Air Gear Vol. #01 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Art Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: Del Rey
  • MSRP: 10.95
  • Pages: 224
  • ISBN: 0-345-49278-1
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Air Gear Vol. #01

By Robert Harris     September 28, 2006
Release Date: July 25, 2006

Air Gear Vol.#01
© Del Rey

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Oh! Great
Translated by:Makoto Yukon
Adapted by:

What They Say
Itsuki Minami needs no introduction "everybody's heard of the "Babyface" of the Eastside. He's the toughest kid at Higashi Junior High School, easy on the eyes but dangerously tough when he needs to be. Plus, Itsuki lives with the mysterious and sexy Noyamano sisters. Life is never dull, but it becomes dangerous when Itsuki leads his school to victory over some vindictive Westside punks with gangster connections. Now he stands to lose his school, his friends, and everything he cares about. But in his darkest hour, the Noyamano girls come to Itsuki's aid. They can teach him a powerful skill that will save their school from the gangsters' siege "and introduce Itsuki to a thrilling and terrifying new world.

The Review
Wow. Now this is a nice presentation. First off, the cover is absolutely fantastic. The front has Air Trek blueprints in the background, while an amazingly detailed and colored Ikki smirks at the reader. On the back cover the color scheme is reversed, being predominately white with a blue strip along the right hand side and what I suppose could be called an Air Gear (it's a black gear with wings) between the strip and the volume summary. On the spine, the blue from the front cover and the white from the back meet, along with a smaller Air Gear logo from the front cover. The blue and white color scheme for both covers works really well, and all of the colors are very crisp and really jump out at you. Amazing work. But it doesn't stop there, as the first few pages (along with the table of contents) are in color! While I do feel that color can sometimes detract from a manga's visual style and feel, that's certainly not the case here. All things considered, this volume looks absolutely phenomenal.

Oh! Great may have his share of detractors, but they'd be hard pressed to disagree that the guy can draw. Something I find to often be the case with good artists is that if their character designs are drastically different from the mainstream, they tend to have a difficult time breaking away from similar designs in their own works, and different series tend to have many similar looking characters. I'm pleased to say that Air Gear not only has excellent, unique character designs, they're also quite different from those found in Tenjou Tenge, Oh! Great's earlier work. As far as the quality of the printing, I again find it hard to complain. Which is no easy feat, because Oh! Great likes to use a lot of full-page spreads with many severe, contrasting tones. There's a ton of solid blacks, solid whites and many different gradients of gray, often all on the same page in close proximity to one another, and they all look great. This is really a beautiful book.

I've come to expect a certain quality from Del Rey when it comes to translations and sound effects, and by and large Air Gear does not disappoint. There is the occasional awkward translation, and hopefully those rough spots will be ironed out in future volumes. No, the only real problem I have is the dialogue censorship present in this translation. During the course of the volume, it is implied that the Skull Saders raped many of the Higashi Guns girls; well, at least it is in the original version. The Del Rey translation implies that the girls were almost raped, which may not have much bearing on the overall story but matters in terms of emotional impact, especially for the girls involved. While I'm sure said girls would much prefer Del Rey's version, the company has come forward and stated that later printings of Air Gear will retain the original work's meaning. I don't really understand why such a change was implemented, especially considering the many other themes and graphic depictions in this volume, but at least they are admitting the mistake and correcting it.

Air Gear is Oh! Great's newest series, and revolves around a fictitious extreme sport that's sweeping the nation, Air Trek. Using essentially inline skates with small but powerful motors, Air Trek makes use of large urban environments to perform crazy stunts while generally causing a sizeable amount of property damage. The sport is fueled mainly by the strong underground community centered around it; Air Trek users, called Stormriders, often put their team's emblems or parts of their Air Treks on the line to participate in battles. Teams are ranked on a scale, and the grade of the team determines not only the quality of the team but also the different battle methods they may use to advance in rank.

