Air Gear Vol. #05 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, May 17, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Enter a world where a pair of super-powered skates can turn you into a building-leaping, speed-skating dynamo. That's great, but in a universe where a device's usefulness is determined by how fast it can get me my pizza, is it relevant?
Writer/Artist: Oh! Great
What They Say:
Itsuki finally forms his own Air Treck team, but his roommate, legal guardian, and all-around hot babe, Rika, confiscates his Air Trecks and forbids him to ever skate again! Does she really just have Itsuki's best interests at heart?
Air Gear has managed to set itself apart from the pack so far with a combination of great art and an unusual gimmick. Volume 5 continues in the same direction, with Ikki's newly formed team gearing up and working hard to gather everything necessary to become real Storm Riders. They even have their first match, a surprisingly exciting affair considering their low rank and the simplistic battle conditions. The battle seems thrown in there mostly to appease fans with short attention spans, however, as the real meat this time around is the expansion of existing characters and the arrival of new ones. Yes, I am still actually talking about Air Gear! And its characters! Get excited!
This volume spends a lot of time focusing on Kazu, someone who's been stuck in Ikki's shadow for as long as we've known him. Kazu's a charismatic nice guy, but playing second fiddle to Ikki's overwhelming personality has led to quite the inferiority complex. The conflict between his desire for recognition and his fear of failure is one of the most interesting passive moments in the series so far. Kazu adds a realistic human element which Ikki, due to his very typical shounen protagonist design, cannot provide. Ikki's never been a terribly sympathetic character, and Oh! Great was smart to develop Kazu as a truly likable guy. Or maybe I always have to root for the underdog. Either way, Kazu's great and I hope we see more of him. Along with Akito and Agito of course, but they don't need much to be entertaining.
Outside of character development, we get several chunks of exposition dropped on our heads throughout the 170+ pages, further information about Storm Rider society and their organizational structure. I began to grow concerned when there was mention of an assumedly metaphorical tower, the Trophaeum, and the 8 Keepers that Ikki would need to dethrone or befriend or something to get to the top. Honestly it reeked of Oh! Great setting up future antagonists, and it doesn't take a psychic to see the long, winding and familiar road defeating/befriending these Keepers of the Regalia would take. It seems a little premature to be anticipating never ending battles and Air Treck abilities that increasingly break the bonds of credulity, but let it be said that I'm keeping a weather eye open. The first sign of Air Trecks that grant teleportation or magnetism or any other truly unbelievable power that makes me feel like I'm watching X-Men: The Awkward Years and my respect for this series is going to drop like a stone.
Uneasiness about the future aside, this is another entertaining and beautiful volume of Air Gear. The variety of styles Oh! Great has at his disposal manages to transform some truly juvenile humor into comedy gold. This remains his strongest asset, and knowing I'll always find a laugh or two when I first open a volume does wonders for my opinion of this series. It's not the deepest or most interesting manga on the shelves, but it has a low-brow charm which makes it fun to read with your brain set to the "Off" position. If it can avoid the pitfalls of endlessly escalating enemy organizations and awkward attempts to wear symbolism on its sleeve, Air Gear may yet be something special. It already has some of the latter going on with Ikki and his "wings" but I won't cry foul yet. Not yet.
Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Del Rey
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Air Gear