One of the most interesting developments of the past year is Shonen Jump Alpha, and more specifically, the end of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Bakuman. While the comics running in Shonen Jump Alpha are all of the long running variety (Bakuman, one of the shorter works in the magazine, finished at a measly 20 volumes), they are bound to end at some point, and when they do, the question of what to add in their place is an issue.
In Japan, this is not a problem. New comics are being released all the time. New one-shots and new series are being debuted at every corner, so if a comic goes out of an anthology, it’s not a big deal; there are plenty of backups to work with the missing space. However, in the one major shonen anthology, Shonen Jump Alpha, losing a series means finding a replacement, and using a replacement that is likely to be a long-term success.
When Bakuman ended, the powers that be at Shueisha/Viz decided that the newest manga for Shonen Jump Alpha would be Barrage, by Kouhei Horikoshi.
Barrage is about a young boy named Astro who lives on the streets. After the planet’s prince finds Astro and determines that they are exact look-a-likes, he forces Astro to take his place, and become Prince Barrage, with all the rights, priveledges, and responsibilities therein (including using the Orgue, something like a magical spear of destiny that can only be wielded by someone with the power to become king). What follows is a battle/adventure manga with sci-fi elements rooted in the notions of the power of family that is not your typical shonen manga and the stock bravery and guts that are oh so typical. The story pulls deeply from The Prince and the Pauper, although character designs, especially the alien in the first chapter, seem like something straight out of a Final Fantasy Tactics game. Industrial landscapes and rundown cities and towns show the decay of a ruler unable to lead his people and the ruinous results of an alien invasion.
While the content is overly similar in the first few chapters, things start to brighten up and expand as the manga moves into later chapters. We are starting to see what motivates Astro, the intricacies of the Orgue, Astro’s mystical weapon, and the struggles of the people of Astro’s home planet. The supporting cast is small at this point – only Tiamat, the royal retainer/bodyguard has become a main fixture in the cast, but like most adventure manga, I am certain that we will be collecting more characters very soon.
Barrage is like a good chocolate chip cookie. It is warm, familiar, and satisfying, but not particularly original. While the originality may Barrage start to show itself in future chapters, we are still seeing what is assuredly a mostly stock introduction, and until the series really comes into its own and builds the cast, I expect that’s what we can continue to see. Overall, Barrage makes up for its lack of immediate inventiveness for a certain amount of technical prowess; the images are sharp, the illustrations are clean, and overall it’s a fun reading experience. I am reminded quite a bit of Toto: The Wonderful Adventure by Yuko Osada, which had a similar style and flavor. We shall see how Barrage differentiates itself in the months to come.
When I first started subscribing to Shonen Jump Alpha, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I did not read scans, so hopping into these series this far advanced was very strange to me. Seeing a new series from the get-go has been an excellent eye-opener to what Shonen Jump Alpha can be, and I hope more new series are in the pipeline for Viz’s digital anthology.