Action Mask Volume 1 Review
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: Action Mask is a character featured in one of Japan’s most beloved comedy manga, Crayon Shin-chan. Here, in his own manga series, we follow the adventures of Action Man who refuses to attack or hit his enemies. All he does is act as a shield for the ones being attacked, absorbing blow after blow from the villains but never raising his fist in attack. Just what kind of hero is this man and why has he chosen to follow this path of non violence?
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Admit it, the second you saw the cover art, most of you (including myself) assumed this would be a tacky or a classic Japanese superhero story meant to cater to kids on Saturday mornings who’d cheer and whoop as our mighty hero defeated villain after villain with a mighty punch and kick. However, the series synopsis states the complete opposite…describing a hero who choses to be punched rather than to punch and has you wondering exactly how he manages to stay alive to be punched another day.
Our manga kicks off with the focus on a school kid making his way to school and noticing certain peculiar behaviour such as a loud child being difficult and his mother struggling to calm him down, and later a man pursuing said mother and child. There’s a short scene of the mother and child being attacked by some strange creature and then we immediately cut away back to the school kid who had noticed them at the train station. We learn that the kid is named Yashino and is being teased by a bully for liking and wearing the t-shirt of a TV show superhero named Twinleaf Mask. This leads to a fight and all the kids involved in the fight punished by their teacher who also tells Yahino to meet with him after class.
Of course, Yashino skips meeting teacher after class justifying it with the thought that they did nothing wrong, and instead goes home and is watching TV when a TV report about the attack on the mother and child earlier that day put Yashino into hero mode. So far, everything feels somewhat classic kid action story. We have a kid who is lost in hero worship and wants be just like like their favourite fictional action hero. We have a mysterious and scary villain that’s attacking people and needs to be brought to justice and the only hint we have so far of how unique this story gets is from its synopsis. It might feel like a bit of a slog to get through but hang in there because things are about to really pick up.
Skipping through the nitty-gritty parts of the story, what stands out immediately is the villain in the story so far. Some of you may be surprised to find yourself agreeing or atleast realizing that you have had thoughts similar to what the villain is grumbling about. For once, the villain isn’t someone who wants to take over the world or destroy the world. No, they’re someone who’s really,really annoyed with that bratty sounding kid who was throwing a tantrum and calling his parents names that made you wonder if you were ever that insufferable as a kid, or thanking the heavens that your kid doesn’t/ your future kid won’t ever behave like that. This series makes its villains relatable in a whole new way.
Enter our brave hero and titular character, Action Mask who then proceeds to get his butt handed to him by the monster, choosing to talk things out with the villain as he is getting pummelled leading to one very odd psychiatric session between villain and hero. Action Mask. It isn’t until he notices a strange seed like object that Action Mask unleashes his special move called “Action Beam” which has the effect of stripping away the monstrous appearance of the villain and turning them back into their original human form. After the defeated villain is carted away by some mysterious people who seem to be in cahoots with Action Mask, Action Mask launches into a spiel about how nobody is truly evil and how it’s usually circumstances or events that can transform ordinary people into their ugliest forms. It’s a cheesy line that is often heard but rarely taken to heart because in real life, it’s so much easier and convenient to vilify people who anger us or hurt us rather than forgive them or try to understand them. It’s at this point when one realizes that the series is trying to explain and embed this knowledge into children while reminding adults of this often mentioned and often ignored truth.
The best thing about Action Mask is most definitely its villains which the series does a great job of portraying as relatable and real human beings whose rage and anger are triggered by feelings that we all have felt or understand. Like the man frustrated by unruly and obnoxious children or the store owner trying to deal with teenagers who shoplift and ruin the decorum and peace of his store. Even if you haven’t been in the exact position that the villains are in, you definitely have been annoyed or angered by similar behaviour or situations. It makes it a lot easier to empathize and sympathize with the villains and really drive home the message that people aren’t inherently evil and more likely than not, they were driven to this place of extreme hatred through gradual or continuous exposure.
As the story continues, we learn something surprising about Yashino as well as an extremely shocking mystery about Action Mask himself. To refrain from spoiling the story, I will not explicitly discuss them but rather praise the series for pulling off these reveals. However, I do have to mention that Action Mask does stick closely to its original inspiration and theme of being a kid’s superhero story by having somewhat hammy lines and villains. It’s not a criticism as it is clear what the series is going for, to be a perfect spoof and social commentary in disguise. That said, it can also result in some brilliant comedic moments like a centipede monster behaving like a perfect store employee in the middle of its reign of terror.
The story makes a mild attempt at clearing all its bases by using Yashino as the vessel through which we learn all about Action Mask and the organization that’s he’s a part of which has its agents tracking down monsters and bringing them under control. It’s simple and basic information enough to help the reader get a general grasp of the situation and not one that requires or can withstand a lot of cross examination for now..especially when the big reveal of the volume is made and we find out that Action Mask might not be the paradigm of justice and heroism we’ve been made to believe. Its a classic twist and ends the volume on a cliffhanger, tempting the reader to continue delving into the series.Now, if you’re someone who abhors preachy works of fiction or when stories get too ‘on the nose’ with its message, you might not take to Action Mask. While it isn’t heavy handed with its moral message, there’s no mistaking that it’s there masked as a story for children. But given how well it wraps the message in comedy and relatable ‘villains’ so far, the series is surprising pleasant to read if mainly for its novel take on what would otherwise have been dismissed as Saturday Morning cartoon for kids.
Action Mask is available digitally via Crunchyroll.com.