by Nick Creamer,

UQ Holder!

GN 4

UQ Holder! GN 4
Having successfully completed his first mission and saddled himself with a twenty million yen property damage debt, Tota is back to the grind at UQ Holder headquarters. But a chance meeting with the wealthy patron of the immortals, Kirie Sakurame, gives Tota a chance to get one step closer to his dream, and actually see the tower he's been seeking up close. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, and so Tota's trip to the tower will be accompanied by a meeting with an old “friend” of his grandfather's. Can Tota's powers stand up to a man who's been threatening the world for decades, and will Kirie's own mysterious ability be enough to turn the tide?

I knew this manga was worth believing in. In spite of its lackluster early volumes, I knew Akamatsu had it in him to make a truly satisfying shounen manga, one that demonstrated all the passion and creativity that occasionally glimmered through in Negima. It's taken a while, but UQ Holder is finally beginning to make good on that promise, and deliver excitement worthy of its creator's talents. UQ Holder has arrived.

A large part of this volume's strength comes down to the introduction of its central character, Kirie Sakurame. Like Tota, Kirie is one of the Numbers, the immortals who stand as the banner members of UQ Holder. Unlike Tota, her power isn't something as simple as fast regeneration, or Karen's curse. Kirie's immortality takes the form of “Reset & Restart,” the ability to make actual “Save Points” in the world that, when she is killed, she can jump back to through time. Kirie is no stronger than any normal person, but every death she suffers gives her knowledge, information she can hopefully put to use to create a better future the next time. And so she frames herself as possessing precognition, and only reveals the true nature of her power when absolutely necessary.

The first half of this volume slowly reveals Kirie's power through an almost Groundhog Day-esque recycling of her and Tota's visit to the tower. Kirie seems quiet and unpersonable to Tota at first, and when the two are paired off to wander the port, she yells at Tota for “failing to protect her six times.” And then, when an assassin ends up nearly killing her once again, she grabs Tota's hand, dragging him back with her and explaining that that was the seventh time he managed to get her killed today. It's a creative conceit that lends itself to all sorts of dramatic setups, a power far more interesting than any of the strictly combat-oriented immortalities we've seen thus far. And there's great comedy in watching Tota attempt to act like everything's normal on his repeat journey to the tower, consistently demonstrating that he's, as Kirie puts it “not cut out for time loops.”

In addition to her very compelling power, Kirie also adds a needed dash of personality and chemistry to UQ Holder. Tota's two prior companions have proven to be fairly bland characters so far - Kuromaru is basically just “stoic swordsman who likes Tota,” while Karen is just “stoic swordswoman who doesn't like Tota.” Kirie, on the other hand, is arrogant, smug, snarky, strategically minded, and dedicated to her own individual goals. She gets mad at Tota for reasons we can actually understand, and the bickering of the two possesses far more chemistry and life than Tota's relationships with any of his other friends. She's the first character I actually like in this manga, and I really hope she sticks around.

In addition to Kirie storming in to fix everything herself, this volume of UQ holder also possesses easily the most satisfying fights of the series so far, both in terms of visuals and strategy. With Kirie on the team, the style of battle changes significantly - now, instead of simply fighting for his own immortal sake, Tota and the others have to protect a fragile trump card in order to steal a victory. Kirie uses her power to set up an ideal ambush for their target, and then the manga erupts into battle as every conceivable thing goes wrong.

Tota's exchanges with the surprise villain in the final chapters here are a dizzying spectacle, with panels demonstrating half a dozen exchanges of blows alternating with those simply showing off the might of Tota's opponent, as he knocks Tota halfway across the terminal. And between Kirie's power, the coordination of the other Numbers, and Tota's growing confidence in his gravity blade, the fights here actually make sense, too, feeling like a series of tactical decisions leading towards a specific goal instead of just a bunch of people hitting each other.

UQ Holder finally emerged on solid ground this volume, and I couldn't be happier. Between the better humor, welcome dose of strategy, and basically everything Kirie Sakurame adds to the story, this was a top-shelf volume of shounen manga. I sincerely hope the story can keep up this pace.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-

+ The tower terminal conflict and introduction of Kirie Sakurame work together to make this easily the most compelling volume yet.
The manga is strong, but not yet transcendent - there's still little emotional punch or truly jaw-dropping action sequences.

Story & Art: Ken Akamatsu

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UQ Holder! (manga)

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UQ Holder! (GN 4)

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