Welcome back to Tidbits, a new feature for shorter reviews! This time I take a look at three continuing series from VIZ’s Shonen Jump imprint. First up, it’s volumes 28-31 of One Piece, followed by volumes 9-12 of Slam Dunk and a single volume (the third) of the aesthetically pleasing Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee.
One Piece 28-31 by Eiichiro Oda: B+
Volumes 28-30 consist almost entirely of fighting, as the forces of the all-powerful “Kami” of Skypiea, Eneru, clash with the Shandians (fighting to regain their lost city), while the Straw Hat pirates (just lookin’ for some gold) are caught in the middle. Eneru, as it turns out, has staged the whole thing as a survival game, and figures that after three hours, only five of the original 81 combatants will survive. After this, we get periodic updates as to how many remain, a device I found strangely satisfying.
Although some of the battles are between characters we’ve never seen before, those encounters are usually brief. While Luffy spends the entirety of volume 29 stuck inside a giant serpent, many of the other Straw Hats get a chance to shine, especially Chopper and Robin, whose battles with Eneru’s minions show off the versatility of their respective powers. Nami, too, gets more experience using her new weapons and Conis, a resident of Skypiea, marshals her courage to defy the Kami and warn the people of his plans to destroy the island. There’s been some discussion lately about manga that passes the Bechdel Test, and these volumes exemplify why One Piece does so with flying colors.
Speaking of Robin, I am liking her more and more. This is the first time we’ve really seen her on her own and though it’s always been evident how intelligent and competent she is, it’s nice to see she’s also trustworthy and kind of a badass. She’s generally reserved but is passionate about archaeology, and through her we begin to get hints about a 100-year gap in the history of the world, something that could turn out to be huge. At one point she references “the unspoken history that the land below has ceased to talk about,” and later discovers that Shandora “fought against the enemy.” Thirty volumes in and we’re just starting something so big and potentially awesome? Oda, I think I love you.
After Eneru puts in motion his plan to destroy Skypiea, a mass exodus of its residents ensues. Volume 31 departs from the present panic to flesh out the history of the island and how it ties in with Mont Blanc Noland. This is actually the best part of the Skypiea arc so far and explains quite a few things while being a durn good story in and of itself. The arc doesn’t quite wrap up here, but now that I fully understand the significance of the golden bell in the city of Shandora, I care a lot more about the outcome than I have done in recent volumes!
Slam Dunk 9-12 by Takehiko Inoue: B+
It takes some willpower not to devour each new release of Slam Dunk, but it’s so immensely satisfying to read multiple volumes back-to-back that the wait is worth it!
Volume nine marks the start of the Kanagawa Prefectural Tournament, in which the Shohoku team is able to take part thanks to Hanamichi’s friends taking responsibility for the on-court brawl that occurred in the previous volume. Shohoku is underestimated at first, but the return of Miyagi and Mitsui to the team—both of whom are greeted with somewhat awed recognition from the crowd—makes them a force to be reckoned with. They progress steadily through the tournament, eventually ending up in the final four against Kainan, a school that has made it to Nationals sixteen years in a row.
Hanamichi is his usual annoying self to begin with, demanding that the ball be passed to him and proclaiming himself a genius at every opportunity. After fouling out in each of the first four games, and after recognizing the skills and strengths of his teammates, he finally realizes that he’s not such hot stuff after all. Despite occasional relapses, this marks a real turning point for Hanamichi, as he is able to accept tutelage more readily and function better as a part of the team. For example, though he originally harbored dreams of outscoring Rukawa, once he makes snagging rebounds his focus instead, he’s able to contribute a great deal to Shohoku’s success. His progress and maturation combined with a slightly more humble attitude go a long way toward making him more likable, and it’s quite touching when he gets his first rousing cheer from the crowd.
Structurally, Slam Dunk is very similar to The Prince of Tennis. Though I love the latter a lot, Slam Dunk is the more exciting read, a fact I’d chalk up to the nature of the sport. In tennis, our lead characters battle either singly or in pairs against their foes, while the rest are relegated to commentary until it’s their turn. Here, all the principle characters are on the court at the same time, which gives more immediacy to the way they’re able to motivate each other. True, the characters in Eyeshield 21 all play simultaneously, too, but because basketball moves at a faster pace than football, the effect here is exhilarating, bordering on addictive.
Unfortunately, there’s no more Slam Dunk due until December! Perhaps I’ll investigate whether Inoue’s more dramatic basketball manga, REAL, can help stave off the cravings.
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee 3 by Hiroyuki Asada: C+
Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee is the story of Lag Seeing, a twelve-year-old boy who has just become a Letter Bee (government mail carrier) in the perpetually dark country of Amberground, inspired by Gauche Suede, a Letter Bee he met five years ago. Lag had hoped to reunite with Gauche, but after learning that his hero disappeared six months after he last saw him, he meets with Gauche’s sister, Sylvette, and promises to find out what happened to her brother.
Gauche was by far the more interesting of the two characters featured in volume one, so it’s nice to get a few glimpses of him here. These tibits—and the bonus story about reuniting an aging dingo (animal companion) with the Letter Bee he faithfully served—are the best things about the volume. Lag is still not a very interesting protagonist and I’ve grown to pretty much hate his dingo, Niche. I’m sure she’s intended to be comic relief, but the story would be better served by cutting her unfunny antics and devoting that page space to clarifying the narrative, which is still going on and on about the importance of “heart.”
Back in January when I reviewed volume two, I said I’d give Tegami Bachi one more chance to win me over. As problematic as the series continues to be, after what we learn about Gauche’s disappearance and mysterious memory loss in this volume, I can’t imagine myself stopping without learning what happened to him. I don’t think this counts as “won over” so much as “minimally intrigued,” but either way, I’ll probably keep reading.
Review copies for volumes nine, eleven, and twelve of Slam Dunk provided by the publisher.