Nanbaka Volume 2 Review
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: Nanbaka is a comedy about four very unruly and silly prisoners and their daily hijinks which include things like constantly teasing and tormenting their personal jailer named Hajime, and breaking out of their cell several times on a daily basis for the sheer fun of it.
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
New Year is approaching and this kicks off the Nanbaka New Year Tournament. It’s a showcase of duels and showdowns amongst not just the inmates but the guards as well. It’s a co-operative tournament which pits the guards and inmates of one building against the guards and inmates of the other. The victorious prisoners can have anything they wish for as a prize barring the impossible or the inappropriate like money or weapons while the participating guards receive a bonus in their monthly salary. Will our foursome along with their supervising guards emerge victorious or will they taste bitter defeat?
Volume 2 kicks off with Jyugo having ruined Christmas for everyone else by being late to the celebrations. Nico, Rock and Uno being from the Western side of the globe are especially upset at having missed the chance to do some Christmas themed skits as Christmas is one of the few big celebrations in western culture. However, this is a manga and they’re in Japan so thanks to the interference of several of the Japanese supporting characters, our Western Prisoners realize that Japan has a plethora of festivals coming up for them to engage and indulge in. Everyone starts to get carried away but are brought down to reality when they realize celebrating the upcoming Japanese festivals actually means loads of work for them such as making soba noodles, making decorations, cleaning the prison from head to toe, etc. It’s not a particularly funny chapter and despite the exaggerated enthusiasm and complications that arose from trying to prepare for and celebrate Japanese holidays, it all felt like a rather lukewarm start compared to all the energy from volume 1. It’s somewhat informational as the inmates and company discuss Japanese traditions but the jokes in this chapter are limited to seeing how many people can pile on duties and jobs for our inmates.
Next we have the kick off to the New Year’s Tournament arc which actually takes up all of this volume and sets off a change of tone for the story. We learn that this is a yearly tradition which means that our four prisoners have been in this prison for less than a year as they seem completely unaware of it. It also makes for a convenient device to explain the tournament to the readers through conversation rather than direct exposition through a wall of text. Of course, the selection process for the participants is done by the higher ups and are completely out of the hands of the prisoners or guards themselves but would you like to guess who gets selected to participate from building 13? Once again, there isn’t much humour to be seen in this chapter as the story begins to grow more and more serious and what little quips are present are sprinkled throughout expositional conversations between Hajime and our four prisoners. For those who were expecting to be cracking up every chapter like they were last volume, these beginning chapters will definitely seem puzzling and off-putting. However, for those of you who might have noticed the action tag on the story and felt it was mislabeled, it should finally be starting to make sense now.
Moving on, Nanbaka then introduces us to a wide range of characters, from the supervising officers and guards of other participating building to the prisoners of said buildings. Each character is as flamboyant as can be in true Nanbaka style and the use of colour really helps to sell the larger than life personality and fashion of the new characters. Even if you cannot remember the names or numbers of any of the characters, at the very least you will be able to distinguish between them thanks to the mangaka’s use of colour and defining stylistic choices for each character. Everyone is super competitive with some rivalry seeming to be of a personal nature. The New Year Tournament starts off with a rather tame and unexpected but traditional competition of Calligraphy which suits the Japanese theme and is a rather peaceful proceeding compared to what lies ahead for the competitors and the readers. There are some unexpected comic reveals but it ultimately ends on an expected note.
For those who entered this tournament arc hoping for some surprising upsets and defeats, I should warn you that Nanbaka is more of a showcase for its protagonists and their unprecedented talents and skills, rather than one with surprising twists and turns. If you go into the series with the expectation that all you will have to do is sit back and watch as our foursome and Hajime surpass and usurp everyone they come across with ease, you’re going to have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with having an all powerful and undefeated group of heroes but it also isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I personally prefer the suspense of having a hero/heroes who occasionally face defeat and shortcomings but find that the opposite can also make for some great over the top comedy and flamboyance. In the case of Nanbaka, because of how extreme the story is by nature, you should be prepared for our protagonists victories to be just as extreme. Their skills are beyond ridiculous and if that’s always been something that amused you, Nanbaka should definitely tickle your funny bone.
As the games progress, they get a lot ridiculous and a lot more violent. Personal vendettas among the participants are brought to light and it seems like the guards and prisoners of Building 13 have a lot of rivals in the other buildings. The events themselves are as over the top as possible with mochi pounding events that use a mortar and pestle that are as tall as a building….or seem to be drawn that huge. The rules of the games seem rather lax as competitors seem to battle each other with moves and force that seem life threatening and life ending. As this is a comedy, there is of course no real threat to anyone’s life and it’s hard for the reader to fear for the characters’ lives. Rather, the heightened violence seems to be for sheer visual fun and/or comedy.
The violence comes to a pause in the middle of the volume when the prison has a Kunnin Isshu/ Karuta match which is basically a game where someone reads out aloud and contestants have to identify and grab the card that matches what is being read. While there is no violence this chapter, it still is a ridiculous means to show just how talented and skillful our cast is. Of course, it’s then back to the norm in the very next chapter which brings back a lot of violence and also turns into a reference/ fourth wall breaking minefield. Not only do the characters start to drop terms from famous manga and anime but they also freely talk about how they will now need to censor like crazy to ensure that they can get away with all the references. It’s always exciting when comedies can pull off some flawless references but Nanbaka can be rather in-your-face about it, constantly harping on about it to make sure the reader catches all the references.
The volume ends on a cliffhanger of sorts in that it only documents upto the fourth event when the tournament has been declared to consist of five. It could possibly be done to introduce a surprise development in the next volume seeing as how predictable the tournament has been so far. We are also treated to another special chapter which continues the story in the special from Volume 1. It seems to be telling the tale about how our four prisoners first came to know each other and is definitely a nice little peek into the past. For right now, Nanbaka’s second volume is a marked change from its first with its more action packed content and its relentless reference gags towards the end. If you have been enjoying Nanbaka’s over the top style, volume 2 kicks it into overdrive so much so that some parts of it may even make you roll your eyes in disbelief. As always, its colourful pages and character help give the series its own vivid personality and flamboyance and continue to maintain the same style and quality from the previous volume, The mangaka clearly had fun designing his characters as the new characters introduced in this volume seem to be trying their best ot outdo the other in how loud their costume and colours are. Nanbaka is undoubtedly for those who crave the sheer absurd humour that only fiction and manga can deliver but in trying to appease such readers, it most likely will drive away all others.
Nanbaka is unfortunately no longer available digitally via Crunchyroll.com.