Robot x Laserbeam 011-014 – Manga Review
Reviewed by: Tom
Synopsis: Robato Hatohara is a strange young man who seems to show almost no emotion or care. But when Tomoya, his only friend, takes an interest in Golf, Robato begins to show his own interest and quite significant skill as he can do what most pros have a difficult time mastering: He can hit the ball perfectly straight with incredible range. Golf is about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
It’s probably time to address Robot’s flagging ranking. The manga is coming in as one of Japan’s lowest ranked Jump series. While it’s been pointed out to me by Justin of the OASG that We Never Learn might be holding on through sheer volume sales alone, Robot x Laserbeam is in much the same position and I can’t find evidence of a similar saving grace. These chapters also contain elements that I think hint at that Fujimaki, the author, is entirely aware that Robot x Laserbeam is floundering, and I can’t decide if certain developments here are to try and stave off a cancellation or prepare for one. Let’s get into it.
Somewhat surprisingly we’ve jumped ahead from Rion and Robo’s match up against the two assholes. On the one hand that’s probably a decent idea as I don’t know you could’ve gotten a whole extra chapter out of that. But it feels weird to have jumped past it so thoroughly, and instead get a slew of dialogue wrapping it up for us. This is one of the first signs, I think, that Fujimaki is aware that his manga is in danger of being canned. He’s trying to trim the fat, and there’s other cut corners coming up, in an attempt to get the story further along and regain traction with the readers.
It isn’t long until we’re onto the top four players deciding how to handle Robo. It’s during this conversation the manga doubles down on the new interpretation of Robo’s character as a superb learner. The way the manga describes it here, compared to before, feels like Fujimaki really trying to hammer home the idea that Robo isn’t overpowered, as that was likely the impression initial readers walked away with, perhaps even what damaged Robo’s rankings in the first place. This is furthered as Robo discusses how he managed to build up that crazy perfect shot he’s capable of in the first place. The manga tries to make it crystal clear that Robo’s gradual , pseudo at the hands of his father, training is quite amazing.
It really feels like Fujimaki saying “no, no, you don’t get it! Robo isn’t overpowered! Let me really go into it!” I think it’s a good call, as Robo did feel very overpowered in the early chapters. While it may have always been Fujimaki’s intention to pull back from that and reveal Robo’s flaws and avenues to grow, it’s clear the subtlety of that, at least compared to this, in your face approach, wasn’t working.
As if that wasn’t enough, the chapter concludes with the introduction of a new, antagonistic character, designed with oozing, over the top menace, Kyosuke Suzaku. It’s clear Suzaku is meant to introduce some more drama and tension into the manga based upon his design alone.
This chapter sets the bar for how much Robo will need to improve, and fast, in order to join the Golf Club as a regular for tournaments. In a surprising twist we actually spend this chapter and the next not focused on golf at all. Instead it’s about discovering that Robo is generally despised by the golf club and finds himself in poor physical shape to make it as a member of the team.
It’s here Robot x Laserbeam seems to fall back onto more classic and overused shonen tropes. Robo devolves into the classic lead who puts in never ending effort, pushing himself to the brink, in order to improve practically overnight. This sequence actually reminds me a lot of last year’s soccer anime Days, where little Tsukishi Tsukamoto seemed to do much the same as Robo does here. The difference is Days did this kind of mini-arc way better. Robot x Laserbeam feels like a poor man’s imitation.
Part of the trouble is Robo pushes himself into frequently passing out. While comedic, it feels a bit counterproductive. It’s a minor quibble, as the greater issue is Kazama’s character. Kazama is a smaller character, one little introduced before now, who is one of the better members in the club, although not part of the regulars. He’s very much like certain early antagonistic characters from Days: Kids who initially really dislike the lead for his lack of ability, but quickly find themselves taken in by his determination.
Trouble is Kazama feels so bare bones compared to the characters he’s so similar to. We get only the most superficial of introductions to him and that makes his change of heart and development feel shallow and uninteresting.
It’d be one thing if the entire point of Kazama was to better define Robo’s new found love for Golf. But as Kazama keeps popping up from here on it feels like he’s meant to be a new supporting character and I just don’t think he works, not with how barebones his introduction is. This is where I feel like Kazama is a victim of trimming the fat. If the manga was better received by this point I imagine Kazama would have gotten more attention and we’d have had a full two chapters dedicated to this.
This chapter then returns us to Robo’s attempts to pass the bar set for him to join the main team. Again it feels like we’ve rushed ahead as Robo’s chance to join the team sneaks up on our characters before it’s quickly supplanted by the proper entrance of Kyosuke Suzaku, who turns all of this on its head. While it’s not unusual for shonen manga to up heave events and surprise the audience, it again feels like we’re trimming fat in an effort to move the story far enough along that it grabs the audience back.
Chapter 014 gives us a better understanding of Kyosuke’s character, he’s a kind of over the top, yet absurd and silly rival for Yozan and thus is now Robo’s latest obstical. The chapter is mainly focused on catapulating us into this team on team match up between Kyosuke’s high school team and Robo’s. Otherwise it feels fairly uneventful.
While I still enjoy Robot x Laserbeam, I feel it’s making missteps in this set of chapters, likely spurred on by its troubled rankings. I think it’s all but certain that Robot x Laserbeam is going to get cut and I’m dubious it’ll last more than a few more chapters. It does make me wonder if some of the rushing is to try and get the manga in a position where it could leap frog to an early ending. I guess we’ll see what fate has in store for Robot x Laserbeam in the coming weeks.
Let me know your thoughts on Robot x Laserbeam in the comments below!
Robot x Laserbeam can be found in Shonen Jump and its first three chapters are available to read for free at Viz.com.