Ninjas, mononoke, and shady intelligence agencies get an action-packed mash-up in Black Torch. Street tough Jiro Azuma might look like a petty criminal, but he uses his ninja training to defend helpless animals, which he can talk to. This unique ability leads him to rescue a wounded black cat in the woods. The cat, Rago, is a mononoke, or vengeful spirit, recently released from captivity. Rago tries to give Jiro the slip, knowing that the mononoke who freed him won’t cut Jiro any slack, but Jiro won’t let Rago get away that easily. When a third and deadly mononoke attacks Rago, Jiro intervenes and dies in the process. But Rago fuses with Jiro, saving his life. Now the Bureau of Espionage, once Rago’s captors, recruit Jiro and Rago into their ranks. Suddenly Jiro’s ninja training and new demonic powers have a greater good to serve.
Black Torch is a first-rate manga with snappy dialogue, good pacing, and excellent fight scenes. Takaki excels at action sequences. The art has heavy blacks and a sketchy quality reminiscent of Tokyo Ghoul, but with the slick character designs of Persona. The monsters are threatening and visually engaging enough to fit into the characters’ dangerous world. Sometimes, in fantasy action manga, the art is weak on one front or another, be it uninspired monster design or clunky fight scenes, but not this book. The panels are easy to read and the solid blacks add contrast.
The first volume wraps up nicely with the promise of more action, espionage, and monsters to come. The plot leans toward the predictable for the genre, but it’s well executed enough to make for a fun read. If there’s one nitpick, it’s the fact that, of course, the female Bureau of Espionage agent has a skimpy uniform complete with short-shorts and thigh-high stockings. She’s tough and competent but she could be tough and competent in pants … just sayin’. But it’s a shonen manga and that sort of costume design comes with the territory. The real cornerstone of the book is the repartee between the earnest Jiro and the prickly Rago. It’s a relationship that’s fun to watch unfold as they both act tougher than they are and learn to work together despite their constant arguing.
publisher: Viz Media
story and art: Tsuyoshi Takaki