MANGA REVIEW | "Black Torch" - Volume Three
Too much exposition can sometimes ruin the fun of action manga and anime. There are parts of Naruto, Bleach, and even Soul Eater where I feel like a scene suffers from being too talkative, resulting in the impending fight afterwards being somewhat underwhelming. Tsuyoshi Takaki's Black Torch does everything it can to avoid that, with the author's goal of making "cool manga" being his one and only intention. Consider this a good thing, as the series continues to be one entertaining slobberknocker, even three volumes in.
Leaving off where Volume Two ends, Black Torch continues with Jiro and Rago battling within an illusion for training purposes. Said illusion brings the two into a past memory, where Rago was considered a deity of a village. This all changes when a human-like mononoke named Amagi appears, with a plan to destroy all of human life before they themselves can be vanquished. It's here where we discover why Rago was locked in a killing stone, with both he and Jiro realizing how to overcome their current challenge. Meanwhile, severed human heads are discovered in a nearby neighborhood, as Black Torch sets out to find the mononoke responsible for the heinous deeds.
What keeps pulling me into Black Torch is its means of cutting the fat that most shonen series suffer from. There's always this overbearing conflict or deep underlying mantra that the heroes tend to trot through to get to their next goal or plot point. Reading through Rago's backstory, one would think that it would lead to some understanding between him and Jiro over why he was in the killing stone. Instead, it takes readers on a left turn thanks to Jiro's blunt (and truthful) response over the whole ordeal. Not only is it refreshing to see a main character do that, it also adds to the humor that Takaki is so good at bringing out in his story.
It's when the Reiji, Jiro, and Ichika set out to find the four mononoke responsible for the recent human beheadings when the action gets very good. Watching as Jiro and Rago face off against the ogre-like Kanawa delivers some beautiful fight shots, as it builds towards a new level of power that the duo never realized they had. A face-off between Reiji and a familiar foe results in not just a tough-as-nails battle, but also a flashback revealing a sort of frustration from an enemy that I've never seen presented before. As this is going on, the match with Ichika and the horned mononoke Roren delivers a bit of humor into their fight, albeit with a nice level of badassery towards its end.
Three volumes in, and Black Torch continues to be one entertaining popcorn affair. Although this volume dives deeper into some character back stories, it never feels like they're trying to stretch out a plot for the sake of selling another issue or two in the near-future. Even when a big baddie shows up to reveal to Jiro about Rago's usage of power, there's zero hesitation over what the next course of action should be. A fight with evil spirits leads little time for heroes to conflict with their rights and wrongs, and Black Torch understands that better than even some of the longest-running shonen manga out there. For that, Takaki easily makes a hell of an impression as a writer and character developer.
Promotional consideration provided by Erik Jansen of MediaLab PR