June 6, 2012

Bento Bako Lite: Shonen Jump Alpha: Barrage

Publisher: Viz Media (in Shonen Jump Alpha)
Story and Art: Kouhei Horikoshi

This week in Shonen Jump Alpha, Viz Media added an incredibly swank addition to its weekly digital line up with Kouhei Horikoshi’s manga Barrage. Barrage, which just started two weeks ago in the Japanese Shonen Jump, with the original title Sensei no Baruji, is a fun ride everyone can enjoy.

The story opens up on a distant planet in the stars, Industria, where aliens have invaded and begun to disrupt the peace. Our main character, named Astro (no relation to the Tezuka classic, Astro Boy), is a hard worker in the slums of the capital city, taking on hard labor so he can buy food and help out all the starving orphans in town; he himself is an orphan who always wanted a family. One day, a noble alien with a small group of troops enters the city to approach the King and his court, when they cause trouble in town, crossing Astro and his terrible boss. Astro stands up and the aliens back down, however, he gets fired from his job as a result. Later that night, after he spends the last of his money to feed the orphans, on his rooftop a surprise happens when Prince Barrage of the royal family shows up. Even more surprisingly, Prince Barrage looks and sounds exactly like Astro, and the selfish Prince proposes a switch so he can live his life freely. Before Astro can say yes or no, Barrage puts the royal band, known as the Orgue, on Astro, then is suddenly shot to death by a laser from an enemy sniper. Astro, before he can make sense of stuff, is then taken by the royal guard, who think he is Barrage, back to the royal palace for running away and disguising himself as a peasant!  Astro is at first reluctant, but when the royal head knight, Tiamat, tells him his family doesn’t need him, it pushes Astro’s buttons, because he always wanted a family and cannot stand the idea of a family rejecting one of their own. In the meantime, the aliens threaten the castle, demanding the power of the Orgue be handed over to them, even blackmailing and saying Astro/Barrage stole an alien’s wallet earlier (who gave it to Astro when they back downed as a “payment,” but in reality, it was part of their scheme). Filled with rage, Astro jumps out of the window of the castle towards the enemy aliens and unlocks the power of the Orgue, which becomes a giant mystical spear of immense powers and defeats the villains. The King is moved with “his son’s” change of heart and bravery, and deems him the true successor to the throne that can save the invaded planet!

Barrage is a fantastic story, a sci-fi action piece that feels like it borrows conceptually a little bit from classics such as Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, yet with its own fun science fiction flare to it. Horikoshi’s artwork is fantastic, and the way he draws the action sequences bouncing across the page is engaging and well done. Horikoshi, who previously did Oumagadoki Dobutsuen in Shonen Jump, which ran for five collected volumes, finally gets an English debut here. The character designs are all great, the aliens reminded me slightly of the alien designs in the 1980s American Marvel Comic Strikeforce: Morituri, which may be pretty cool for some long time American comic book readers over here in the States, and his landscapes of the city are pretty wild to just stare at, too.

I think Barrage is off to a great start. It is cool as well that Viz is really making Shonen Jump Alpha as close to the Japanese feel as possible by having a brand new manga that only started two weeks ago in Japan premiere here already, adding a coolness factor to both the manga itself as well as the weekly Shonen Jump Alpha. Get a subscription to the weekly digital Shonen Jump Alpha and check out Barrage, which is off to a great start and looking like it’s going to go to some pretty cool places.

Drew McCabe



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