Viz Media rolled out a few great new shonen series under their Shonen Sunday imprint in 2010. One Shonen Sunday imprint, Cross Game, a baseball manga by Mitsuru Adachi, made my Best of 2010 list for its excellent pacing and natural slice-of-life storytelling. In addition to the new series released in 2010, The Shonen Sunday imprint looks to continue putting out new work in 2011. Two new series recently were released as part of the Shonen Sunday imprint – the horror/action/suspense manga Kurozakuro (which I will review next week), and the historical action manga Itsuwaribito.
Itsuwaribito is a manga about lying, or more appropriately, about a chronic liar named Utsuho. After telling a group of bandits the truth about where he lived, one of those stereotypical “great shonen tragedies” occurs, and Utsuho vows never to tell the truth ever again. After an introduction to Utsuho and his background, he sets out on a journey to help people with his lying.
There are a few things that separate Itsuwaribito from other shonen manga currently on the market. The most recognizable is its penchant for violent action. Other shonen manga have a tendency to have violence, blood, and gore; series like D.Grey-man thrive on this sort of content. Most of these series are more serious in tone than Itsuwaribito, though. When Utsuho throws a bomb at a group of bandits, their deaths are shown pretty graphically as he shouts out a chipper, “I was lying!” to the dying fools. I am not necessarily saying the violence is over the top, but the depictions of violence in this book are at an extreme contrast with the personality of the main character, which makes the violence a little more unsettling.
Another interesting trait of Itsuwaribito is its use of companion characters for Utsuho. Although things aren’t very far along in the first volume, Utsuho only has a single companion, a fluffy talking raccoon-like pup called a tanuki named Pochi. He is adorable and his trusting attitude and naivety are a good foil for the jaded Utsuho. He is the star of multiple scenes, and his little side observations about what is going on in the story are funny and cute.
For a shonen story, Itsuwaribito holds its own fairly well in the first volume. Its introduction seems a little standard, but for a comic that has to make its name in a busy anthology like Shonen Sunday, you can expect things to be more or less the same in most introductions. Itsuwaribito delineates itself from other shonen manga quickly with its use of the lying theme and Utusho’s penchant for poisons, explosives, and other trickery make it more interesting than it really seemed like it would be at the beginning.
The art is fairly standard shonen fair. Yuuki Iinuma has an affinity for extra screen tone in his action sequences and panelling, but the result isn’t unpleasant like it could be. The line-work is pretty thin, which give Iinuma’s characters a sort of slender look, and also makes his villains a little creepier. The panel composition is also fairly good, and the book reads fairly easily.
One of the things I do not like about Itsuwaribito is Utusho’s constant confessions. He pulls off these grand fibs and deceits, only at the last second to say, “I was lying!” or, “I was lying about lying.” Part of what is interesting about a character that is a compulsive liar is that you never truly understand if what he says is true or not. A confession here or there will help keep you on the level with the character and give you a sense of his morals, but constantly seeing him confess takes a little wind out of his sail. Hopefully, as the series progresses, this will stop. I’d prefer the ambiguity.
While Itsuwaribito isn’t perfect, it is a fun comic, and it is easy to enjoy the convoluted tales that Utusho spins, and the cute fluffy woodland creature he befriends. If Iinuma adds a few other cast members, or introduces some sort of idealistic crisis to Utusho and his resolve to continue to lie, I think this could be a pretty regular read for me. As it stands, I am ready to pick up volume two when it is released in April of 2011.
Or maybe I’m just lying.
This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.