Kaiju No. 8 001-006 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Kafka wants to clean up kaiju, but not literally! Will a sudden metamorphosis stand in the way of his dream? (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
It hasn’t even been a month since we talked about Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin taking audiences for a ride, that we have another New Jump Addition shaking things up. Kaiju No. 8 reinvents itself twice, similar to how Hard-Boiled Cop and Dolphin changed it up chapter after chapter. However, Kaiju, more so than Cop and Dolphin, feels like a series of baits and switches, where we’re offered one type of story before it abruptly changes sub-genre’s entirely. Let’s Jump In!
No matter exactly what genre of manga Kaiju No. 8 ends up being in the end, it’s still the story of one Kafka Hibino. Kafka lives in a world where Japan exists under threat of random Kaiju attacks. It’s to the point where the government has an entire section of the Defense Force devoted to Kaiju extermination. But Kafka isn’t a member of the often talked about Third Division, responsible for exterminating the worst of the worst monsters. No, Kafka never quite managed to pass their high standards; rather he’s found himself, at the age of 32, stuck in cleaning up the aftermath. Working for Monster Sweep Inc., a government contracted business, Kafka works at cutting up and disposing of the massive rotting carcasses Third Division leaves behind.
Kaiju No. 8 immediately feels like something unique for Jump. Here we have a past-his-prime lead, stuck in a job not at all where he’d intended his life to go. The first thirty some odd pages feel not only focused on Kafka’s personal struggle with having failed to achieve his lofty dreams of fighting off Kaiju, but offering audiences a unique, fresh angle on the efforts required to return life to normal after a Kaiju attack. We learn all kinds of information about the difficulties in disposing of Kaiju, and the physical and mental toll it takes on the workers stuck dealing with these most disgusting remains.
Kafka’s ‘stuck in a rut’ existence is challenged by Reno Ichikawa, an 18-year old kid who’s applying for the Third Division, as Kafka once did. Reno however, still has that determination to succeed that’s long left Kafka. While the two are initially at odds, it’s Reno’s challenging presence, and an attack by a Yonju (a smaller monster that typically follows in the wake of a Kaiju) that forces Kafka to admit to himself that he can’t possibly be satisfied with the life he’s found himself in.
Our series seems set at this point, establishing what to expect around page 49 of its first chapter. Kafka has a renewed sense of purpose, and alongside Reno seeks to pursue his dream of joining Japan’s Self Defense Force yet again. What with has been offered thus far, you’d expect the series to progress with Kafka using his job at Monster Sweepers Inc. as a way to prepare for the recruitment exam; utilizing the knowledge attained on the job to improve his chances. It seems like a fun prospect; Kafka working to achieve his dreams while the readers get to explore this unique take on dealing with the aftermath of frequent Kaiju attacks.
But this is where Kaiju No. 8 has other ideas. Turning to page 50 a major obstacle makes itself known: A flying Kaiju appears hovering over Kafka, and declares that it has found him. Flying into his mouth, the creature forces itself down his throat, and by the time Reno has jumped from his hospital bed to check on Kafka, the mysterious creature has transformed Kafka from a meager 32-year old man into a horrifying Kaiju man.
The change is wholly unexpected, throwing every expectation of where Kaiju No. 8 intends to go right out the window. Surprise shifts like this aren’t inherently bad, but they are tricky. If what you’ve offered till now had audiences’ interest, you’re taking a gamble that your surprise twist doesn’t now turn them away. While the series quickly shifts away from any of the preconceptions we held from the first 49 pages, what Chapter 2 purports to offer isn’t awful either.
Chapter 2 follows Kafka and Reno as they rush from the hospital, attempting to keep ahead of reports of a Kaiju sighting in the area– namely Kafka himself. As Kafka struggles to understand his new body, still transforming in wild and upsetting ways, all hope seems lost of pursuing his dreams. Here Kaiju No. 8 starts to almost feel like a spiritual successor to series like Guyver, Zetman, or even Devilman, where an unsuspecting individual finds themselves cast into the role of monster-hero. It seems like Kafka might have to become something akin to a Vigilante if he wants to battle Kaiju, where he’s pursued by the Japanese Defense Force as a monster to be exterminated, but still engages against Kaiju all the same. While nothing like what Chapter 1 offered, it’s still an idea that feels unique against the backdrop of Jump’s modern line up. Outside of the short-lived Zipman, there hasn’t been much else in the way of Vigilante heroes, and certainly not monsterized ones.
