Reviewby Grant Jones,
Kaiju No. 8
Kaiju No. 8 is a story about monster hunters. In the near future, the Japanese Defense Force faces a continual onslaught of monstrous kaiju. They fight and defeat these monsters using a wide range of powerful weaponry and suits which can magnify their capabilities. Our hero Kafka Hibino is part of the Japanese Defense Force, but not exactly on the "defense" side of things. Instead, he is part of the cleanup crew, relegated to cleaning up monster guts in the aftermath of battles after having long ago flunked out of the trials, while his childhood friend Mina Ashiro went on to become a star kaiju fighter. However, his life changes when a small kaiju flies into his open mouth and he gains the secret ability to transform into a kaiju himself. Now that the Japanese Defense Force is opening trials for the combat team once again, Kafka gets another shot at fulfilling his lifelong dream.
Kaiju No. 8 volume 1 is written and drawn by Naoya Matsumoto, with English translation by David Evelyn and lettering by Brandon Bovia. Kaiju No. 8 is published by Viz media.
After months of people begging me to get into Kaiju No. 8 and me dragging my feet, I can definitely say that they were right – I should have started reading ages ago.
Kaiju No. 8's opening volume provides a rock-solid setup. In many ways it rhymes with what you would expect from a Shonen Jump title: We have our protagonist with more potential than proven ability, an early trial scenario with young warriors looking to prove their mettle, and a childhood friendship strained by circumstances. There are big monsters and big fights, with a strong initial premise and rapid-fire world-building – all hallmarks of a Jump action-adventure title.
But Kaiju No. 8 has quite a few fun twists that lend it a great deal of promise.
Firstly, Kafka's age is a big plus. At thirty-two years old, Kafka Hibino is by no means an old man – he's young to the world, and in fact younger than I am – but shonen stories seldom feature protagonists in this age group (and understandably so, it is called Shonen Jump after all). Having a lead character in his 30s who is still trying to make it all work is a lot of fun in a story like this which would more typically center on the circumstances of, well, a much younger person. There is a particularly good emotional beat to the opening trial in this volume that is only possible due to the extension of the age cap: Kafka lost his chance, but now has one final shot to make it again. While the training scenario functionally serves the same purpose it would if he was much younger, his age and the fact that time is not on his side give this new chance at redemption a much heightened emotional resonance.
There is a fair bit of creativity in the premise too. The tactical skin suits the members of the Defense Force wear provide superhuman abilities, but wearers at different skill levels can yield different percentages of performance enhancement. This is a fun way to provide a nice baseline of resilience, strength, speed, etc needed for the human cast to face giant monsters regularly, while also leaving open opportunities for character power growth. The fact that the suits heighten the impact of their technological weapons adds another interesting element to the mix, and the super-powered tacticool aesthetic is a mix of X-Com and X-Men. I am eating it up.
Oh, and did I mention that Kaiju No. 8 is hilarious? I genuinely got a few deep belly laughs from Kafka's antics in this volume. The high watermark had to Kafka's post-transformation realization that he now urinates through his nipples in a pair of high-powered streams. The facial reactions from Kafka and Leo laid me out flat laughing. As a Gintama fan, it's really nice to have a new action-comedy with a 30s-something goofball lead in my life again.
The technical aspects are all stellar too. This volume is mostly setup, and in that setup there are going to be a lot of familiar techniques to get the ball rolling of course. But Naoya Matsumoto's plotting and pacing make it look positively easy, and the character writing is top notch. The art is also superb, transitioning from technical detail to monstrous creatures to hilarious comedic faces with complete ease. I cannot speak to the accuracy of the translation of course, but all the dialogue flows naturally thanks to David Evelyn's work, and Brandon Bovia's lettering is terrific as always.
Honestly, this one has a lot of promise and I'm eager to see what else is in store.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A+
+ Strong start, excellent art, terrific comedy, good twists to the expected formula
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