Madara vol. 1 – Eiji Otsuka

5 out of 5

I’ve tried my hand at some more typical shonen battle stuff, both in manga and anime. I’ll generally get in to whatever the up front lore is, but then find myself disappointed by what rolls out thereafter, which is mostly just… battle stuff. Rehashed powers. And the “lore” starts to have quotes like that, with random additions stapled or bubble-gummed onto it. But I do get it, in the sense that I get Marvel and DC hero stuff: it fulfills a need for many and some, and I can appreciate that there’s a skill in providing for that need.

Eiji Otsuka is easily referenced as the dude behind MPD Psycho and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service – two tonally different but quite macabre books. There’s action in both – especially MPD Psycho – but I would in no way classify them as typically shonen. And when Otsuka starts spinning out some of his odder ideas, wrapping out it around some great characters, both series really shine.

For some reason, Madara doesn’t come up as immediate of a reference for Eiji – and Sho-U Tajima, his artist on MPD – even though it seems to have spawned a mini-franchise of videogames and whatnot. Perhaps because it’s an early work – certainly Tajima’s art here isn’t as stylized as MPD, with more influence from some of the aforementioned battle manga (and I’m also seeing some Guyver in there) – any maybe because it’s subject-matter different from those other titles, being more rooted in fantasy, but I otherwise don’t get it. Tajima’s still in fine form, with great character designs and action, and Otsuka’s tendency to indulge in darkly humorous over-violence and alternately clever and silly plotting are certainly there, plus there’s this overdrive factor of the title being – I’d have to believe purposefully – overkill with all of its shonen-ness. Apparently published in a video game magazine in Japan, and then branded under DC’s CMX experiment nearly a decade later for its English printing, the book masks itself in a serious cover and some upfront serious lore, but then… Then it just gets wonderfully ridiculous. And quest-y, and dumb panty shot-y, and bloody battle-y. You can tell me this was all serious, I suppose, but to me, there’s an undercurrent of humor throughout, as lead character Madara – all robotic bits and pieces, save his head – decides to track down his original parts, which have been scattered to various demon lords around the land. (Of course.) The stuff that normally sets me to snooze in shonen, and the cultural fanservice stuff that also rather rankles me, is all given a wash of self-awareness in the book, but then also wholly committed to; like, the action is actually really cool, and the power one-upping exciting.

But, I mean, an old dude who uses mini-monkeys to summon lightning? A little evil bunny rabbit who stabs old senseis? It’s all very weird, and fun, and… maybe stupid, but also addictive, and with some powerful snark written in. And I couldn’t put the damn thing down.