First impressions are most important for new writers. It's what gives the readers a good idea of the style and attitude that these newbies wish to present in their first and future works. In the case of Tsuyoshi Takai's first serialized work Black Torch, it seems he has one true goal in mind: to make really cool manga. From its premiere volume, it appears he'll manage to do just that with dark, flying colors!

Black Torch gives us a tough-as-nails protagonist in the form of Jiro Azuma. A descendant of a powerful ninja clan, our hero makes it his mission to protect those who can't fend for themselves, especially when it comes to wildlife creatures. Jiro has the power to nonchalantly chat with the local animals, making it easy for him to take on various tasks and use his furry and feathered friends whenever he's in a jam. However, a chance meeting with a supernatural black cat named Rago places Jiro into a world he somewhat knew existed already, giving him an extra dose of power in the process.

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With the discovery of demonic creatures called Mononoke, Jiro is suddenly tossed into the custody of the Bureau of Espionage, an updated version of the Edo-based Oniwabanshu Organization. Not the kind of person to take orders from others, Jiro and Rago escape and head home, where his grandfather is ready to give him one hell of a smackdown-filled lesson. It's when Jiro freely goes off with the Bureau of Espionage when he gets a true taste of the danger that's to come. Thankfully, not only does he have the power to take them down, but he's got one hell of a reluctant partner in the form of Ichika Kishimojin.

One can be forgiven if they get some sort of Bleach vibe from reading the first few bits of Black Torch. Both have smart-aleck heroes with a strange ability that gets them into stranger circumstances. However, those similarities are sliced off right there, as the first volume dives into some truly hardcore battles. Watching Jiro dive without pretense into a battle with a Mononoke gives you a great idea of hat kind of hero he's destined to become. A take-no-crap attitude like his is bound to get him into one kerfuffle or two in the future, but right now this mentality is the kind he needs to deal with these minor interferences.

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It's during a fight with his grandfather when you find out the true heart that resides within Jiro. Even without any big powers at his disposal, you get the sense that he is a guy itching to be responsible for the protection of those who need it. This is strongly apparent when -- despite being handcuffed -- he desires to help Ichika, despite her bitchy attitude towards his very existence. In a way, it demonstrates how true his heart is towards assisting those for the greater good, even if someone within said good-natured company can be rather snarky.

Of course, being a shonen manga, Black Torch needs to deliver something action-packed to gain the attention of its readers. Takaki not only doesn't fail to entertain with his fights, but he also manages to crank the violence level all the way to eleven! From watching Jiro's stomach becoming impaled by a Mononoke's fingernail to even the way Jiro's grandfather smacks him around a sports track, a fantastic dose of high-octane battles is what's given to onlookers on a bloody silver platter. (One can only hope that -- if it ever comes to be -- an anime adaptation will capture this in all of its dark and fist-pumping glory.)

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Black Torch is one badass hit in the making, with Takaki's debut work filled with enough action, humor, and heart to make any shonen fan crave for more. While it'll be some time before we see the Bureau's new squad in action, what's delivered is a devilishly delightful prelude to the mayhem that's surely to come. Even when the author plans to throw in cyborgs, mechas, and other non-ninja things into a ninja story (according to the hilarious afterword he wrote at the end), it's clear that he just wants to give its readers something entertaining at its core. With its first volume alone, Black Torch has already succeeded!

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration provided by Erik Jansen of MediaLab PR

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