The first question that pops into your head opening Nabari No Ou is “ok, what’s different about this one?”. After all, do we really need another manga about school boys learning martial arts and training to be ninjas, if it doesn’t have some sort of twist to set it apart? The answer is that the Shinji Ikari-type protagonist, the glum, indifferent, non-combative skinny kid who wants nothing to do with adventure, has just made his appearance in ninja manga.
It’s an amusing enough premise. Certainly there’s no shortage of angsty heroes in manga, but they tend to be confined more to the likes of the mecha and sci-fi genres. In the wake of Naruto, where we’ve had obnoxious “I’ll always try my best” hyperactive brats shoved in our faces in so many martial arts manga for years on end, Miharu Rokujou is a refreshing change of pace.
He isn’t just too depressed, cowardly, or weak to fight – he just outright isn’t interested or emotionally affected by the idea of fighting at all. The very natural talent he has towards ninja behavior is that which he uses to duck out of the room when his classmates and teachers attempt to drag him into their ninjutsu club…it’s a rather amusing, if minor, irony. When someone chucks a pencil at him, he’s not paying attention, dodges it by accident, and just shrugs when he finally notices the projectile jammed into the desk in front of him. In the rare occasions where he actually wants or needs something from someone, he doesn’t do it by asserting himself in any way, he just pulls a “cute and innocent” face which guilts people into giving him his way.
Of course, there is a whole martial arts subplot driving the story, but you don’t really need to know much about it. Surprise, surprise – the protagonist just happens to have inherited hidden, super special ninja powers which everyone wants to steal and use to rule the world! Please just smile and nod and pretend you haven’t heard it before.
Whether Nabari No Ou has the potential to be a worthwhile series to read remains to be seen. Not much happens over the course of the first volume, and things are just beginning to get somewhere when it ends on a semi-cliffhanger. The art is decent, but hasn’t done anything particularly unique or amazing so far. There are some somewhat interesting character dynamics, but not enough has happened in the story to demonstrate whether they can generate any lasting interest. My recommendation – wait till volumes 2 and 3 come out, skim them in the store, and if there’s anything intriguing going on by then, then buy all three.
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen