring Hyde back to life.
If Volume 4 of Hyde and Closer was the turning point as far as plot mechanics—revealing the chief villain's motives, the reason for Alsyd Closer's disappearance, and the back-story supporting the entire conflict—then Volume 5 is its direct complement, the series' emotional center. This is where the story moves from matters of the head to the heart, along with messages about conquering fear, believing in one's self, and the bonds of friendship. The shock of losing Hyde, followed by Shunpei's self-examination and recovery, and then a final-chapter showdown, makes for a powerful upward arc in this volume ... or at least it would, if it didn't feel like Shunpei was just going through the motions and getting a ton of outside help. For all its dramatic speeches and grand gestures, this particular storyline rings hollow.
Perhaps the best that can be said for Shunpei is that he remains in character throughout the grieving period. But where his lack of confidence was once just a quirk one had to tolerate, it now becomes downright annoying as he goes into full Shinji Ikari mode and beats himself up over his lack of talent. This parade of self-pity mercifully comes to a close early on, but what saves Shunpei is not his own strength of character, but some encouraging words from his grandfather (as well as a familiar shonen cliché) miraculously showing up at the right time. While that plot device does help to turn Shunpei's attitude around, it comes off as an emotional crutch rather than a true step forward.
Next comes another contrived device, this time a literal one, as magical artifacts expert Pacwa presents Shunpei with an enchanted helmet that will boost his sorcery skills enough to resurrect Hyde. The way the helmet works is entertaining, to be sure—Shunpei must enter an alternate world and fight off his personal demons in physical form—but again, it feels like he's been handed a crutch ("Instant magical power-up!") with which to overcome his challenges. Meanwhile, Shunpei's friends are keeping him out of harm's way by fending off the creations of an evil CEO and his hundred-sorcerer staff, but that fight isn't fair either: they strut about, beating up cannon-fodder opponents and proclaiming the power of friendship, which isn't exactly white-knuckle drama. As the final chapters reveal, Shunpei's buddies are basically there to hold a spot while the company president brings out his ridiculous-looking battle suit and Shunpei shows up to fight him with his new, cheaply-gained powers.
The artwork does little to further this series' cause, doing just enough to get by as far as action, sorcery and emotion are concerned. At the basic level, Haro Aso's style simply isn't very polished: the linework lacks precision, details are skimped over, and character designs barely meet genre expectations (a scrappy, spiky-haired protagonist—how surprising). Aso's style fares better when he can draw without restraint, like in Shunpei's spiritual world where physics no longer applies and the boy levitates as he battles a giant insect, or when cursed toys mutate into monsters and must be destroyed by blasts of magical energy. But even the loudest, most explosive fight scene needs to follow a structure for the visual storytelling to work, and there isn't enough structure amid these loose lines and wild effects.
On the other hand, unrestrained outbursts turn out to be ideal approach as far as dialogue goes. Structure and precision may be important visually, but when it comes to the text, it's all about the characters being as outspoken and interesting as possible. This volume's finest moments of dialogue come when Shunpei is involved, either venting his negative feelings or listening to those around him pump him up with encouragement. The writing isn't particularly eloquent, but it's straightforward and emotionally powerful, much like the storyline itself. The translation and editing of sound effects comes out pretty straightforward as well—just slap those blocky letters right into the artwork, where they'll match up with the unadorned style. It's never going to pass for fine art, but it doesn't intend to be, and keeping a consistent aesthetic is more important.
Just Because! Hyde and Closer doesn't intend to be fine art, however, doesn't excuse it from being held to certain standards. Losing one's power and fighting to gain it back is a classic part of any hero's journey, but in the case of Shunpei Closer, it feels like he never really has to fight that hard for it. In each stage of the journey, he's getting an assist from his grandfather, and then from his peers and fellow sorcerers. Of course this is to illustrate the power of friendship, but at the same time it dilutes the message of personal struggle and believing in one's self. There's never a chance to see how well Shunpei can perform on his own—at least not until he's all powered up and facing a new nemesis in the closing chapters. The sloppy visual presentation doesn't help much either, reducing many of the battles to loud, cartoony fights that are exciting at first glance but lack depth and drama behind the bombast. This volume may be the emotional turning point of Hyde and Closer, but it feels half-hearted.
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : C
+ Moves dramatically from Shunpei's low point to a climactic high, and some outspoken dialogue brings out everyone's fighting spirit.
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