3 out of 5
A very flawed, very clunky – but also very promising – start.
But there’s one main roadblock to address: Platinum End, about soon-to-be high schooler Marai getting angelically gifted with, essentially, super powers, feels immediately similar to the popular Death Note, which happened to be written and drawn by the same writer and artist: Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Marai isn’t as cold-hearted and calculating as Death Note lead Light Yagami, but they both show a knack for planning ahead; the “super powers” are seemingly “nicer” than that of the Note’s, but there’s the same opportunity for playing with the abilities in a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ way; and just as Light found himself in an ideological scuffle with L, Marai quickly discovers that others have been granted similar powers, and, succinctly, only one of them can have these powers at the end of a certain period of time. The specifics differ, sure, but the structure is there. The fact that there are parallels can’t be coincidental – I can appreciate this as Death Note with different rules and a more altruistic lead – but the problem is that Ohba seems so eager to get into the forthcoming complexities that any kind of character or setting establishment is done away with.
…Which leads us into our flaws and clunks. Death Note dropped us right into things, but it also sort of wisely rolled out the arbitrary “rules” as the story went along; we discovered the borders of the story as Light did, and then there was the fun of testing those borders. Here, Marai is ready to commit suicide but is saved by angel Nasse, who then gives him a special necklace and bracelet that given him angel wings – flight at great speed, akin to teleportation – and angels, capable of either inflicting a peaceful death or instant affection for Marai. Instead of leaving us to discover more about these tools, or take some time to understand how they might change Marai’s perceptions, Nasse just kinda tells him how to use them, forces him to use them, and then Obha drops an incredibly vague “I should live to be happy, just like my mom wanted” justification for Marai setting aside the whole suicide gambit. The bits and pieces that follow – establishing that there are 12 others who are getting these powers, explaining the reason the angels are doling this stuff out – are delivered with a similar sort of informational dump. We jump right in to some people abusing the powers in ways that you’d expect (with some unfortunate fan service), and also in to the Light / L-like conflict of one power-user who’s set to wipe out the others, causing Marai to go into planning mode.
Without the Death Note comparison, while that doesn’t fix the clunky delivery of this stuff, it’d be undeniably intriguing; the plus side of having the comparison is that it grants us some faith in Ohba: all of the pieces and rules, in and of themselves, are fascinating, and it’s exciting to think how he’s going to play around with them. It’d be nice if the story was introduced better – Marai is pretty empty-headed at this point – but perhaps when do we get deeper in to the good stuff, it’ll blow away memories of this first volume.
On the art front, Takeshi Obata doesn’t have much opportunity to pair expressive characters against one another, since we’re generally stuck with dopey Marai and his pixie angel companion, but the artist’s framing and detailing competence is, as ever, impressive and above average, and some of the other angels we see have fantastic designs. Again, the hope is things evolve to give both creators more to play around with.