Hello there and welcome to Your Manga Week. Finding time to keep up with all the manga that releases on a weekly basis can be difficult, so I’m here to tell you what’s worth your time and what’s not. We’ll also be discussing the story and arc developments as they come. This week, we’re talking MASHLE: Magic and Muscles chapter 1, Undead Unluck chapter 2, Agravity Boys chapter 6 and My Hero Academia chapter 258.
There’s a lot of newbies in the line-up for this week’s column, and that just goes to show how well Weekly Shonen Jump is seeing in the new year and decade. Of course, the fact that one of those series is only here because it managed to clear the (very low) threshold of quality that it set for itself in the past isn’t exactly a shining endorsement, but credit is due where credit is due. Speaking of the new decade, don’t forget to check out my two ‘decade’-themed pieces that were published this week: one on my very personal relationship with Bakuman, and the other, a more industry-focused look at the impact of Attack on Titan. Cimi’s piece on Shuzo Oshimi is also worth a read. After that, we can get onto the manga.
MASHLE: Magic and Muscles chapter 1
Following hot on the heels of Undead Unluck, MASHLE is the second series out of three to plug the gaps in the Weekly Shonen Jump lineup left by the departure of Yui Kamio, Tokyo Shinobi Squad, and Beast Children. But, unlike its predecessor, its first chapter doesn’t make a solid first impression.
MASHLE chapter 1 functions mainly as an introduction to the basic premise of the series: namely that our protagonist, Mash Vandead, is a non-magical being in a – stop me if you’ve heard this before – magical world.
Yes, that is also the basic premise of Black Clover. But that’s only surface level, and MASHLE does plenty to set itself apart. For one, Mash is coerced into overcoming his lack of magic by father, Regro, through weightlifting and physical training. Furthermore, unlike Asta, Mash isn’t able to live his non-magical life in peace. Once he disobeys his father’s instructions in MASHLE chapter 1 and ventures into town to indulge in his love of cream puffs, he comes face to face with his status as a pariah and is forced to make a tough decision: either earn society’s respect by enrolling magic school and become the ‘Divine Visionary,’ or be hunted down to the ends of the earth. This is because the magical world that Mash inhabits actively practices eugenics, weeding out those who cannot use magic from the gene pool.
For a story that mostly attempts to create a light-hearted tone, such a detail sticks out like a sore thumb. There aren’t many gag manga out there that can balance laughs and eugenics, because that’s not how things tend to work.
In this sense and many others, it seems as if author Hajime Koumoto doesn’t quite have a grasp on what this series is supposed to be. Is it a serious tale about one man going against the very fabric of society, or is it a zany action-comedy along the lines of One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100? An extended flashback sequence, as well as the dark worldbuilding, seem to suggest the former, while the lack of backgrounds and ease at which Mash deflects his opponents’ attacks seems to suggest the latter, very much reminding me of the comedic style of ONE.
Could the series firm up and find a more consistent identity in the future? Looking at author Koumoto’s record, there’s not much that inspires confidence in this respect – and by that, I mean that there is literally nothing. He’s done a couple of one-shots in other Shueisha magazines, but not much else. He doesn’t even have Twitter – and who doesn’t tweet in this day and age?
Nevertheless, we’ll just have to wait and see. Now that the bulk of the set-up out of the way, MASHLE chapter 1 introducing us to the (surprisingly dark) world, our protagonist and his route through it (enrolling and excelling in magical school), Koumoto will certainly have plenty of opportunities to improve in the coming weeks. Let’s hope that he can take them.
Undead Unluck chapter 2
One of the reasons why MASHLE chapter 1 appears so weak is that it follows Undead Unluck’s excellent first chapter, which immediately drew the reader in with its dramatic premise, formulated an interesting character dynamic and did some rapid, if excessive, worldbuilding. In this sense, Undead Unluck chapter 2 keeps up the good work.
The first part of this chapter cements one of the aspects of the series’ identity: a very dysfunctional love comedy. Now that Undead (or Andy, as Izumo calls him) has seen first hand the destructive ‘unluck’ that Izumo’s kiss brought him at the end of last week’s chapter, he’s now obsessed with the idea that, if they go even further, even crazier stuff will happen and he might be able to finally meet his long-awaited end. Izumo’s having none of it, though.
The fact that Undead Unluck chapter 2 continues so brazenly with the first chapter’s shockingly sexual tone and manner is a testament to how loose the morals of the Weekly Shonen Jump editorial board can sometimes be. No doubt the success of Chainsaw Man in light of its own sexually charged, mature nature played a part in this, but Jump has always used sexual content to boost its profile and draw in eyes and, in this sense, Undead Unluck is but the latest example.
Nevertheless, it’s not all exploitation, as Izumo puts her foot down and declares that it is only if she falls in love with Undead that truly bad luck will befall him. This is obviously a lie since Izumo’s kiss did enough damage last week without her falling in love with him, but Undead takes the bait and thus makes his new goal to get Izumo to fall in love with him.
This is a smart move from author Yoshifumi Tozuka, as it gives their purely physical romance a new lease of romantic life. The fact that Izumo, obsessed with shoujo manga such as she is, is weak to Undead’s stereotypical advances – such as putting his hand on her chin – also gives the pair a sweet dynamic that I’m interested in seeing develop in the coming weeks and months.
Speaking of the future, Undead Unluck chapter 2 also does some more interesting work in setting up the structure of the series to carry it through its serialization. Not only does Undead have a new, concrete goal (make Izumo fall in love with him), but the battle between the unlikely pair and some pursuers from the mysterious Union that takes up the majority of the second part of the chapter has an unexpected result: Izumo and Undead decide, instead of fighting, to join the organization that is pursuing.
