Manga-ka: Akira Ishida
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: January 2010
Synopsis: “Average schoolgirl Nanami’s life is now anything but average! Having learned she’s the descendent of a powerful demon princess and gained herself three demonic minions – Tsurugi, Kusabi, and Mori – the poor girl has no time to let it all sink in… because she still has to go to class! And as if that’s not bad enough, Tomotaka, the demon slayer who wanted Nanami’s head on a silver platter when they first met, no longer sees Nanami as a demon to slay; now she’s the bait to lure in other demons!”
Leaping into the second volume for my first exposure to the franchise, I encountered a fairly standard manga representative of current trends in Japan, though not one without its charms. OniNagi stands solidly in the realm of myth-based manga, playing with the concept of the Oni to give us yet another demon slaying manga, but mixing things up slightly by making the protagonist a demon of sorts herself.
Nanami herself is kind of bland initially, but she grows on you. The story brings in the cliché of dual personalities, to allow both a cutesy Nanami to appeal to fans, and a Nanami who can kick butt. It’s played fairly well, and the atmosphere of darkness and betrayal help to make it more interesting, but does seem just a tad Mary Sue at first. Having three bishonen protectors didn’t help. Still, I was intrigued when Nanami used the demonic powers with her own personality after a tragic moment, and the events of this volume leave her in a place where she must bear most of the responsibility herself, deftly chucking aside the Mary Sue trappings for something a bit more life threatening.
After a major betrayal, Nanami, Tomotaka and the others find themselves facing demons who have come to claim her powers. We get some inventive visuals with this, and find out more about the actions of the demon slayers in the past that have lead to some of the current conflicts. I enjoyed the grey morality OniNagi plays with throughout, as antagonists explain their motives and pasts. The particular trap the heroes fall into made me suspect the artist was looking for an excuse not to have to bother with backgrounds for a few chapters though. Akira Ishida is good at balancing it out with some strong figure work though, but I’m curious if we’ll see more detailed art in future volumes.
The older teen rating is warranted, as some scenes venture past shonen manga norms and into otaku manga tropes. Yes, the dreaded tentacles cliche makes a PG-13 appearance as it does in many manga involving ladies fighting demons, which leads to some slightly sketchier than expected fan service. This moment is short-lived, though some humour is taken in Tomotaka announcing morbidly “Oh, that kind of demon….”, almost as if the artist were as bored of the trope as Tomotaka, and likely some readers were as well. Add in some horrific consequences for the demon protectors due to their group conflict, and you have a fair amount of violence. Still, the bulk of the work is entertaining enough, and I appreciated how quickly the plot moved as Nanami faces major changes and that the villains operate more openly than in most shadowy conspiracies in manga.
The solid if tone-heavy artwork helps the work out a fair bit. Character designs venture a little outside the standard anime-friendly box, and the designs of the demon-puppet protectors and Nanami herself are fairly representative of their otherworldly nature. The sketchier inking style works well for the demonic battles and dark scenery, reminding me of the very entertaining demon fighting manga Togari. In addition to this, Ishida doesn’t shy away from blood, so in a rare move you see characters whose injuries don’t fade by the next chapter. It all leads to a very consistent look, that brings the quality up a little beyond the more traditional trappings, complimenting the plots occasionally original moves.
In place of a bonus comic, we are given concept art, which shows some of Ishida’s skills well, and a brief section of translation notes. Readers will also be pleased to note that this series uses the thicker paper used on Yen Plus titles, and includes a stylish colour insert of the three guardians, though the reverse side is a repurposed version of the cover art.
OniNagi is something I would mildly recommend. It is a serviceable manga, but in this volume didn’t really do much to place itself above the rest of the pack. Still, I found myself reasonably entertained, and being able to comfortably jump in mid-series shows that Ishida’s done a good job with characterization and at keeping the storytelling clear and open. It’s not particularly unique, but is something that would appeal to most fans, and I did like that it opted for some mean spirited choices that cause the heroine to grow up a little this early in the series. Hopefully it’s a sign that future volumes will have more diverse material to offer that will continue to shake things up and grow Ishida’s creative voice, as there were a few surprises in the story that give me good expectations for future volumes.