Not to be confused with Black Clover
Black Torch is a Shonen SQ manga by Tsuyoshi Takaki, and follows Jiro, a boy you can talk to animals and is from a family of ninjas. One night he saves a cat that says he’s a demon (mononoke) and on the run. After a fight the demon, Rago joins with Jiro and are forced to work for the government unit Black Torch to combat the demons. Bonds are made, mysteries are revealed, and fights are had.
It is a 90s punk kids dream story (there are two demons named Fat Boy & Slim. It is pretty blatant). It’s a nice dark urban fantasy with big action, and cliché abound. It had lots of potential.
Cliches on their own are not a bad thing (no writing tool is bad on its own, only how it’s used). They just have to be built upon in some way. Black Torch likes to stay at that foundational level and build out, with some growth. It’s interesting to see how this young writer (this is his first full series as far as SJ can tell me) deals with the ideas of power, corruption, death, and even hatred based on misunderstanding.
Overall I would say it is a fun, quick read I want to like. There are sparks of what could be. Though the backgrounds art is sparse, the character designs are strong, the focus on nature backgrounds in volume 4 were beautiful, he really gets scale, and his more hatched art style makes it look different from other books on the market. The villain has a kind of interesting belief that’s a good foil to what our heroes believes. It has potential to be good. The problem is that those cliches I brushed off are holding it back. Those cliches are just elements adapted (let’s say) from Naruto and Bleach.
From Bleach it takes the modern character designs and a secret society killing demons in a modern fantasy story. It also has a full society of demons like Bleach that interacts and clashes with the human world. The main character having powers that release black energy, and a showdown in an basically empty arena with a horned demon. It all screams Bleach.
Jiro is posses by a cat demon, can go berserk, change appearance into an energy animal, and shoot lasers from his mouth. If that isn’t all Naruto stuff, oh and the fact their ninjas, I don’t know what is. If that does not sell you the main team consists of three ninjas, the main rival has an evil brother, the female member of the team’s character arc is to say they have no point, and their boss is a playful dope. That should sell you this is also Naruto.
I am sure there are other shows and manga you can make connections with, but those two are the biggest that stick out in the Shonen Jump umbrella it is in.
Again, all of this is a fine enough base, but the real killer is that this was clearly cut short. It is a 19 chapter/5 volume manga. It was never planned to end in 19 (that would be a weird, arbitrary number to end on anyway, 20 would be at least more round). The main tells is how much time is wasted (in so far as it sets up character development that would not be focused on as much if it were later. Pacing, I’m trying to say the pacing changed).
It takes seven of its 19 chapters for them to get a first mission. They only go on two missions, three if you count the final encounter, and deal with the main villain quickly and rush a wrap up. That whole final mission is only three chapters. It was clear it never meant to go that way. It makes sense what the main villains power is, and sells the themes of the book, but also a convenient way to clear up a bunch of extra villains you don’t want to use. All of this means that any ideas were scrapped in order to focus on the main conflict and get us to that. Takaki does make a case for why it can end. The villain just calls out the basic formula for a Shonen series, fight stronger foes to prove the main characters beliefs. It is actually kind of funny because I’m not sure why the villain would know that would be true. He seemed Ike the only real massive threat. It’s weird and makes it an overall weak manga, but makes it ripe for adaptation.
If this were adapted straight as an anime (single 12 season show) it would need to be done by a team with established action chops (Bones and Madhouse came to mind, but A-1 at its best [Birdy the Mighty]) could work. It would still have the same pacing issues, but sell it on big, cool action. That’s dumb, but valid. The real way I see this adapted is as a live action movie. I mean Japan Live Action like Ruroni Kenshin. Each side character has enough personality and background for a movie, and still focus on Jiro and Rago. That would be the cleanest way to make the series shine as it should.
I think Tsuyoshi Takaki has talent. He can easily make a good Shonen series when he focuses on his own ideas and really gives time. Jiro’s original power of talking to animals goes unused or developed. Aside from the start it has one scene of Jiro in a forest and talking to animals, that is it. He’s got potential.
Sidetrack: I love Malcolm Gladwell. He has the idea that genius is specificity. He uses a conversation he had with Vampire Weekend about their songs and how exact their influences and choices were in a song. What is emblematic of my previous statement, and all the problems the book had come from the authors self deprecating attempts at the end of volume 4. In the Afterward he says where he came up with Jiro’s name. That’s specific and worked, but his other team members, and rest of the cast come from just what he thought was cool. It’s not specific. It’s whatever is cool and not character or influence focused. It’s generic.
Black Torch is generic. This manga always will be, but that doesn’t mean the property has to stay that way.
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