Manga-ka: Atsushi Ohkubo
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: October 2008
Synopsis: “… When Mana meets Shotaro on her travels, she expects nothing but trouble from the childish, ignorant boy—until he takes off into the sky like a bird. Mana may be impressed, but dokeshi are viewed as freaks by most of the population. And with the governor missing, all dokeshi are under suspicion. Ever-optimistic Shotaro refuses to be discouraged and journeys on with Mana in the name of Justice!”
B. Ichi is the kind of book that you really need to read the whole way through before you can start forming any real opinions on it. Though the same should obviously be said about any book, it’s a test of patience and hopeful reward when you begin reading and the thought of surviving to the end seems difficult. When the story begins, all I really saw was the wonky, uneven art style, erratic pacing and comedicly unbelievable characters. But when I finished, well, it still had all those things, though all of it combined, it really wasn’t too bad.
Taking place in a skewed version of Tokyo, Japan, B. Ichi is the story of a world with beings called dokeshi: people who have unique abilities in exchange for upholding one condition every day. One such dokeshi is Shotara, one of the story’s leads. By biting onto bones of dead animals, he’s able to channel that animal’s ability, be it flight of a bird or a dog’s sense of smell. In exchange for this ability, he must perform one good deed a day.
In this first volume, Shotara befriends a girl named Mana who is new to the city. While Shotara’s a flaky, impulsive boy with no attention span, she’s a pretty nice girl with a need to attain gratitude and commendations from anyone she can. Together the two end up saving a politician from some dastardly dokeshi up to no good while readers are given the opportunity to get caught up on the world, its oddities and its general distrust towards dokeshi. This point in the book suffered from some horribly stiff monologing, just for the sake of filling in readers, that of course seemed very out of place coming from a character’s mouth. He felt the need to explain his entire plot and powers to people who already knew… because?
The whole story has a pretty tripped out feel to it, be it characters who’re completely off the wall or rules about the city that’re just plain weird, like stepping on the coloured bar of a crosswalk means you need to play a penalty game and bullets with faces on them. This part of the story may turn off some readers, as it almost did me, but it certainly gives it a very particular feeling, one that reminded me a bit of One Piece and, even more so, the recently popular, Soul Eater. Then of course I realize it’s done by the same guy who created Soul Eater so that explains that I suppose.
The art lends itself to the strangeness of the story. It’s pretty lopsided, with inconsistently drawn characters, a sense of facial anatomy that makes some of the funniest-faced manga characters look human and occasionally a panel that’s near impossible to follow. But, while it may not be my taste in art visually, I can’t deny that it works very well in telling the story and the two aspects of story and art compliment each other very well to the point that I was able to get past my dislike for the art itself very easily.
By the end of the book, a few new characters have been introduced and Shotara and Mana are now on the road together to find an old friend of Shotara’s named Emine. While I had my inhibitions about it at first, and I still wouldn’t go about exactly singing its praises, this first volume of B. Ichi still made for a pretty entertaining read. It’s high-energy, full of wacky situations and has enough plot to keep readers looking around future corners with some anticipation. As for me, I’m actually kind of looking forward to volume two of B. Ichi despite my qualms with it; a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.