But again, Kaiju No. 8 isn’t set on being that kind of story either. Chapter 3 jumps us months ahead; where we find Kafka has managed to find a way to control his transformation and return to normal. Now he and Reno still intend on applying to the Japanese Self-Defense Force, while somehow keeping Kafka’s transformation into a Kaiju-man a secret. It’s with this transition that Kaiju No. 8 seems to have found the type of story it’s settled upon: What ultimately amounts to a fairly typical Battle Shonen.
Kafka and Reno have passed the first stage of the examination and now must show up in person for the aptitude testing phase. Here’s where the series becomes compounded in Battle Shonen tropes: From the rival character the two meet, Kikoru Shinomiya, a highly talented and stuck up girl, to the class being filled with top tier candidates, making this an unusual and highly skilled batch of applicants. Kafka finds all his training the last three months for naught as everyone outclasses him. This underdog approach is put front and center when everyone is given a battle suit, which requires wearers to draw out its power. It’s effectively a power level measurement system; one that immediately sets Kafka as dead last in the pack of applicants, drawing out exactly 0% of the suit’s potential. Classically, Kafka realizes he can’t possibly compete as normal, and thus needs to find a new and unconventional way of passing the exam. Chapter 5 ends with Kafka deciding to play the role of support, though that might not be enough to save him when a Kaiju surprises him, catching him in its grasp.
Kaiju No. 8’s unabashed transition into typical battle shonen proceedings is disappointing. We seem to be moving further and further away from the few interesting avenues the series toyed with in the beginning, and have landed on content that feels increasingly similar to some of Jump’s most popular titles. I want to be clear though: Kaiju No. 8 availing of these tropes doesn’t make the series bad. There’s a reason these tropes are common: They’re popular among the readership. Let’s focus on how Kaiju No. 8 casts Kafka as the underdog who has to approach the exam in an unconventional way in order for him to pass. Shonen Jump has had a plethora of Battle Shonen grace its pages. There was a time when characters overcome exam-esque events by sheer force alone, having to power through on their battle prowess alone. As the genre evolved Mangaka needed to find new ways of making these story-arcs exciting; and thus the ‘achieve victory alternatively’ trope was born. Academia makes great use of this early on, seeing as Midoriya was quirkless and has trouble adapting to the One for All quirk after inheriting it. Black Clover’s story is based entirely around this idea, where Asta can’t use magic at all, but strives to become the Wizard King regardless. The problem with Kaiju No. 8 transforming into something similar is not the very act of using the tropes, but because the series doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Jump has now had numerous series that have approached their story’s like this. Kaiju No. 8 needs something more than this to set it apart. But what Chapters 3 through 5 offer are near wall to wall incorporation of some of the most common modern shonen elements.
And I’ll be honest: I personally feel the series revealing itself to be yet another Battle Shonen is a shame. What’s offered in Chapters 1 and 2 are ideas that immediately feel more unique and interesting, particularly when compared with Jump’s concurrent offerings, setting the series in a direction you only see in other Manga magazines. It would’ve been nice to have such a unique direction for a Jump manga; Kafka chasing his dreams again while allowing the audience an exploration into this rather interesting sub-occupation of defending Japan. Even seeing Kafka become a vigilante/hero monster, similar to Guyver and other titles, would’ve been cool, especially as that particular manga genre has become scarce in recent years. Either way, it does at least look like Kafka’s ability to turn into a Kaiju man isn’t going to be sidelined much longer, as Chapter 6 sees our star applicant, Kikoru, suffer a surprise attack by what appears to be another Kaiju man.
Still, I want to be clear, Kaiju No. 8 isn’t bad. It’s a competent title, and still has a number of unique elements going for it, no matter the shift in its focus: Kafka being a past-his-prime lead certainly stands out, and the Kaiju imagery and powers lend it a unique set of visuals. These ideas help to set the series apart, regardless of how quickly it delves into popular battle shonen tropes. If it can find a way to bring back some of its earlier, unique atmosphere, perhaps allowing audiences to see more of the Kaiju clean up efforts, or Kafka balancing life as a half-Kaiju alongside his efforts to be part of the Kaiju defense force, it’ll help to set itself as a unique title in its own right. However, if Kaiju No. 8 does continue to lean hard into modern Battle Shonen tropes, while it may still continue to satisfy die hards, it could quickly find itself losing the wider audience.
That’s it for this week! Let me know your own thoughts on Kaiju No. 8!
Kaiju No. 8 is published weekly in Shonen Jump.