Miharu has always gone through life ignoring everything around him. He doesn’t get involved with anything, ever. So far, he’s even resisted his teacher’s attempts to get him to join a school nindou club, where members learn the ways of the ninja. He’s just not interested in that type of thing. But when actual ninjas begin attacking him, and when the students around him are revealed as ninjas themselves, Miharu finds out that his body hides a dangerous secret. He is the Shinra Banshou, “the secret art with which it is said one can rule not only the world of shinobi, but the surface world as well.” Now Miharu’s apathetic nature is challenged as the hidden power within him fights to take him over.
Yuhki Kamatani’s manga is naturally going to be compared to Masahi Kishimoto’s mega-popular series, Naruto, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both series feature ninjas, both have strong plots building toward an ultimate battle of good vs. evil, and both feature orphaned young men who have to overcome a dangerous force within themselves in order to become the most powerful ninja possible. But Kamatani has created characters who are unique enough to stand up for themselves. Yes, they do share similar character types with Naruto, but those are also character types that are prevalent in a lot of fiction.
Miharu is fascinating as the main character. His apathy makes for an interesting change from manga that are usually about determined, driven people. You can’t help but laugh at the means by which he gets out of situations, using his cute, young, helpless looks to make people bend to his will. When he does finally join in a battle, he throws that cuteness back into the faces of allies and enemies alike. By the end of the book, however, his apathy is in danger from a new awareness of how much people are sacrificing for his sake. Readers will look forward to the second volume to see how he begins to change and to accept who he is. I predict that it won’t be as smooth a transition as it might be with other characters. Miharu is the type to fight for his right not to care.
Other characters are equally compelling, though most of them are merely presented in this volume and aren’t fully developed yet. Kumohira, Miharu’s teacher, is shown to have a painful backstory of loss and danger that is somehow tied to Miharu’s past. It might be a family connection, but it is hard to tell at this point in the series. Kamatani keeps Kumohira from being annoyingly over the top with his protective instincts by giving him a slightly off-kilter personality, as if he hasn’t really mentally left the shadow world of the ninja and the “real” is merely an annoyance. His reaction to public transportation --- and Miharu’s way of dealing with it --- is one of the many funny moments Kamatani adds to the story. But even with the humorous elements, when it comes time for action, Kamatani doesn’t hold back. People are killed and seriously injured, and she doesn’t hesitate to show blood. This seriousness is needed to force Miharu --- and the reader --- out of the bubble he created for himself.
Kamatani’s art is particularly effective for this series. Her characters tend toward the super-cute, especially when they are teens. Her adults are more serious- and dangerous-looking, but her young people know how to use their cuteness to good effect, especially Miharu, and characters are distinctive enough for readers to keep them straight. Action scenes are clear and easy to follow. She’s not afraid to take her time in order to give a scene the punch needed to force a gasp from the reader. Her blending of the modern world we know and the hidden world of the shinobi is believable and interesting.
I like that Yen Press keeps the original sound effects, but offers a small translation next to them, telling you both what the sound is in Japanese and what it means in English. It’s a little thing, but it makes it so much easier for non-Japanese speakers to tell what’s going on. The translation notes in the back are also helpful. This series is a strong choice for fans not only of Naruto, but also for readers looking for a smart action series where humor and seriousness go hand in hand.
Reviewed by Snow Wildsmith on October 18, 2011
Nabari No Ou, Volume 1