Ne0;lation 001-003 – Manga Review

Synopsis: A manga about tough guys and hackers? The classic combo! Let’s see how this unlikely team came together! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

Warning: Spoilers to Follow:

Review:

Ne0;lation is a mish-mash of poorly devised elements, execution, but with some real promise towards the end of its first three chapters. The basic premise revolves around Neo, a super hacker (or cracker as he calls himself) who seeks to work alongside Daigo, a more typical street thug, to gradually take over the rest of Japan’s shady underworld. Or at least that’s how it bills itself early on. Ne0;lation feels like one of those manga that has only a vague idea for its continuing concept, one it might not even really stick with.

Chapter 1 isn’t much to write home about. The first chapter is fairly overwritten, dumping superfluous information on the audience that only slows down the proceedings. It also suffers from generic, low-tier villains that exist more so to display how amazing our main characters are than to actually pose any kind of threat. This is a fairly typical shonen manga tactic, but seeing as Ne0;lation’s starter villains are particularly unimpressive it feels dull. It doesn’t help that chapter 2 essentially repeats Chapter 1’s introduction of Neo’s abilities by offering him up a second helping of weak, ineffectual villains. That’s never a good sign when a series just repeats chapter 1, but with less pages.

Other problems crop up in that first chapter, like Daigo’s sister failing to provide adequate motivation for her brother to finally jump into action. The plot revolves around Daigo and his sister living in debt after their father passes away (Which is weird that both Chainsaw Man and Ne0;lation start with main characters in debt that’s cleared by the end of Chapter 1.) New debt surfaces and Daigo’s sister sells her hot dog stand. Daigo becomes distraught that everything his sister worked for is down the drain, yet his sister seems entirely okay with it. The art never showcases his sister actually appearing all that broken up. She’s frustrated in a few panels, but if anything she seems a-okay with the turn of events.

Up to this point Ne0;lation is a fairly dry title. It’s not terribly funny, not terribly over the top and lacks character to make it stand out. For all the flaws I found with Chainsaw Man that series at least has personality. But as Daigo confronts the Yakuza, and Neo shows up to back up him and display what this manga is all about, things take a turn to the extreme. Neo begins to display some real over the top abilities. He’s a class A hacker (or cracker as he notes) that has the skills to hack someone’s phone and make their battery explode in a blaze of fire. It’s crazy, wild and far more shonen than anything Ne0;lation has produced in the pages leading up to it. It’s a sudden jump in tone, not entirely unwelcome, but poorly set up.

Chapter 2, essentially a retread of Chapter 1’s finer points, seeks to streamline the concept of the series into a more typical chapter length. This chapter, while mostly a repeat of ideas, does a better job setting the tone and displaying Neo’s arrogant nature as well as his extreme over the top ability for hacking. While Chapter 2 is a step ahead, we also see the limits of this concept in a manga format. Frequently the manga slows down with large bouts of exposition in order to explain how Neo’s hacking accomplishes all his crazy feats. This might be okay if hacking were a totally otherworldly concept, like Death Note’s, well, Death Note, but hacking is pretty self-explanatory and the series’ need to over-justify Neo’s crazy abilities mostly ends up dragging everything down.

It’s Chapter 3 where Ne0;lation perhaps realizes that this concept of street thug and hacker isn’t going to sell itself. Forgoing more run ins with useless Yakuza, our heroes turn their attention to a missing person’s case that suddenly gets  extreme. Neo realizes that the girl missing was playing the “Lemmings Game.” Essentially some kind of Augmented reality game that ultimately compels the player to eventually take their own life as part of a screwed up challenge and reward system. It’s crazy, a little out there, but a far more interesting direction than what’s come before.

It doesn’t address one major problem though: Daigo. While Neo has a personality (mostly arrogant and self-absorbed) Daigo is a real blank slate. The manga toys with the idea that he’s a reformed punk, but outside of that meaning he’s an all around nice guy, Daigo mostly exists to prop up Neo and react to his surprising abilities. Considering the series bills these two as near equal leading men, it doesn’t bold well for one of the main characters to feel so underwritten.

Ultimately I don’t have a lot of hopes for Ne0;lation. This feels like a title lacking the forethought required for taking a fairly simple concept and growing it out into a longer series. While the Lemmings game is interesting, the build up is near as plodding as Chapter 1. Without tight writing it’ll be tough to grow this series into something worthwhile and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it top out at a handful of chapters. Between this and Chainsaw Man, Ne0;lation is really lagging behind.

 

That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on Ne0;lation in the comments below!

Ne0;lation is published as part of Shonen Jump.

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