Honestly, the premise behind Air Gear can be summed up with this equation: Tenjou Tenge + Jet Set Radio = Air Gear. For those who don't know, Jet Set Radio is a video game about high-powered, magnetic inline skates, which are very similar to the Air Treks. The Stormrider teams battle amongst each other to improve their ranking, in a very similar way that characters in fighting manga hold tournaments and routinely attempt to become stronger. Down at its core it is a fighting manga; the fights just take place on these super-skates and involve a lot of whirling, grinding, flipping, wall riding, and other assorted tricks in addition to the occasional physical beating.

With this backdrop, we're introduced to Itsuki Minami (everyone calls him Ikki), who's the leader of the Higashi Guns, a middle school gang. He's the strongest guy in the area, and essentially represents the Guns by himself, since all of his followers seem to be completely pathetic. After humiliating a rival gang, he and the Guns get in hot water when the Skull Saders, a gang of Stormriders, are called in against them. After suffering a (really) humiliating defeat at the hands of the Skull Saders' leader, Ikki is introduced to Air Trek and is determined to repay the Saders for what they've done to both him and the Guns. Ah, revenge, where would shounen manga be without you as a motivator?

Ok, so Air Gear's setup perhaps isn't the most original to come down the pipe lately. That's perfectly acceptable though; as I've often said, the characters ultimately decide whether a series is good or bad. I found many of the male characters in Oh! Great's earlier work either arrogant, ignorant, or boring, and was not expecting much improvement in Air Gear. I was pleasantly surprised! Ikki is likeable in a way that many shounen protagonists are not, and despite being arrogant and proud and popular and cool, as many such protagonists are, he's so charismatic and good-natured that you can't help but root for him. His character flaws are apparent, but minor, and only serve to endear him and make him more well rounded. Often such flaws are so exaggerated to give the illusion of character depth that the character is intensely unlikable, and I was very surprised to see Oh! Great so deftly create a character that not only felt real but also made me care about him. Establishing a feeling of empathy is a very important (and difficult) thing to do, and here I think Oh! Great did an excellent job.

That brings me to my second bone to pick with Oh! Great...his female characters. Now I won't argue the fact that his character designs are very attractive and his fanservice is top-notch, but I've always found his female characters to be tremendously boring and flat (personality wise, not physically flat). They've always seemed more like excuses for fanservice and sexual tension than fully fleshed out human beings. You have no idea how happy it makes me to say that this has also completely turned around. The primary female presence in this first volume comes by way of the Noyamano family, which is comprised of four sisters that Ikki currently lives with. From the oldest, Rika, who sidelines as a professional wrestler and is the mother figure, down to Mikan, Ringo, and Shiraumi, all of them are individual characters and aren't so easily slotted into the classic stereotypes. Ikki's been living with the family for a very long time (over ten years), so they all have a soft spot for him even if they don't show it very often. Ringo is the sister that's focused on the most heavily, since she's the same age as Ikki and also very clearly in love with him, willing to put up with almost anything he pulls. Their friendship is one of the highlights of this volume; it doesn't feel forced or strained in the slightest, which isn't often the case when one character harbors feelings for another, and just watching them interact is enjoyable. Truthfully, Ikki's interactions with his adopted family are probably the most enjoyable parts of the manga so far.

A major aspect of Tenjou Tenge was the sometimes shocking brutality it portrayed, and in this respect Air Gear is no different. The first volume alone contains a ton of very realistically portrayed violence, along with the rape (oops, I mean ATTEMPTED rape, for now) of several of the Eastside girls by the Skull Saders, a rival Air Trek gang. Due to the age of those involved (Ikki and friends are still in middle school) one could make the argument that it's even worse than it was in Tenjou Tenge. On the other hand, the fanservice seems to have been scaled back a bit, and is generally lighthearted and fairly innocent (so far anyway).

You might be wondering why I keep mentioning Tenjou Tenge. That's because Oh! Great's first manga effort greatly polarized readers. I know that many people (myself included) would have passed over this series without a second glance, and I want to point out to those people that this series is what I'd call a gigantic step forward, at least so far. Those with a strong aversion to fighting manga may want to give this a miss, but everyone else should seriously think about giving Air Gear a shot, even if they didn't like Tenjou Tenge. If you've never read Oh! Great before, this is a perfect place to start.


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