A solid start for a modern times ninja drama, with a good supporting cast pulling up the slack for the listless lead.
Writer/Artist: Yuhki Kamatani
Translation: Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley
Adaptation: Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley
What They Say
Apathetic schoolboy Miharu Rokujou is content to meander through life in the sleepy village of Banten. But his quiet existence is shattered when the Grey Wolves of Iga, a powerful ninja clan, attempt to kidnap him in broad daylight. Only then does Miharu discover that the ultimate power of the hidden ninja realm - a power that can do both great good and great harm - is sealed within his body. As battles erupt among rival ninja clans seeking to control him, Miharu must overcome his apathy and learn the ways of the ninja if he wants any shot at survival!
Yen press typically puts out a high quality product. This book is no exception, with good paper stock and solid blacks. The glossy cover art features the protagonist of the series, Miharu, in his school uniform against a white background. Although doesn’t tell you much about the series the same piece of art was used on the japanese cover. The title runs down the left hand side in a script reminiscent of the Japanese logo. The spine features Miharu in profile and is dark blue in contrast to the cover, which helps it stand out on a shelf. The first page features a color print of the four leads with Miharu in front sitting on a suitcase looking blankly at the reader. The book’s extras feature a character profile for Miharu, two 4-panel comics, and a page of translation notes. It’s followed by a multi-page English preview of volume two. Yen has left the sound effects untouched, translating them in small script inside the panels. In an unusual move they first translate the sound effect literally and then again into English onomatopoeia. A spatula hitting a wall is translated as “kaka (thunk).” The literal translation seems unnecessary as it would hold little meaning to an average reader. The translation is a smooth read with no noticeable errors.
The art is crisp with thin line work and little tone. Backgrounds are simplistic when present but get the job done establishing the setting. Character designs are lanky with oversized shoes and are generally attractive. Good attention is paid to the flow of the characters clothing especially during action scenes. The action scenes are quick and easy to follow with grapples and strikes shown making contact. During the comedic bits the art shifts to cartoony eyes and dropped jaws, but during serious scenes the art stays strictly on model. The characters look their appropriate ages, and the only complaint I have is the design of Miharu’s cat. It’s drawn with the same lanky style and oversized feet as the human characters, which makes it disturbing looking and distracting.
Miharu Rokujou is an average student who’s biggest concern at the moment is avoiding his classmate Aizawa, and his English teacher Kumohira’s, nindou club recruitment attempts. Even after they drop the act and tell him his life is in danger, Miharu ignores them and goes about his usual business. He’s content in his life with his grandmother at the family okonomiyaki shop. Miharu maintains his distance even when he’s attacked by a rival Iga ninja clan for the powers that reside inside him. Powers that Miharu inherited unknowingly and which he has no idea how to control. Powers that could rule the world. This sounds a bit familiar. Shuriken are thrown, characters disappear in swirls of leaves and fog or distract with shadowy clones. All the tricks of manga shinobi are put to play. There’s a good surprise during one of the early fights that might have had a lasting effect on the story but is instead quickly resolved in an unusual way. Only after multiple attacks does Miharu reluctantly go along with his teacher’s wishes and start studying ninjutsu.
The sooner Miharu can be rid of the shinra banshou, the sooner he can go back to his normal life. The self aware spirit of the shinra banshou tries to lure Miharu into drawing upon its powers for his own desires. Miharu resists. He’s a perceptive kid and senses that he doesn’t have the capacity to understand or control the power. He also doesn’t want anyone to get hurt because of him. Kumohira and Aizawa agree that the best course of action would be to remove the shinra banshou from Miharu, but don’t know how to accomplish that goal and can only encourage Miharu to train to protect himself from further attacks. Soon after a fellow ninja Raimei, who claims she’s a samurai, arrives to test Miharu to see if he’s worthy. She’s quickly frustrated at Miharu but decides to help him out. After she convinces Kumohira to seek the assistance of outside help the group sets out for the hidden village of the Fuuma clan.
On the journey there the choicest bits of comedy occur as it turns out Kumohira is deathly afraid of riding in machines. Combined with Aizawa and Reimei trying to have a normal teenager conversation and Miharu’s lack of fashion sense, it’s a bright spot before the violent final chapters of volume one. The group arrives at the Fuuma village only to walk into a bloody attack by the Iga clan. Limbs fly as the Fuuma village is plundered of it’s own secrets. Miharu comes face to face with another young man commanding a deadly art of his own, who immediately realizes that Miharu contains the shinra banshou. It’s clear that this new enemy is going to play a larger roll in the story as he appears on the preview cover art for volume 2.
Nabari No Ou isn’t breaking any new ground in the plot department. Not yet at least. That’s not to say it isn’t without charm. Lackadaisical he might be, Miharu isn’t without talent. He’s sneaky and uses his boyish cuteness and innocence to get his way, and is a quick study when it comes to ninjutsu. This might annoy some readers who prefer a more take charge lead. It’s nice for once to see a shounen protagonist that is not starting off seeking power but trying to be rid of it. The other characters are immediately likable with their quirky personality traits and don’t fall into the usual broad manga archetypes. The story has a good mix of the serious and the lighthearted, although I can see the running gag of Miharu tricking people and running off growing tiresome if it becomes overused. Miharu already shows signs of growing as a character and with hints of a tragic past to be revealed later. Most shounen stories take a few volumes to hit a point where the story hits its stride. The pacing is swift and the story flows well. There are plenty of mysteries to solve and expand upon in future volumes. Nabari fares better than most in its first volume at drawing the reader into the story. Recommended.