4 out of 5
Yuji pairs off against Junpei, leading to a showdown with Mahito, Nanami, and Yuji. The last few chapters of the tankobon pick up on the Kyoto vs. Tokyo Jujutsu schools square-off that’s been discussed on and off.
There are some things I still think Akutami struggles with in volume 4: settings are detailed but sometimes seem unbound to the choreography, and his particular use of flashbacks is uneven. The former makes the high-school battle (versus Junpei and Mahito) lack some gravitas, as the characters sort of jump around in space and it lessens the impact of scuffling in an area populated by students, and affecting a building that will have frequent use. This is seeming like a consequence of how Gege uses settings in general, which are more in service to the acting / actions of his characters. So it’s definitely steps beyond having undefined settings – you can tell it’s a school, or a meeting room, or a bridge, etc. – but it’s akin to when Hollywood blockbusters establish that the car chase is taking place on the highway, then forget about where cars and landmarks on that highway are, as long as the camera keeps us entwined with the chase itself. It works for the most part, until / unless you pay attention. It’s the same thing here – I definitely get it, and Gege’s loose, jagged linework and excellently personified cast communicate all the action and attitude that’s likely needed, I just wish I felt a bit more sense of “place.”
Regarding the latter – the flashbacks – I think this is partly a learning curve, and I also think Gege starts to improve on this in the book’s latter half. Now that I know that some information is likely forthcoming, I don’t have to flip back through pages to see what I missed, only for it to appear a few pages later in flashback, but then I also felt like there was clearer signposting to indicate what we are and aren’t supposed to know yet; the majority of this volume sped by as a result.
…Because the main thing that keeps elevating this, and that keeps surprising me, is how affecting it can be, and how deep its concepts are, especially for a shonen manga. Gege’s thoughts on the meaning of death give such import to Yuji’s decisions, and the allowances for readerly intelligence – that we can read between the lines of some conversations, and not have the protag shout it out in word bubbles – are much appreciated. So, so many beats here – action, drama, comedy – land incredibly effectively because of how well formed these characters are, and the intelligence of the writing, and sync perfectly with the zippy, energetic linework to make it a page-turner, that you then want to go back and re-read, and re-experience with your new appreciation for character X or Y in tow.