Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Isolator Vol. #01 Manga Review

Nothing is safe in this world. Whatever can happen, will happen.

Creative Staff:
Original Story: Reki Kawahara
Art: Naoki Koshimizu
Character Design: Shimeji
Translation: Jenny McKeon
Lettering: Scott Brandon Jones & Xian Michele Lee

What They Say:
Mysterious objects from space have landed, embedding themselves within human beings around the world and granting them impossible powers according to their deepest wishes. Seventeen-year-old Utsugi Minoru's only wish is to be able to live apart from the world and events around him. But will he remain the same after experiencing his new powers and new dangers?

The Review:
Content: (Please note that the content portion of the review may contain spoilers)
Reki Kawahara is a name in the anime and manga industry that, despite having a limited selection of titles, is still relatively well-known. After his first series, Accel World, missed the mark several years back due to the controversial appearance of its protagonist, Sword Art Online picked up the slack and became an absolute phenomenon within anime and manga culture -- particularly in the west. That being said, Kawahara's newest story, The Isolator, has a lot to live up to if it's going to be able to stand next to something as colossal as SAO. One more thing to note before we get into the nitty-gritty, however, is that this book is drawn entirely by Naoki Koshimizu, a mangaka so fresh that he doesn't even have a Myanimelist page yet. But don't let that fool you -- this man can draw.

The Isolator follows the typical Kawahara pattern of an unlikely male candidate being given super powers and learning to harness them via an attractive, powerful female co-protagonist who would totally win if the two were to get into a fight. This time around, our male character is the aloof and antisocial Minoru Utsugi, who simply wants to lead a life where no one bothers him. Suffice it to say, that doesn't happen. Utusgi is randomly approached by a strange, black orb one night that buries itself inside his chest, ending any dreams he had of living a normal life. Three months later, after being hit by some jerk on a bike, Utsugi's power [granted by the orb] awakens. He doesn't feel anything. This power becomes relevant again just several pages later when these other jerks from the track team call Utusgi out behind the school and try to jump him. So if there's anything we have learned from the first two chapters, it's that Utsugi's pain is somehow being negated and that there are a lot of mean people wherever he lives.

Among all of these unfriendly faces, however, there is one saint -- Tomomi Minowa (Who I'm pretty sure is the Chiyuri Kurashima of this series). Minowa seems to be the only person in town willing to talk to Utsugi. She is also the only person in town who remembers something about him that he's spent the last several years trying to forget. "Wow, it must really be a terrible secret," is what you're probably thinking, right? Well boy, are you wrong. Utusgi's deepest, darkest secret is that this one time...he yelled at a teacher! Wow! What a scarring backstory! In fact, Utsugi seems to care more about this 'tragic' event than when his entire 'effing family was brutally murdered in front of him. But apart from our main character's inability to prioritize the sadness of his past, we have an average, everyday protagonist that just really likes to run for some reason. This, of course, hides behind the guise of Utsugi 'running to forget' but really, I just think they needed to make this guy seem damaged right off the bat. 

Anyway, after all of this initial character development and stuff comes to a close, we're introduced to several new characters, albeit briefly. One of these characters is Yumiko Azu, the Kuroyukihime of the series. Other than her, we have some dude who is presumably her sidekick (For now) and the dumbest protagonist I have seen in years -- The Biter. "Wow, what does that guy do?" you must be thinking. Well, get this, ladies and gentlemen...He bites people. To death. "Oh, well he probably looks cool at least, right?" Wrong. Instead of having a cool transformation or even a slightly threatening appearance in general, his mouth turns into a wolf's mouth -- making him the stupidest looking villain of all time. He's just some angry dude with half of a wolf-face. Combine that with the fact that he is nicknamed "The Biter" and that he literally says, at multiple points, "I'm going to bite you!" and it becomes pretty damn hard to take this manga seriously.

But even with that being said, there was still something about this volume that I enjoyed. I'm not sure if it's simply due to the fact that it's almost a carbon copy of Accel World, but I really did wind up liking it somehow. After this "Biter" dude is finally gone, I feel like this can really go somewhere. For this being an actual first manga from Koshimizu, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little impressed. The artwork is actually pretty fantastic and Shimeji's character designs are beautiful. Even Utsugi, despite how much I already dislike him, looks awesome. The strange thing is, Kawahara's story is actually the weakest part of this manga -- which is surprising considering how intricate his stories normally are. Maybe that will change with time; maybe it just wasn't portrayed well in the first volume. Who knows? What I do know, however, is that fans of Kawahara's can still find something in The Isolator. For those of you that haven't checked out any of his work, don't start with this.

In Summary:
The Isolator, despite being an impressive display of Naoki Koshimizu's artwork, has many flaws that wind up creating an ultimately dissatisfying reading experience. You will spend one-half of this volume questioning the thought process of the overtly antisocial protagonist and the second half laughing at the idea of a villain named "The Biter" who's mouth looks like an evil duckbill. This manga, in its current state, scores no points for originality, being what is essentially a carbon copy of Kawahara's own 'Accel World'. I will give Kawahara credit, however, for leaving the digital universe out of this one. It's nice to see him taking steps in a new direction...Kind of.

Content Grade: C
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: C-
Text/Translation Grade: B-

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: January 24, 2017
MSRP: $12.99

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