Red Sprite 001 – Review
Reviewed by: Tom
Synopsis: Tatsu Frampt is part of a group of orphans living in an abandoned church. there they are schooled by Duran, their teacher, and learn about the ways of the world. However, that quaint little life ends abruptly when their church is attacked by a military unit, its leader claiming that Tatsu and the other children are all his escaped test subjects for the taking.
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
I’m mixed on Red Sprite. There’s a lot of potential here, far more than Love Rush exhibited in its first chapter, but at the same time it does a lot wrong and gives my excitement pause going into its subsequent chapters. Right now I don’t have a lot of faith that Red Sprite will last in Shonen Jump for more than a year. But let’s get to the actual chapter and see what’s up.
Red Sprite opens in medias res as our hero, Tatsu Frampt dubs his new, rising airship, The Red Sprite. Well we got to the title fast enough. It’s a nice touch, a great way to intrigue and grab the reader by making us ask “How did this character get here?” and I think this opening is one of the higher points of this manga’s premiere chapter.
We then flashback to Tatsu’s life at the orphanage he grew up in located at an abandoned church. Like The Promised Neverland (Is Japan having an orphan craze or something?) The Red Sprite lets us know from the get go that something is off. That said, Red Sprite doesn’t do that set up nearly as well. It’s not till later that it brings to light the more telling examples of what’s really going on. By keeping us so in the dark it causes a few narrative issues to crop up later on.
There Tatsu and the other kids always play fight for who gets to be captain. Tatsu wins and gets to don a captain’s jacket. Duran, the man in charge of teaching and caring for the kids, scolds Tatsu for taking the uniform again without permission.
They quickly head back in for lessons. The manga, very heavy handily, explains the state of the world. It’s an okay scene, and tells the audience what we need to know, but it reeks of convenience and while The Promised Neverland offered up similar heavy handed narration, it doesn’t feel nearly as well implemented here. The students specifically learn how Plasmarrow, a new form/method for generating electricity changed the world. It sounds like Plasmarrow is basically this world’s replacement for fossil fuels, which is kinda cool in an alternate history/universe kind of way. Plasmarrow apparently comes from fossils buried deep within the Earth. Thanks to it the world modernized with electric lights, trains, cars and even airships. So yeah, fossil fuels.
Since Airships act as a symbol of modern culture and technology Duran has them draw out the plans for their own airship. However, Mono, a shy young girl (I assume, the manga isn’t actually clear on the character’s gender), is standing at the back of the room. Duran tries to get her to participate, but Mono is too timid and shy. That is until Tatsu interjects, mad that Mono won’t help out. He tells her that she’s not allowed to hitch a free ride on their airship unless she comes up with some ideas for what they need on board. Mono comes out of her shell just a bit to suggest a bathtub, potty, movie theater etc and quickly becomes a part of the group. It’s a good character moment and shines through as one of the better aspects of Red Sprite. While Tatsu feels fairly generic as shonen characters go (little bossy, opinionated, but very kind and strong at heart) he’s at least on the likable end of the spectrum.
Duran is proud of Tatsu for pulling her out of her shell. But attention quickly turns back to their airship plans as Tatsu asks Duran to give their ship a name. Duran, deciding that the ship is still a ghost, seeing as it’s only in the blueprint stages, names it Sprite, a name Tatsu and the others easily take to.
As the kids dream of traveling the world they remember they can’t come into contact with the outside world, as they’d risk spreading their disease, which involves growing bits of metal in the palms of their hands. It’s an awkwardly thrown in explanation/hint for what’s about to come. It’s information that could’ve even been delivered at the start of the chapter, something that called our attention to the kid’s hands, or talk of never being allowed to leave the church. But rather than offer a more natural flow and tease, Red Sprite is content to just sort of throw this little detail in moments before its needed.
Duran tries to get everyone back on the lesson, when one of the kids points out airships in the sky flowing towards them. Duran’s eyes go wide just before the church is attacked. Troops storm inside lead by one Lt. Colonel Shepherd. Shepherd has a, well, potentially offensive design. The manga makes it explicitly clear later on that Shepherd is a man and has the same design normally associated with effeminate male villainous characters that periodically plague the anime medium. It’s surprising to see such a character in this day and age. The trouble doesn’t end with the design, as the character frequently talks by addressing the children as deary, fairy, etc. It’s a character clearly made to ‘creep’ the reader out. The trouble is transgender/cross dressing characters have rarely crept past this depiction in anime and manga. One-Punch Man, another anime that recently included a character similar to this, at least was keen to make its potentially offensive character a hero in the story, rather than a villain, but the mere depiction is still potentially and understandably offensive. It’s a black mark that I’m sure will cause Red Sprite some undesired attention later on in life, should the series gain more traction and a wider audience. I think it doesn’t help that, without this offensive branding, Shepherd is actually a pretty dull villain and it feels like this over the top, borderline issue ridden caricature has nothing else going for it.
