July 01, 2007
by: Serdar Yegulalp
The pattern for the series is clear: fast skates, slick movies, goofy jokes, and hot girls.
Manga Description: Itsuki is still getting the hang of his Air Trecks, the super high-tech skates that have helped him fight back against the rival skate gangs making trouble on his turf. But when his two best friends end up in the hospital after losing a battle to Buccha, a notorious gang leader, Itsuki realizes he needs to polish his skills - and fast.
Though the other students at Itsuki's school are finally realizing that the skate wars pose a dangerous threat, only Itsuki is daring enough to take on the cruel and colossally strong Buccha. But the upcoming fight may be the least of his worries after the beautiful Simca brings with a warning: In Itsuki's quest to rule the skies, the battle with Buccha will be just the beginning!
Content: (This section may contain spoilers.)
Volume 3 nails down Ikki’s long-term goals through the series: his mission, should he choose to accept it, is to master his Air Trecks, keep rival gangs of all descriptions from killing him in cold blood, and to stop the sisterhood he’s shacking up with from stomping his face into oblivion as well. Given that he’s made it through two books of the series so far, he still barely knows how to skate in a straight line and can credit his survival to sheer toughness, crazy luck, and wild improvisations, which as much as any skill picked up along the way, he’s got a long way to go. It's a good thing the ride is a lot more fun for us than it probably is for him.
Like the last volume, this one’s broken into roughly two segments—the first being a grueling contest of wills between him and the gargantuanly obscene Buccha. We met him at the end of the last book, and he makes up in sheer monolithic strength and size what he might lack in finesse or style. Not for nothing does Oh! great occasionally render him as a charging tank—the same way Ikki, at his most inspired, is transformed into a swooping bird. Buccha’s gained a reputation for terrorizing the school after hours (hence his moniker, the “Night King”), and Ikki takes up a skating challenge against to get him to lay off. Armed only with a composite set of Air Trecks cobbled together out of bits and pieces left over from his friends’ own skates, Ikki does indeed manage to come out on top … although just barely, and only because a few of his classmates pitch in and pull a few stunts with the very playing field they’re using: the high school itself. And yes, like before, he makes new allies out of old enemies—a device that’s used as much for comedy as it is for the kind of sentiment that gives the story what patina of emotion it has. But hey, better to get it like that than not to get it at all, I say.
Hot on the heels (or is that “wheels?”) of Ikki’s victory, in steps a new contender: “Spitfire,” whose shtick is controlled wheel friction that lets him conjure up the illusion of setting aflame whatever he skates across. He’s got nothing for disdain for greenhorn Ikki, and warns him that the kid has no idea what he’s really messing with. Of the roads Ikki has traveled so far, and the emblems he’s won in combat, he’s only seen two out of a total of eight, and he’s going to need much sturdier skills to survive in the territories he’s about to ride through.
The second part of the book is as much pure, unadulterated fanservice as they can deliver in the guise of advancing the plot. Ikki returns home to crash, discovers a very eager (and very unclothed) Simca waiting in his bed—and the readers get treated to a shower-scene showdown (“Let me wash your back!”) between her and Ringo that has more acres of skin than a hide-tanning factory. It’s stupefying what they’ve managed to pull off within the confines of a 16+ rating: there’s more strategically-placed arms, strands of hair, wisps of steam and other clever tactics to obscure anything too detailed here in this one book than there was in both Blue Lagoon movies. Not that any of this is a bad thing, mind you: it’s just a sign that Air Gear is committed to delivering the (wholly lowbrow) goods.
Art: Oh! great’s art scarcely needs my endorsement, but he’s getting ever more versatile with each passing volume he puts out. Here, he switches easily between hyper-realism and goofy caricature at the flip of a page, and he puts together two-page spreads that’ll give you a good reason to crease the binding. Book 3 keeps up the graffiti / club-flyer / gang-logo stylization of the imagery, and adds more than a few cute in-joke references to other manga (Galaxy Express 999 gets referenced, hilariously, more than once).
Translation: Another of Del Rey’s exemplary right-to-left rendering jobs. An explanation of honorifics up front and a short cultural glossary in the back (for certain quirks that wouldn’t translate well) show off how they pay attention to detail without getting obsessive. The touch-up’s immaculate, too: FX are labeled unobtrusively, and the relettering of the text looks great. As a bonus, the original color frontispiece for the Japanese printing of the book are also reprinted here, untranslated—but they’re also reprinted in black and white and translated within the body of the book itself. Book 3’s “reference material” bonuses include a breakdown of the class divisions in Parts War, additional character designs, and Del Rey’s helpful translation notes.
The Bottom Line: Most manga start to show some degree of hardening-of-the-arteries around book three: they get into a good groove, and then the groove begins to turn into a rut. That hasn’t happened too badly here, thank goodness. It’s still relatively fresh and funny, but I hope the next volume mixes things up a bit more for the sake of unpredictability.