Talk about ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ Still, this is an unexpected turn of events, as it is tantamount to our protagonists joining the ‘bad guys’ – whether or not they manage to end up being admitted is another question entirely. But if they do end up being able to join, then it’ll also be interesting to see how the pair react to being sent on missions to hunt down superpowered UMAs like themselves. In either case, the long-term viability of the future of the series seems secure.
The clarity and purpose with which Yoshifumi Tozuka is proceeding with Undead Unluck is apparent when compared with what we’ve seen of Hajime Koumoto in MASHLE chapter 1. Given that they’re both rookies with only a few one-shots under their belts, there’s no excuse – in the wild world of Weekly Shonen Jump, only the strong survive…
Agravity Boys chapter 6
Slightly ahead of Hajime Koumoto’s MASHLE and Yoshifumi Tozuka’s Undead Unluck is Atsushi Nakamura’s Agravity Boys, which is now on its sixth chapter. While the series didn’t exactly have the best start, things have been slowly but surely getting better – to the point where, this week, I’d say that Agravity Boys chapter 6 is genuinely worth a read.
What sets this chapter apart from the rest is the fact that it contains actual humor. What I mean by that is that while previous weeks have relied on the reader’s own personality and disposition for laughs (which is what makes physical and sexual gags work), Agravity Boys chapter 6 actually makes an attempt to ground the humor in the personality and shared backstory of our characters, which goes a long way in making this the best chapter of the series thus far.
Having explored the surroundings of their crashed spaceship, the four boys decide to give a name to the settlement they’ve just ‘founded.’ Geralt comes up with the name ‘New Geralt City,’ but the others are quick to notice that he’s essentially named it after himself and refuse to allow this obvious ego trip. Nevertheless, everyone wants the glory of having a city named after them and ends up coming up with a name with their name in it anyway and, eventually, it is up to Chris to break the deadlock. However, he has a ‘brain fart’ and ends up coming up with a name that not only unknowingly contains his own name, but is also in real bad taste.
The fact that everyone is just as self-centered as each other is well highlighted in the gags of this chapter, but what stands out most is how the punchline of the chapter – Chris’ poor naming choice – is rooted in his past relationship with the rest of the crew. As some narration explains, sometimes Chris gets tired of playing the straight man and his brain stops functioning for a second, which is what also happened when the crew participated in a quiz competition a couple of years ago. This leads to a series namedrop, as well as an explanation of what it means: ‘Agravity Boys,’ the nickname that they were given by their peers in the Space Academy and in the mass media because of their free-spirited nature and seemingly infinite energy.
Series namedrops are always a risk, as they can end up inducing more than a few eye rolls, but here it works surprisingly well. There’s reason enough for the namedrop provided by the exposition, and while there could have been a more engaging way to deliver this than massive blocks of text, it’s a surprisingly wholesome moment that helps to sell the synergy and outline the shared past of the spacefaring quartet. The references to ancient history at the very beginning also manage to push all of my very particular and peculiar personal buttons as a reader.
Does this mean that this series is good now? Absolutely not. For however much I may have enjoyed Agravity Boys chapter 6, the fact that most of the chapters have been ineffective, bordering on offensive, still makes for a series that is hard to recommend. Nevertheless, the fact that we’ve seen some improvement in the past couple of weeks has me hopeful that Nakamura is responding well to feedback and honing his craft in the process. Who knows – in a couple of months, we could be looking at Gintama’s spiritual successor. We’ll just have to wait and see.
My Hero Academia chapter 258
Finally, we come to My Hero Academia chapter 258. Just because the Weekly Shonen Jump newbies might be in the majority this week doesn’t mean that the old guard isn’t worth checking out, and this week’s installment of hero goodness shows that even old dogs can learn new tricks.
One of the first things that stands out is the fact that we finally get some clarification on what spooked Hawk so much that he had to send a coded message to Endeavor a dozen or so chapters ago. Following the number two hero and his covert activities as a spy in the Meta Liberation Army – now firmly under the control of Shigaraki and the League of Villains – we learn in a flashback that the villains intend to attack all major cities at once in a couple of months time, bring society to a standstill, annihilate the heroes and arm the citizen body – thereby essentially bringing about the second coming of All for One.
Making this possible is the reorganization of the Meta Liberation Army under the command of some of the League of Villain’s top figures: Spinner, Mr. Compress, Toga and Twice, the latter of whom has struck up an unlikely friendship with Hawks. The scene they share together in My Hero Academia chapter 258 is actually quite tragic, as Twice (who’s real name is Jin Bubaigawara) genuinely trusts Hawks and is seemingly unaware of his duplicitous intentions. Furthermore, Hawks sees the inherent good in Jin, who has always been a tortured soul.
There’s reason to believe that this scene might foreshadow a turn towards the light for Twice, but I couldn’t say for sure. Regardless, just as the villains are moving forward in My Hero Academia chapter 258, so are our heroes: the chapter ends on not just the beginning of a new mission, but also the beginning of a new school year, along with a new character.
As long as you don’t think too hard about the fact that it’s taken nearly six years for our main characters to progress through one school year, it’s hard not to get excited at what the future might hold. What will the move from first year to second year mean for our student protagonists? Will they be able to best the villains’ diabolical plans? Is Twice going to turn good? For the answer to those questions and more, we’ll just have to wait and see.
On a final note, it’s good to see that My Hero Academia chapter 258 is the first chapter in a while to hit the 20-page mark. Chapters in previous weeks were shockingly low in page count, which hurt the pacing as a result, so let’s hope that any problems that might have been affecting Horikoshi’s output (such as health issues) are now resolved and we can move forward on a firmer footing.