Mission: Yozakura Family 001-003 – Manga Review

Synopsis: Romance! A crazy, overprotective brother! And… Spies?! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

Mission: Yozakura Family is the strongest Jump Start title in ages. The series is incredibly economical, utilizing what page space it has to deliver a wealth of fun, lively characters, a little mystery to tease us at the start, plenty of high-quality, dynamic art, easy to love character designs, and most important of all: Heart. Let’s Jump in!

Mission: Yozakura Family is the story of one, Taiyo Asano. Asano, as we quickly learn, suffered the misfortune of losing his entire family. After a terrible car accident Asano finds himself reluctant to grow close to anyone, to the point of shunning away from others and suffering panic attacks should they seek to bond with him. The only person he’s still comfortable around, and that’s through her own, sheer stubbornness, is Mutsumi Yozakura, Asano’s long-time childhood friend.

What’s so great about these opening pages is how well the manga eases us into the story. We don’t get our first exposition dump until Page 11, allowing both Asano and Mutsumi’s dynamic to breath. Even when we flashback to establish Asano’s aloof/unfriendly nature the scenes we’re given exude character. Even the brief one liners his parents and sibling get establish the whole family dynamic. It’s incredibly tight and on point dialogue letting us know Asano had a kind, sassy mother, a nervous, whipped father, and a clingy, loving little brother. This scene, however brief, is a perfect example of the tight characterization often found through these first three chapters that allows characters to shine even when they’re only featured for a couple pages.

The one issue I might have with this opening is that Asano’s insistence that he can’t become emotionally connected to anyone feels a little extreme, probably more extreme than is realistic, but even so it’s a damn sight more believable, and relatable than what we usually get.

Even the way Yozakura handles its more risque humor is on point. Early on we’re introduced to Hirukawa Sensei, the Vice Principal. While we learn a few revelations about this character just a short couple pages later, he’s introduced here as a potentially skeevy, underage seducing, adult. He comes onto Mutsumi quite strong, yet she bats him away not only with a funny one liner, but with what should exactly happen if Hirukawa took his harassment so far.

But the manga also isn’t that interested in playing with Hirukawa’s pervy characterization for too long, choosing instead to reveal his real role in the series: Deadly, overprotective older brother. It’s twenty pages in that we get a major exposition dump. It’s hard to avoid these entirely, so it’s a testament to the strength of this writing that Yozakura Family avoids leaning on one for almost half of its first chapter, instead allowing its characters to suck you in.

During this dump we learn the truth: Mutsumi is part of a secret spy family, filled with wacky siblings, including her overprotective older brother. During this we’re introduced, quite quickly, to the rest of the family. While certain characters fall through the cracks and fail to leave much of an impression, most of the family is immediately memorable thanks to fun visual designs and to the point dialogue that helps us immediately grasp the type of character each sibling is. The exposition itself, outside of dropping some quick and dirty characterization, is largely as trimmed as it needs to be, never hammering on points too hard, but just enough that we understand what the series is aiming to do going forward.

It’s not long before Hirukawa Sensei pops back up, or as we come to know him by his real name: Kyoichiro Yozakura. Apparently he’s the family’s top assassin and so bad-ass the rest of the family barely stands up against him. We learn that Kyoichiro is essentially the inverse of Asano, having nearly lost Mutsumi years ago due to his own fault, and now vowing to protect her in excess, never letting her too far from his sight. Seeing Asano grow so close to her, he seeks to eliminate our hero and the only way to stop that is for Asano and Mutsumi to marry.

What follows in the rest of Chapter 1 is fairly predictable. Mutsumi rejects the idea, not so much out of disinterest in Asano, but fear for his mental well-being. She doesn’t want to strain him with worry since he’s still scarred from the loss of his family. Even so the Yozakura clan tries to protect Asano from Kyoichiro’s deadly advance and when push ultimately comes to shove, Asano bites the bullet and agrees to marry Mutsumi, rejecting his self-imposed emotional hermitage. It’s a triumphant moment and Yozakura should be praised for taking the simple act of accepting an engagement ring (for all intents and proposes) and turning it into a bad-ass, step up against adversity.

What follows in Chapters 2 and 3 are quality developments. A lot of new Jump titles retread the first chapter, almost as if trying to show that their story can fit, weekly, in just 20-some odd pages. But here Yozakura actively advances the plot. The story moves from Asano opening himself back up to family, and thrusts him into the role of protector for Mutsumi, forcing our hero to learn the ways of assassins and spies in order to keep his bride safe.

While the second chapter does tread a little bit into “Damsel in distress territory” this is offset by Mutsumi’s portrayal as a strong, independent woman who can handle herself most of the time, save for extreme scenarios. There’s also wonderful subtext to Chapter 2 when Asano realizes how much Mutsumi already goes through, on her own, in her day to day life (avoiding assassination attempts coming from every which way for example) that he’s never considered before. It’s easy to read this scene as a call out to how women deal with a lot in the day to day that men simply don’t have to consider or rarely need to worry about (womanly times, sexual harassment, etc.) I don’t know that it was written to that idea, but it’s rare for Shonen to have messaging that can tie so readily to normal social problems.

Chapter 3 is also another strong chapter, neither retreading Chapter 1 or Chapter 2. While Chapter 2 sees Asano attempt to fend off an assassin coming to claim Mutsumi’s life, Chapter 3 shifts gears and sets our hero upon improving his physical and mental abilities to better hold up under the grueling job of keeping Mutsumi safe. Here we return to the family introduced in the first chapter and allow some of these additional characters to aid Asano in his character journey, making for a fun chapter filled with comedy and a bit of heart as Asano pushes himself farther than he can really go.

Overall Mission: Yozakura Family is easily Jump’s greatest addition in some time. It’s funny, heartfelt, and offers a wealth of appealing characters. I do worry how long this series can remain novel, or what direction it’ll take. Will we get a longer, more actiony narrative? Is it going to be more romance later on, more comedy, or a harrowing battle between assassins and spies? Time will tell, but this title’s start is so impressive it’s easily the Jump title I now most look forward to reviewing.

That’s it for this week! Let me know what your thoughts are on Mission: Yozakura Family in the comments below.

Mission: Yozakura Family is published weekly in Shonen Jump.

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