Anyway the truth starts to come together as Shepherd talks of having been searching for the children. He/She? planted a transmitter inside Mono that lead them here. Lt. Colonel Shepherd then reveals that each of the children here are in fact Human Plasmarrows.
Shepherd approaches Mono and Tatsu tries to defend her, but Duran jumps in the way of Shepherd’s attack, shielding him. Lt. Colonel Shepherd then electrocutes Duran, bursting his heart apart with intense current. Another interesting aspect of Red Sprite is its pension for violence, happy to spill blood and burst hearts on a whim. It’s refreshing for people who feel Shonen violence is too subdued a lot of the time. With Duran seemingly dead, Shepherd orders the troops to collect the specimens. But Duran isn’t down for good. He gets back up, grabs a nearby sword and strikes Shepherd from behind, grabbing Tatsu and making a run for it.
As Tatsu and Duran flee in a getaway car, Tatsu notices sparks coming out of Duran’s chest. He’s apparently utilizing his ability to generate electrical pulses to keep his heart beating even after it’s been destroyed. This is another aspect of Red Sprite I’m not terribly keen on. It plays fast and lose with physics and anatomy. If we take Duran’s explanation at face value, I don’t understand how a ‘destroyed’ heart could possibly be of any use even if he got it beating again. It’s clear Red Sprite, at least within this first chapter, is less concerned with the plausibility of its details, making it a manga that’s best not to think too hard about.
Tatsu has a lot of questions now, who Shepherd is, why he wants the kids, but Duran is busy fending off Shepherd’s pursuing forces. After taking out a helicopter and several armed soldiers, Duran springs the truth on poor Tatsu by showing him a human corpse inside the wreckage, a human used as the power source for the helicopter. Duran reveals that human’s discovered Plasmarrow injected into people could generate even more power and thus test subjects like Tatsu and Duran were developed to use humans as living batteries.
In fact, Tatsu and the other orphans were part of an experiment to create even more powerful living batteries. Duran tried to protect them, but failed. Now he wants Tatsu to hide underground and escape Shepherd’s plans. But Tatsu doesn’t want to, he wants to save everyone from Shepherd.
Duran laughs because Tatsu’s words remind him of someone from his own past. Agreeing to Tatsu’s plans, Duran explains Tatsu condition, which gives him the potential to possess and gain abilities that far exceed the limits of physics as we know it. Again, Red Sprite is basically telling the audience that it doesn’t want to sweat the details and we shouldn’t either. Duran then overloads Tatsu with his remaining Plasmarrow energy, killing himself and super powering Tatsu so that, once he’s trained and can control this new power, he can fight back.
As Duran dies he remembers the man who came to save him and the idealistic things he told him then. Duran then dies before Tatsu’s eyes, leaving the poor boy to bid his mentor goodbye.
Six years later Edenia’s Capital City is celebrating victory in their great war with the construction of a massive airship. Plasmarrow Slaves are being used as batteries to charge it and Shepherd, having somehow survived Duran’s attack, is overseeing the plan.
There’s a sudden attack on the airship. It’s Tatsu, having learned to control the power Duran gave him and now ready to bring about an end to Shepherd’s scheming. Tatsu attacks and easily defeats Shepherd’s forces before finishing Shepherd off for good. But not before learning the location of Tatsu’s friends from the orphanage, one of whom is powering a tank in tomorrow’s victory parade. It’s Mono.
Tatsu then finishes off Shepherd by bursting his heart with a powerful electrical attack, making him die much the way Duran did. Interesting to see a shonen lead who has zero trouble killing. That seems rare these days. Tatsu then addresses the freed Plasmarrow slaves and convinces them to join him as his crew aboard the airship. Realizing they don’t have much of a option if they want to try and free themselves, they agree. And Tatsu’s airship, the Red Sprite, takes off into the air.
So that’s Red Sprite’s first chapter. I think it suffers from a few issues. It does a bad job of setting up important information, which in turn damages the overall flow. It has a weak protagonist that is at worst offensive to a certain set of people, and at least a weak introductory villain. (I’m hoping we’ve seen the last of Shepherd.) The story seems to frequently drift into territory that I’d say makes it over the top, especially at how ready it is to sidestep basic concepts like anatomy and physics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not convinced Red Sprite has embraced it’s own nature and accepted that it’s story is a bit daft and insane.
Of the three Jump Starts from August to September I do think Red Sprite holds more immediate promise than Love Rush. While Love Rush had the art going for it, and had less innate issues, Red Sprite shows signs of brilliance, with aspects like the Plasmarrow concept, it’s penchant for sudden violence, and a true shonen main character standing out as good things that can be built upon. But It needs to build on what’s here in the right way and I don’t have a lot of faith it’ll course correct before the reader polls come in and put Red Sprite to an early grave. I could be wrong though, I mean, I didn’t think Love Rush was going to be added to the Shonen Jump line up.
That’s it for today. Please let me know what you thought of Love Rush’s first chapter in the comments below!
Red Sprite is available for free at Viz.com.