Nabari No Ou proves relatively dense for a ninja manga. As mentioned in my review of volume one, it stands out from other shonen ninja series in its reversal of protagonist archetypes. Miharu’s withdrawn, indifferent attitude has been seen before in mecha series, but in fighting manga it stands out as pretty fresh and unique. With it’s heavy use of samurai/ninja tradition as a background, and the strong theme of a reluctant protagonist who feels like he is being used by various parties to their own ends, as the story develops, Nabari is almost starting to feel very much like a mecha-less Gasaraki. Granted, subbing a character type from one genre into another is a bit of a gimmick, but so far, it works.
As relatively original as the series’ premise is, in volume 1 it was still feeling like a pretty rote introduction. Over the course of volume 2, the plot thickens considerably – both for better and for worse. There’s a good chunk of stuff in this volume which feels like plot filler – lots of villages and tribes, character names, schemes and plans are thrown at you at once. It’s a lot to keep track of and quite frankly gets boring, as it feels like despite all the verbiage nothing is really happening. There is also a bit of generic “pervert” manga humor which is not terribly clever or funny, but thankfully it doesn’t last long.
However, volume 2’s developments are not all for naught. There is some substantial character development which happens here and there. Miharu, the indifferent protagonist is gradually becoming less apathetic and developing initiative of his own. Quite a few of his allies look to be planning a double-cross in one way or another, but over time, their motivations are fleshed out enough that things don’t feel too predictable or one note and it doesn’t feel too much like a Japanese Pirates of the Caribbean.
What stands out as volume 2’s most impressive element is the twist at the end, which turns your ideas upside down regarding what has been the series’ primary antagonist up to this point. Without spoiling the surprise, I will say that it serves to develop what would otherwise be a pretty flat villain and re-gear the story in an exciting, yet mysterious direction.
I would say this cliffhanger ending leaves me pretty curious to read the next volume without feeling dissatisfied with the one I just read (dodging a mistake often made with cliffhangers). Nabari No Ou is shaping up into what seems to be a pretty decent read. I’m not sure if I’d put it on the level of ninja/samurai manga staples like Blade of the Immortal or Vagabond (not yet) – but then its modern setting takes it in a significantly direction so that such a comparison is not quite appropriate in the first place. I would also not say it’s comparable in depth to Evangelion so far, but I would still say it feels like a fairly successful merger of mecha character/plot themes with the martial arts genre. I would not promise anything award winning just yet, but this series is worth a look.
Story and Art: Yuhki Kamatani
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen