Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, August 14, 2009
      ( 8/14/2009 09:06:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"DON'T EXPECT TOO MUCH. I'M LOW ON CAPABILITIES IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE." Yunosuke Toshinaga's Broken Blade (CMX) is a boy-and-his-giant-robot tale with a tiny twist. In the world that Yunosuke Yoshinagta posits, nearly everybody has the capabilities to power and steer a giant robot -- except for our hero. From early childhood, the people of Curzon have been gifted with the ability to "power up" quartz, the prime energy source on this world. ("There is no oil to be taken from the earth," we're told in the series' opener.) Yet Rygart Arrow, as we're shown in an opener that goes back to his childhood, doesn't possess this basic ability. As a result, he lives his life in relative isolation as a "lowly farmer," 'til his old schoolmate King Hodr requests that he be brought to the Imperial City.

Hodr, who reigns over the kingdom of Krisna, once attended the Assam National Military Academy, with his queen-to-be Sigyn and our "unsorceror" hero Rygart. Though Rygart was forced to drop his schooling, the bond between the threesome remains strong -- as nicely depicted in their teasing interactions when they're reunited. It's clear that Sigyn, the typically headstrong not-so-girly queen of Krisna, still has vestiges of a lingering attraction for the "good-for-nothing" Rygart.

Krisna is presently under siege by the neighboring kingdom Athena, though the isolated Rygart has been unaware of this situation until he's delivered to the court. Leading the Athenian attack is yet a fourth former school chum, Zess, who can't help wondering on the verge of an attack what Rygart will think about what he's doing. "If you knew that I was trying to take Hodr's country by storm, would you be angry, Rygart?" he wonders. Clearly, this quartet has a plethora of unresolved issues.

Broken Blade's mighty big weapons are giant robo-suit creations called "golems" that are powered by quartz and brandish cannon-sized pistols. Because Rygart can't charge up quartz, he's the only one in the land incapable of combat fighting, though the archeological discovery of an ancient "under-golem" rapidly changes that situation. Possessing an unknown power source and run via manual controls, the device appears to be useless until our curious hero gets behind the controls. Once inside the antique weapon, christened Broken Blade, Rygart proves a formidable fighter.

If this all sounds like something you've seen or read before, well, of course, you have. Yoshinaga's fast-paced teen-plus rated manga fits into the young-outcast-makes-good template that's successfully served for beaucoup shonen manga. What lifts this series a few notches above its formula are the slivers of characterization that manage to poke through the exposition-heavy dialog. Even antagonist Zess is provided his human moments, most notably during a sequence with two women soldiers who compete for his attention. His role in the war seems motivated by a desire to measure up to an older brother, who looks to seize the ample quartz deposits that are in Krisna's possession. (Blood for Quartz!)

Broken Blade's art is strongest when it's reflecting its characters' personal moments -- when it depicts, for instance, the flashbacks to our main characters' school days -- though it's not always as distinct during the book's battle sequences. Since the first volume in the series is designed to introduce the primary players, any weakness in the fighting scenes isn't that big of an issue. If future books extend the sometimes confusing battle panels into more extended page fillers, that could be a problem. But if Yoshinaga can keep his eye fixed on character-driven tension over mechanical fetishism, though, we should be copacetic.

Still, I'm wagering that this series will find a mecha happy manga audience, especially after reading that an anime adaptation of the current six-volume series has been green lit. I can see Broken Blade fitting snugly into SyFy channel's Monday night anime bloc -- and so, I suspect, can the powers-that-be at CMX.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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