Story & Art: Oh! Great
Translation & Adaptation: Makoto Yukon
Publisher: Del Rey
From the creator of Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great (Ito Ogure) comes Air Gear. When I heard about this manga, I thought to myself: “Great another manga trying to cash in on extreme sports!” I really do love it when I put my foot in my own mouth (actually, I am not that talented). This manga is everything taken from Rollerboys, Solarbabies, The Warriors, and mixed in with some fantastic new elements.
The story is pretty basic; Airtrecking is an x-treme sport where skaters wear high-tech skates and then battle in teams for territory and fame. Each skate has a memory chip inside to record the stats of the skater. In the first volume we are introduced to Ikki Minami, a high school gang-leader who is also hailed as the Babyface of East Side. He suffers a humiliating defeat by the Stormrider air-trecking gang Skull Saders, who then go on to target the friends and classmates he can’t protect. When I say humiliating, the guy gets all his clothes torn off and gets stuff shoved up his ass. We are also introduced to his foster family, the Namayoma sisters, notably Ringo, Ikki’s childhood friend, Mikan, Ume, and oldest sister Rika. Ringo, Mikan, and Ume mysteriously reveal themselves as the legendary “Sleeping Forest,” assisting Ikki in entering the Airtreck world to redeem his pride; While keeping the true nature of their Stormrider identities secret from everyone else. Eventually Ikki is able to defeat The Skull Saders and earn their emblem, which is a way airtreckers show they defeated a rival gang. He gains the respect of his peers again and moves on to the next challenge. The mysterious Simca, who is also an airtrecker and happens to work at a parts store provokes Ikki to take on Inuyama with a promise of something special as a reward. You guessed it….this is more than a kiss and coming from Simca, that is a deal! It seems Simca can tell that Ikki is destined for bigger things than just airtrecking.
The next three volumes involve Ikki going up against Bucha and Akito/Agito who later end up joining his team. Koarasumaru is the name they choose to go by, which literally translates to small-crow-blade. In a way this makes sense because Ikki throughout all the volumes has been nicknamed crow boy and has a pet crow. There is a scene with a teacher that has a panty flash in almost every page. If that is not enough, there is an entire panel of our hero, stripped naked, sorry ladies it’s blurred out, and then taking a shit out on a building rooftop. Its fun to watch Ikki pull his team together and see one of his friends reach a personal revelation; Go Kazu, who knew he had it in him? By the end of the fifth volume we finally get to see Riku (the oldest sister) come back and tell us where she has been since volume 1. She never wanted Ikki to become an airtrecker, but her reasons are still unknown to us. We are also introduced to Sora, who happens to be in a wheelchair. So it might have something to do with her and Sora’s past why she can’t stand to see Ikki ride in those skates.
For the most part the overall translation of Air Gear was handled very well. The dialogue translation does a good job capturing the slang street talk of the characters. I can see kids talking like this and even some of the slang is new to me. Some Japanese expressions are left un-translated and only explained in the glossary, which I really love Del Rey for putting at the end of their books. There was so much information I picked up from just one volume. This is information you can of course take with you to other manga. The writing ties the symbolism of all of the birds in the story and the personality of each of the characters is very evident in the way they interact with each other. I assume the lettering has to be given props for their beautiful handling of the emblems and gang names when they announce it. My only gripe is the use of Instant Messaging lingo. Such as WTF, Oh Noes, STFU, and others. I really don’t see what the purpose of these internet acronyms are in a book like this. It obviously adds nothing to the story and it looks unprofessional. The text is also very easy to follow and you won’t get lost in any of the panels trying to follow dialogue.
Let’s talk about the art for a second. If you weren’t aware of it Oh! Great was an adult manga artist and let me tell you, when you see his women you can really tell. He is an amazingly gifted artist, who doesn’t seem to limit himself, because each volume looks better than the previous one. His action sequences are amazing to say the least. When the characters throw punches or kicks it really looks like it hurts. He is a master at drawing backgrounds, dynamic figures, and the character designs are right out of the glory days of 2D fighters. The flow from panel to panel is flawless and the over exaggerated expressions completes the perfect look for a manga. There are plenty of fanservice moments that will get the attention of not only guys but the ladies as well. Speaking of fan service, I am a bit disappointed that Del Rey didn’t keep the original cover to volume 2 with Simca on the cover (To your left you’ll see the original cover). Although it wasn’t much of a change, I get frustrated when other people’s artwork are edited. Few are as skillful at anatomy as Oh!Great, who uses his skating theme to depict the human body with such fluid grace it looks to come to life at times. Although I find it funny that sometimes his women seem to be posed in rather hentai situations, but I’m not one to complain.
When I first started reading this book it seemed to borrow its elements from other manga, but like I said it ends up infusing plenty of its own elements and balances evenly between action, comedy, and a high school drama to prevent it from becoming another sports manga that gets easily forgotten. The plot flows smoothly, even though it can be dialogue heavy at times it is majorly entertaining throughout. The only problem I see is that each volume takes forever to get the point across. It is very much like Dragonball Z in that each volume holds a bigger and badder threat, but in this case the protagonist is not losing his life and the sake of humanity, only his skates. Not much of a complaint, but I certainly hope it doesn’t lose its steam that it finally picked up after the first volume. After reading this manga it makes me want to put on my old roller blades or just play my Jet Grind Radio on my Dreamcast.