Moriking 001-003 – Manga Review

Synopsis: The king of insects will sweep you off your feet! You’re going to larva this manga! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

After a string of disappointments, awkward starts and other issues plaguing some of the more recent Shonen Jump additions, it’s nice to see a manga that feels so fun right out of the gate. Moriking starts strong, introducing us to Shota, a young boy obsessed with his Larva Rhinoceros Beetle and his sister, Shoko, who merely entertains her little brother’s obsession. The manga opens perfectly as these two characters eagerly await Moriking’s hatching from larva form into proper Rhinoceros Beetle, only for him to burst forth as a fully grown, naked man instead.

There’s a string of well crafted gags to follow, centered on Shoko attempting to come to terms with the sheer absurdity she bears witness to as Moriking assures both her and Shota that he is indeed the mature form of the larva the boy had been raising for the past three months. It’s here our author demonstrates how important pacing is to making these jokes land, how important it is that punchlines hit on the next page, and that peppering in smaller goofs can bolster the hilarity even as we enter into a more exposition focused section.

Outside of Moriking as a character, neither Shota or Shoko are all that original. Shota is written as no more than your typical grade school kid and Shoko the traditional high school girl/straight man character, ever reacting with proper levels of shock and disbelief to the events she’s witnessing. That said, basic characters like these can work, particularly if the comedy is in top form. Moriking nails that comedy, at least for the first 13 pages anyway.

It’s around this point that Moriking makes a few missteps. After a strong start Moriking waffles as it struggles to introduce Shoko’s long running gag of people misunderstanding Moriking as her romantic interest. The gag is awkwardly introduced via a flashback, and never feels quiet at home this early on, although with the way the rest of this first chapter is constructed, there really isn’t a better place for it. The story also becomes stuck on the idea of “Moriking can’t be Moriking” with Shoko struggling to move past that bit longer than is probably necessary, causing the next few pages to feel like we’re caught in some kind of loop.

Thankfully Moriking rights itself by setting comedy aside for a minute and adding in some much needed heart. Shota becomes excited about entering Moriking into a bug fighting contest, only for Moriking to contemplate leaving now that he’s hatched, out of fear that he’ll only make life difficult for Shota. When Shota breaks down crying, upset that Moriking is breaking his promise to be a part of the family, Moriking rushes to the school’s bug contest, entering last minute on Shota’s behalf. We’re then treated to a wonderfully absurd sequence where Shota’s teacher okay’s Moriking’s involvement, and Shoko watches on in disbelief as no one questions the absolute ridiculousness of it all.

Moriking closes out its first chapter with a great foundation for the series’ future. Chapter 2, while succumbing to the all too common ‘lets retread a lot of the same ideas from Chapter 1, but in fewer pages, to prove the concept works and make sure readers understand what to expect,’ there’s still plenty of excellent and new goofs to behold. There’s also some heavy hinting for a later plot line addition and new anthropomorphic bug characters to include, should the series need additional material. This, if heavy handed, foreshadowing helps to set expectations for the future, although comes at the cost of essentially retconning Moriking’s backstory from the first chapter.

We also meet the parents of the family. This is another place where you can tell the author isn’t too solid on crafting original characters. Shoko’s dad ultimately fills the same ‘Straight man’ role that Shoko holds, and unless our author can really play up his other traits, like displeasure in Shoko’s dating habits, I think he’s destined to be phased out. The mother also feels like an expanded version of Shota’s teacher, who seemed to hand wave away anything odd about Moriking.

Chapter 3 offers then a taste of what we should probably expect going forward. This series seems like it’ll mostly be centered on Moriking’s unnatural abilities and how those stand out in an otherwise grounded world. A lot of the comedy is going to come from Shoko’s increasingly shocked and horrified reactions as Moriking nearly outs himself at every turn, although the rest of the world seems to take the more bizarre events at face value. There’s a number of strong visual gags on display here, and again some excellent pacing so that each joke lands as hard as it can.

Right now I’m feeling pretty good about Moriking. Undead Unluck was probably the most interesting of the last run of New Jump titles, but suffered from sexual assault becoming a core component to the premise. Moriking doesn’t have that problem and really nails its awkward, deadpan, reaction face humor, giving it a good chance to impress readers early on. What the series needs to do now is make sure that the comedy we’ve been running with for three chapters now doesn’t get stale. We need another avenue of comedy, and if we can introduce one or two other anthropomorphic bugs, as have been hinted at, with equally absurd goofs as to Moriking’s, then this manga could have itself a bright future.

That’s it for this week! Let me know your thoughts on Moriking!

Moriking is published weekly in Shonen Jump.

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