January 29, 2008
by: Jessi Silver
Finally, a manga dedicated to everyone who's ever fixed something by smacking it against a doorframe.
Manga Description: In Earth's distant future, geomagnetic abnormalities make every day a struggle to survive. The human race faces its greatest threat - not from aliens, meteors or global warming, but ordinary, every day appliances! With even the most basic of machines going haywire, one man holds the hope of Earth in his hands: karate student Shota, who can beat any appliance into submission with his Repair Blow technique!
Content:(This section may contain spoilers.)
Hikkatsu, by Yu Yagami, is the story of a young man named Shota who has a special skill - a mighty blow from his fist can repair any malfunctioning machine. Or at least it would, if he could perfect his "Repair Blow" technique. Shota lives in a future where the integrity of every piece of machinery, from the smallest electric heater to the largest building in the center of downtown, is threatened by an over-abundance of electromagnetic waves. For every store selling electronic devices there are two or three repair shops dedicated to keeping them in working order.
As a child, Shota was a karate prodigy. When some thugs showed up one day to challenge his master, Shoto actually managed dispatch them easily. But instead of praise, however, his master scolded him and reminded him that he should only use the martial arts as a way to enhance his life, not to actually hurt anyone. Dejected, Shota threw down his belt and ran from the dojo. While out around the town, he stopped at a television shop and witnessed the salesman smack a malfunctioning television set in order to fix it. This sparked inspiration in Shota's mind - instead of practicing karate to fight, he could enhance his life and the lives of others by using his superior karate skills to beat malfunctioning devices into submission! This might be just the thing to put him back in his master's favor.
Unfortunately, the success of the "Repair Blow" which Shota has been developing from that point onward is spotty at best; in fact, his home is littered with the remains of failed "experiments" - the floor is carpeted with the skeletons of mangled television sets and other appliances. When he travels into town from his mountaintop abode during a particularly drastic electric discharge (in order to get more appliances on which to practice, of course), he catches the eye of a strange girl named Momoko, upset over the loss of her life savings in a broken ramen vending machine. When he rescues her change and gets her all the food she could want (by obliterating the machine, of course), Momoko immediately falls for him and follows him home. But Shota may not be the marriage material that the naïve, love-crazed Momoko was hoping for. Especially since his solution to fixing all the holes in his run-down shack is to pummel them with his Repair Blow.
After finally experiencing some limited - and somewhat unexpected - success with his Repair Blow (it involves inadvertently causing a mountain to turn into an active volcano), Momoko decides that Shota is worth her time, and they descend into town to try and hone his techniques a bit more. With her help, along with that of a con-artist named Kanji that they meet in the local park, could Shota turn his mostly-destructive powers into something which may actually enhance the lives of others?
I found Hikkatsu to be an enjoyable, light-hearted read. The comedy in the book, while often too reliant on Shota's penchant for accidental destruction, is a definite highlight. A frame of a headstone becomes incredibly hilarious once the reader realizes that a young Shota made the poor decision to test the Repair Blow on his injured Karate Master. Con-man Kanji's near-escape from a group of angry thugs by feigning a desperate phone call on what is actually a candy cell phone is another great moment. When the writing reaches beyond Shota accidentally destroying other peoples' valued electronics, it can be quite entertaining.
Throughout much of this volume, the story skirts the line of becoming a bit too formulaic. Too often we find Shota beginning the chapter breaking everything in sight while inadvertently hurting Momoko's feelings by saying or doing something ambiguous that she mistakes for romantic feelings toward someone else. By the end of the chapter he experiences some level of success with his Repair Blow, and Momoko is happy and in love again - through no conscious intervention of Shota. The end of this volume does hint at a broader story, however. When Shota shows some desire to travel, even considering how dangerous the lawless territories between cities are purported to be, there's some hope that the broader world will offer more varied adventures to the core characters and there will be more interesting story developments to come.
Art: The artwork of Hikkatsu is certainly its weakest point. The drawings, while certainly expressive and exciting when there's an action-packed battle to present, tends to be a bit too simplistic and sketchy during more expository moments. The backgrounds usually lack detail, and can sometimes be so ambiguous that it's hard to tell just what's going on in the frame; the two-page spread of Shota walking through the snowstorm outside of his mountaintop home on page 20-21 is a good example of this. The characters' facial expressions are adequate to convey the emotion of the scene, but they also tend to lack detail or the ink lines appear rushed and messy. With a bit of refining a some more attention to detail, the artwork could supplement the storytelling a bit better. As it stands, however, it adequately conveys the intent of the characters and does an especially good job of complimenting the action sequences in this volume.
Translation: The translation of this manga maintains a good balance between being readable and natural-sounding in English, while also retaining the Japanese honorifics and sound-effects that fans of the medium have come to expect. There's a page explaining Japanese honorifics at the beginning of the book, which is helpful for those who are unfamiliar with them, and also a page of translator's notes, which offer explanations of a couple of the less-obvious jokes and unfamiliar terms. The one complaint I have is that the sound-effect translations tend be of a comparable size to the original sound-effects, and thus more of the art is obscured, but I like that they used this method rather than trying to erase the original Japanese and entirely replace it with English.
The Bottom Line: I enjoyed Hikkatsu and believe it would make entertaining light reading for almost anyone. What this volume lacks in art execution is made up for by the charming and often chuckle-worthy dialogue and visual humor. If the adventure picks up and varies a bit and the characters are allowed to develop, this could be an entertaining series to follow.