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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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01/14/2007 Archived Entry: "Manga reviews: Buso Renkin Vol. 1 and Law of Ueki Vol. 3"

Law of Ueki, Vol. 3
by Tsubasa Fukuchi

Buso Renkin, Vol. 1
by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Review by Tom Good

Buso Renkin may be the first manga ever to provide a good reason why its female lead must always wear a miniskirt. The heroine Tokiko uses a magical weapon called the Valkyrie Skirt, which consists of four articulated robot arms with swords at the ends. Visually it reminds me of the mechanical arms of Doctor Octopus in the Spider-Man comics, but in an odd and disturbing twist, the appendages do not attach to Tokiko's torso, but instead emerge from her thighs. Since those giant arms would never fit beneath jeans, a miniskirt is the practical choice.

But as soon as I saw the Valkyrie Skirt, I knew there was something wrong with this manga. In a plot that feels slightly borrowed from FullMetal Alchemist, Tokiko and Kazuki -- a boy whose magical weapon is a lance -- use alchemical magic and do battle with a series of homonculus foes. (At least they are not searching for the Philosopher's Stone, and Tokiko is not a spirit attached to a large suit of armor.) Unfortunately, the weapon design gives Tokiko a creepy, inhuman, insectoid quality that would work better for a villain than for one of the main heroic characters, especially since the author intends some romantic tension between Tokiko and Kazuki.

The other character designs show more potential, but rarely materialize as more than decorative flourishes. For example, in one scene Kazuki battles a homonculus who can take the form of a giant frog. This could lead to some interesting questions: will Kazuki's lance be an effective weapon against him? Will the frog homonculus have appropriate special abilities like poisonous skin? Will he be able to attack with his tongue, or avoid Kazuki's lance with giant leaps? But the story does not explore ideas like these. Kazuki destroys some mini-frog henchmen with some "energy" from his lance, then smacks the boss down with a mighty blow. Substitute an armadillo homonculus and give Kazuki a magical baseball bat, and the battle would have been exactly the same. Watsuki's art is as well-executed here as in his Rurouni Kenshin series, and the character designs look cool, but they do not seem to have much meaning.

By contrast, The Law of Ueki gets a lot of mileage out of its quirky characters and their wacky powers. Its art is not nearly as polished as Buso Renkin's, and its fighting-tournament plot is one of the most overused manga cliches, but it makes up for these deficiencies with cleverness. Ueki has the ability to turn trash into trees, and his opponents have equally crazy talents: one boy can turn his own head into diamonds. But these powers are more than just one-line jokes. The competitors have to invent uses for their own abilities and counters for their opponents' powers. Ueki runs into trouble if he ever runs out of trash, and he must find ways to make tree-creation into an effective tactic.

In this episode, Ueki has to fight Robert Haydn, a vicious competitor whose ability involves making things heavy or light. Ueki tries to clobber him with a tree, but he makes the tree light as a feather before contact. Ueki follows up by sending a vine-like tree spiraling at Robert, but this time he makes it so heavy that it falls to the ground before it reaches him. Robert makes Ueki so light he floats up into the air, then forces him to fall from a great height. Ueki seems to have the answer for this when he creates a tree on the ground to break his fall, but Robert lightens that tree so it floats away. This back-and-forth battle of wits makes the manga a lot of fun to read.

Reading these two manga one after the other made me wish for a book that would combine the best aspects of both of them. A story by Tsubasa Fukuchi with art by Nobuhiro Watsuki would make for a manga I would rush out to buy. But of these two books, I would recommend The Law of Ueki as a funny, creative story. I hope Buso Renkin improves to the level of Rurouni Kenshin, because I really like Watsuki's art.

See also:

Law of Ueki, Vol. 1 (DVD) review by Tom Good

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