Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Akira is a normal boy. Pause here to absorb that shock. Okay... now on the day he turns fourteen a mysterious girl informs him that he's a magical warrior and that the fate of the world may lie on his shoulders. Pause again. This girl, Koyomi, is a Shiki Tsukai: a person who can manipulate the seasons. It seems that Akira is a special, special Shiki Tsukai who can manipulate all of the seasons at once. The gift comes at a cost—some of the less special people are out to get him because he's just too special. Luckily the voluptuous Koyomi is on hand to protect him and occasionally lose her clothes. Aah, adolescence.
Here's a high-concept manga idea for you: the educational shounen fighting manga. Watch lame fighting clichés pile up like Thigh-Masters at a landfill while being subjected to tedious lessons on the Japanese calendar and seasons! Yum.
It's a terrible idea to begin with, akin to those educational videos they used to show in grade school—you know, the ones that tried to be "hip." Nevertheless, had either aspect been competently executed, the end result would have been at least tolerable. Few things are as diverting as a good shounen fighting story, and the calendar aspect—with its birth stones, special days, and their associated powers—is interesting in a very zodiac kind of way. Instead we are subjected to the usual young boy with immense hidden powers and the personality of a slice of white bread. There are startlingly boring fights with mysterious forces mysteriously bent on his destruction, pathetic attempts at risqué humor and character building, and where would any manga be without a cute furry mascot creature? Akira agonizes (incredibly unconvincingly) about his violent destiny, and is tempted by his enemies to join their cause ("How do you know that we are your enemies?" "Because you're ugly and have squinty eyes"). The fun never stops.
As if a half-baked heap of clumsily wielded clichés weren't punishment enough, the authors see fit to interrupt the action—such as it is—with long, blunt force info dumps about the powers, responsibilities, and origins of the Shiki Tsukai. This includes—no joke—long passages of text explaining everything from the proper form for Shiki Tsukai incantations to the birthstones, flowers, holidays and special powers associated with each character's birthday. They're even inserted into the middle of the fights, which says something for the esteem in which the authors hold the fighting aspect of the manga. Whatever mild interest the information holds, its presentation is poor and its integration into the story crude and disruptive.
As with many bad manga, the artwork is noticeably superior to the writing. It's clearly drawn, characters are easy to distinguish, and backgrounds are sufficiently detailed and utilized to create the setting for each scene. Koyomi is also on hand to provide plentiful, though not pervasive, fan service. However, the designs for the characters are so generically "anime" that they bore, and there is a tendency to crowd too many panels, actions and flowery effects onto each page. The fights rely too much on crazy, fractured layouts and speedlines, and aren't allowed enough time or space to unfold lucidly or build tension. The text passages could also be considered an art problem as they break up the visual flow in inconvenient ways.
Del Rey's productions continue to be a cut above the norm. The volume kicks off with a convenient summation of the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar that serves as a handy reference for all of those calendar terms thrown around in the story, and ends with fully sixteen pages of extras. Included are a list of the powers associated with the Shiki Tsukai of each month, explanations of all the incantations in the volume, and two character profiles, as well as notes from the authors and extensive translator's notes.
The closest Shiki Tsukai gets to being involving in this first volume are the occasional moments with Akira's spunky, diminutive mother (she even gets the best action scene). Finding redeeming values in the rest of this poor excuse for entertainment is like finding treasure in a landfill. Maybe it's there, but guaranteed you'll be covered in stink before you find it. The manga's mix of the puerile (Akira gets his special powers by groping Koyomi's chest) and educational will, however, go over well with those who find they can't learn 'cause textbooks just don't have enough boobs.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C+
+ Cool mother figure; mildly educational.
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