Ayakashi Triangle 001-005 – Manga Review
Synopsis: A ninja exorcist manga with a twist! The latest series from Kentaro Yabuki!(Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Ayakashi Triangle is clearly the work of a long established mangaka and not some newbie. Kentaro Yabuki, of Black Cat and To Love Ru fame, knows his stuff. Rather than throw the audience into straight exposition, as so many new manga tend to do, we get a multi-page sequence dedicated to establishing the relationship dynamic between Matsuri, our exorcist ninja, and Suzu, his childhood friend/love interest in need of protection. This sequence more naturally introduces us to both leads, as well as our antagonist Shirogane, a Yokai cat, and gives readers something to latch onto before the series begins the set up and exposition required to build the manga towards its big twist.
That said, Matsuri and Suzu aren’t much in the way of original. If you’ve read even a few rom-com manga you’ve seen their dynamic before. ‘Generally sweet girl with no sense for danger, and overprotective every-man who’s got a soft spot for her.’ So, even with a good 10 or so pages dedicated to familiarizing us with Matsuri and Suzu, we don’t learn anything particularly unique or interesting about them, at least, nothing that sets them apart from the plethora of other manga couples to come before them.
While the characters might not be all that original, again it’s clear that Kentaro Yabuki knows his stuff. Even once we shift into fleshing out the backstory and world building details needed for complications to come, we never go full, awkward, unnatural exposition. Rather, Mr. Yabuki keeps it character focused, allowing the details to drip in a bit more naturally as Suzu ponders her frustrating relationship with Matsuri after conversing with Shirogane. It’s still exposition, but there’s a more natural, character-driven focus to it, allowing it to feel not quite so blatant.
The story moves forward, with us witnessing Matsuri in Ayakashi (a specific type of Yokai) Exorcising action, expertly showcased via Mr. Yabuki’s dynamic art. After, we learn that Suzu has romantic feelings for Matsuri, and discover that the Yokai Shirogane is anything but a peaceful little kitty cat. He’s after Suzu, because she’s in fact an Ayakashi Medium, someone who holds an excessive amount of life force. This overabundance of Life Force makes her a prime target for Ayakashi, who are eager to consume her in order to gain tremendous power. Suzu is attacked by Shirogane and it’s up to Matsuri to rescue her.
The big problem with Ayakashi Triangle’s first chapter is tone. Having read through Chapter 5, it’s clear Ayakashi Triangle is much more so a comedy than a fantasy action series. Yet this first chapter offers only the briefest of gags, and even Suzu’s romantic interest in Matsuri feels like a passing comment rather than a significant plot point. The only thing that keeps the series from feeling like your typical shonen action fantasy, is the distinct lack of badass fighting. There’s but two fights in this first chapter, one that ends abruptly and another that is anti-climatic from a pure combat perspective. No, in fact the second fight exists as the inciting incident to the rest of the manga’s story: the moment where Shirogane curses Matsuri, turning him into a woman.
It’s only here, at the tail end of the first chapter, that we start to see what kind of manga Ayakashi Triangle is really going to be. Matsuri is turned into a, rather attractive, female version of himself, with plenty of hints of the fan service to come, and the focus now squarely set on how Matsuri adapts to being a woman.
While body-swapping is a fun twist, it’s one that’s been done before, both by famous titles like Ranma 1/2 or other fledgling manga that have been forgotten to time. It’s important for any new title tackling a well-worn twist to put it’s own spin on the proceedings. Yet, Ayakashi Triangle seems incapable of that. What follows in Chapters 2 through 5 are some of the most predictable developments.
For one the series takes a significant step towards fan service. Matsuri’s new, busty body gets a lot of focus, with two or three pages dedicated to ogling the female form every chapter. Heck, Chapter 2 literally opens with Matsuri groping himself. While partly for comedic effect, there’s no denying that Cheesecake is one of the main ways in which Ayakashi Triangle is seeking to nab up an audience. Comedy in general becomes a much heavier component. There’s two particular kinds of goofs; the ‘look at how sexy Matsuri’s new body is’ kind, and ones based around the cast’s sillier traits. In fact, it’s here the cast starts to display little idiosyncrasies that help to make them stand out.
Suzu reveals herself to be absolutely obsessed with sweets. While she was eating a crepe in the first chapter, and her Chapter 1 outfit does have little wrapped candies sewn onto it, it’s really only in Chapter 2 that this obsession becomes a focal point. We also meet two of Suzu’s classmates, the overly touchy Yayo and Lu, a girl obsessed with posting sexy shots on social media. Shirogane is revealed to the the kind of character who’s always foiling his own attempts at deceit (like how he claims he’s not interested in eating Suzu anymore, yet cannot help but drool at the mention of her.) The problem though, even with more personality in the mix, is it all feels exceedingly simplistic. Each character displays but one character trait. While there’s enough characters in play to keep any one of their shticks from immediately growing stale, I can’t help but wonder how long that’ll actually work.
Chapter 3 continues what Chapter 2 set in play; Suzu is obsessed with sweets, Matsuri struggles to behave like a girl, Lu is just as social media focused, and we find time to ogle Matsuri’s curvy body. Shirogane even makes another attempt against our heroes, this time a more direct ploy to steal the scroll that has sealed his power away. The one significant addition in Chapter 3 is the shift in dynamic as Matsuri declares that in order to keep Shirogane in check they’ll be adopting him as the family pet.
Chapter 4 contains most of the same elements as Chapters 2 and 3, but also attempts to re-contextualize Matsuri and Suzu’s relationship. We learn that Matsuri initially admired Suzu, to the point where he still kind of idolizes her, unaware of her more romantic feelings for him. We also tease a new character, Soiga Ninokuru, who then appears in Chapter 5 proper, as the rival character, who is also of course easily thwarted by Matsuri’s sexy body. Again, what traits characters are starting to display are hardly original. Mr. Yabuki may have chapter structure down to a T, making each installment easy to digest, but the elements at play are all uninspired, keeping Ayakashi Triangle from ever feeling like something truly worthwhile.
Ultimately Ayakashi Triangle is okay. Just okay. It’s not a title that’s going to light Jump afire, but it’s also not one of the worst additions in recent years. It actually kind of reminds me of Yui Kamio Let’s Loose, another recent Jump addition that ended up cancelled late last year. Both Yui Kamio and Ayakashi are titles by established, previously successful mangaka. You can tell just by how well the pages flow panel to panel, and how easy it is to follow the story. But both lack a spark in terms of characterization, comedy, and more, keeping either from truly shining as one of Jump’s next big hits. Unless Ayakashi Triangle manages to inject some original developments soon, my money is on the series having a 30 to 50 chapter run in Jump before meeting with cancellation. The one thing Ayakashi Triangle really has going for it is the art, as Mr. Yabuki’s artistic flare keeps the more dynamic action visually arresting, and he’s not bad at the ‘cheesecake’ either. But I’m dubious either of those elements are enough to hold audience interest, particularly for a series presenting itself as a comedy.
That’s it for this week! Let me know your thoughts on Ayakashi Triangle!
Ayakashi Triangle is published weekly in Shonen Jump.