Zatch Bell (aka: Konjiki no Gash!!) Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Thursday, August 11, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, September 06, 2005



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Makoto Raiku
Translated by:David Ury
Adapted by:

What They Say
Kiyo is a brilliant junior high student whose inflated ego (and tendency to blow the grading curve) has made him a major target for teasing at school. So his father sends him a bizarre birthday present-a strange little boy named Zatch Bell-to help him make friends and reform his bad attitude. Zatch brings with him a mysterious red volume of spells, and Kiyo discovers that Zatch has magic powers that are unleashed by reading from the book! But there are more surprises to come, and Kiyo's destiny is about to change forever!

The Review
Presenting one of the more annoying shounen leads, along with one of the most bizarre sidekicks, Zatch Bell! the manga hits US shores with a standard formula and a odd sense of style and humor.

EDIT WARNING
It has already been confirmed that the original scenes of Zatch at the beginning of the book have been edited to add boxers to cover a naked Zatch. The book has a disclaimer about modifying “scenes of nudity and violence”, so it is possible that more edits occur in this volume. This is an FYI for those interested.


Packaging:
The cover features the same artwork as the original Japanese release, Zatch riding his bird flying away from Kiyo’s window, who is left fumbling the red book. The colors are really bright making it a great looking illustration. The JP logo has been replaced by the English logo “Zatch Bell!” with the exclamation mark looking like lighting. The logo is pretty boring and doesn’t really fit with the artwork on the cover.

The print job looks alright, just a little on the dark side. At the back of the book is a 4 page comic from Raiku explaining how he came up with the idea, 4 pages of character sketches including the failed designs, and a little strip comic featuring Zatch and Suzy.

Art:
I find Raiku’s artwork to be quite odd, for lack of a better term. The characters can look lopsided and out of proportions at times, with Kiyo experiencing Popeye arms on occasion. When the artwork gets more serious, it looks quite good, even though the added effect lines tend to make some panels feel a bit overdramatic, especially when Zatch is crying. The action work can feel quite explosive, with all the lighting bolts and flying icicles and all, which makes the Mamodo battle scenes a lot of fun. Raiku also gets pretty creative with the Mamodo designs, just look at the bobble-headed Zatch with his smock from the Middle Ages. Overall the art is a mixed bag and goes from crude to finely detailed and creative quick frequently.

Text/SFX:
SFX have been translated and retouched. The retouch looks decent, there is some boxing going on and I’m not a big fan of the fonts that are used. The translation reads clearly with no gross errors but nothing specials stands out about it. I am not familiar with the original so I am unable to do a translation check.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
Kiyo Takamine is a boy genius who doesn’t have many friends due to his inflated ego and the fact the he rarely attends school, since he figures the teachers have nothing to teach him any more. Kiyo is an interesting choice for a lead character, as his condescending attitude and bitterness is quite a turnoff. He snaps at his mother and talks down to most of his classmates. This really bugged me since it’s not clear yet as to why Kiyo is so damn bitter, that’s just the way he is. It’s possible he has some father complex, since he is not at home, and that maybe the kids pick on him for his smarts a bit, but nothing concrete or worthy of explaining his poor attitude. Definitely not the most likeable lead character for a shounen manga.

However, Kiyo’s life is about to change forever when an *almost* naked little boy comes crashing into his room, riding a large bird and holding a mysterious red book. The boy’s name is Zatch Bell, a life-form called a Mamodo that comes from another world invisible to our own. Zatch was sent by Kiyo’s father, an archaeologist, to help Kiyo deal with his personality problems. The problem is that Zatch has no memory of who he is, with the only clue of his life contained in this Red Book that is filled with hieroglyphics and is unreadable to everyone except Kiyo, who can read one word, ‘Zaker’. Obviously this bothers Kiyo very much, and he will do anything to be read of Zatch.

It is a good thing that Zatch was introduced early on in the book, as his lovable, goofy, and do-right attitude complimenting Kiyo’s depressing nature is very much needed. The book has a lot of strange and quirky humor, and Zatch is the pinnacle of it all, sporting a blonde bob, gigantic eyes, and a smock. He is extremely weird, which is part of Zatch’s charm. As soon as Zatch sees Kiyo’s poor standing at school with his classmates, Zatch decides to take action and start “Operation Hero of Justice”, where together they both help kids who are being picked on. Zatch sees the hero inside of Kiyo and hopes to bring that out in order for Kiyo to have more friends.

When Suzy Mizuno, a girl who received tutoring from Kiyo in the past, is attacked by a school bully on the rooftop of the school, Zatch throws himself in harms way in order to be a hero. Kiyo hides at first, but soon he finds the courage to stand up to the bully. It is here that Kiyo discovers the secret of the Red Book, a book of spells that turns Zatch into a weapon that shoots lighting bolts out of his mouth when Kiyo says ‘Zaker’.

As Kiyo begins to explore more of the mysteries of Zatch, they are both visited by other mysterious strangers who also have their own Mamodo along with a spell book. Kiyo then learns of Zatch’s and the other Mamodos’ purpose, they are part of some large tournament of 100 battling for the throne of King from their home world. The book, powered by human emotions, helps raise and develop the Mamodo’s power, buy using spells contained in the book. The battle is on for the last Mamodo standing to take the throne.

Comments
The book really started off on the wrong foot with me with the introduction of Kiyo, one of the most irritating and arrogant lead characters in a shounen manga. His attitude is not a result of any sort of disposition or a hard life, he’s just a know-it-all that looks down on others. Luckily, Zatch’s quirky and upbeat personality helps balance the scales and quickly goes to work on fixing Kiyo’s bad attitude.

While I got a few laughs out of the strange humor, I had a hard time finding a reason to care about the characters and their plight. The story in this first books builds the relationship between Kiyo and Zatch, developing a friendship that will be tested when the news of Zatch’s past is revealed. The problem is that I didn’t feel their bond, so I was unable to see the seriousness of the situation of Zatch possibly getting sent back to Mamodo World. It seems like the Mamodo don’t die, they are just sent back. Does something bad happen when forcibly sent back? So far I’m unable to see the downside of loosing this battle for the throne, so it’s hard to sympathize with Zatch’s disposition.

The bizarre, yet crude, artwork, explosive action scenes, and few moments of random humor keep this volume from feeling like recycled material. With shounen material, it’s the details and creativity that keep the formulas from feeling tired. We’ve seen shounen stories about high school kids and their weaponized toys or creatures before, and the theme of power and responsibility is extremely common. Zatch definitely has it’s own odd flavor and I’m not quite digesting it properly yet, but I do think it has potential for some good moments ahead.



Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 192
ISBN: 1-59116-586-5
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left