Robot x Laserbeam 023-029 – Manga Review

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:

Review:

Diving into the last two months worth of Robot x Laserbeam chapters, there’s a lot to pick apart here. Firstly, the manga is doing awful in the Shonen rankings for the last several weeks. It’s coming in low and that normally means cancellation in the series future. But it was pointed out to me a few months ago that the first collected volume sold well, putting Robot x Laserbeam in a weird position. Will Jump keep it because of volume sales or junk it because it’s not lighting fire with its magazine readership?

I think a lot of Robot x Laserbeam’s troubles stem from its approach and its central conceit. Golf is, generally, a boring sport for younger audiences. Most kids have no interest, and while there’s many readers willing to give a story about golf a go still, there’s also many more who absolutely won’t. In an effort to perhaps suck regular shonen sports lovers in, our author keeps the story following an incredible trope ridden, formula specific path.

Me thinks the boy is tired.

It’s something I talked about early on, but Robot x Laserbeam continues to strongly adhere to formula, even if it’s rushed ahead at times to try and grab it’s struggling magazine readership. Even here in Chapters 23-26, the conclusion of the Tohoku vs Eiai arc, things feel pretty safe and married to its formula.

Classically our heroes are on the ropes, but manage to tie it up in the final moments and our hero, Robo, pulls his score up at the last minute and secures a seemingly impossible win. It’s formulaic right from it’s build up of the villains, to their surprise failure against our underdogs. It’s predictable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t enjoyable. And I think that’s why the author has been so stringent in his usage of formula, in hopes that that adherence would suck in less enamored readers.

The problem is I think that’s backfired for the magazine readership in Japan. Instead of pulling them in with the archetypes they know and love, the twists and turns they’ve seen before, it’s acting as repellent. Why read about a sport you don’t much care for when you can get a lot of the same elements in a story for a sport you do like? It’s unfortunate seeing as Robot x Laserbeam offers great art, and tight storytelling, making it a shame it edges ever closer to the bottom of the rankings and, I imagine, ultimately cancellation.

Do you even need to ask?

As the narrative goes Robo manages to clinch a win for his team and the face off ends with Eiai Academy getting a solid victory over Tohoku. We switch gears pretty quick, pulling far and away from the high school setting and focusing on pushing Robo towards the professional game.

Perhaps a bit desperate though to not have audiences write off the Tohoku villainous team entirely, we’re treated to some very forced “they weren’t giving it their all and they’re actually way more super dangerous than they appear,” which I always think is a very weak way to try and keep villains relevant. I also think it’s kinda unnecessary, as the match up was insanely close in the end, so it’s not as if our heroes spanked them.

We spend the rest of Chapter 25 reinforcing that Robo’s found his drive and passion for golf, but as I said we quickly shift gears, plunging Robo into the pro/amateur arena. Chapter 26 sees Robo dragged on a friendly school outing with Rin, the team manager, Yudai, the fledgling rival, and his best bud. After a few pages of gags about Robo schooling Yudai at every game in the arcade, Suzaku, our creepy villain, arrives to invite Robo to the Yotsuba open, essentially Robo’s gateway into the pro league and amateur play.

Hey. Hey. Eyes to yourself, buddy boy.

It feels like a major shift from the last arc, and I can’t decide if these upcoming chapters are merely meant to be a tease for what’s to come, a way of catapulting the story forward in an effort to grab the audience, or the push to create a conclusion in just a few weeks.

One thing I definitely am not a fan of though is Chapter 27’s reveal that Robo basically gets his strong skill from his former super amateur dad. It’s probably one of the most overused tropes in shonen, the pedigree, where a hero turns out to come from a long line, or has a parental figure that was super amazingly incredible, explaining why they are too. To me it’s very over done, and really adds little to the story. I preferred it when Robo’s dad just had a huge passion for golf, and it’d be one thing if he was just a good, if not great amateur. But as the manga puts it “Who was said to be better than any pro.” that feels a tad too far.

Otherwise Chapters 28 & 29 put Yozan back in the center spotlight and they come out all the better for it. We get to see him kick ass in a tournament setting, and even have a heartfelt interaction with a young, burgeoning fan. It helps to humanize Yozan, who we really haven’t interacted with outside of big shot, excited rival for Robo-kun. It also doubles as a way to push Robo towards the pros.

*This manga was sponsored by The Professional Golfers’ Association of Japan

With that I’m now caught up again. Overall these chapters are paced well, if sometimes a bit sudden in thrusting the story in a new direction, seemingly leap frogging over other possible plot lines, but it’s not really a detractor. The only problem is that outside of Golf as its focus, Robot x Laserbeam still doesn’t seem to have its own voice. I’d argue that the manga is struggling to maintain weekly readership due to playing out much as any other sports manga would. It needs to find it’s own, unique storytelling style and perhaps divorce itself from at least some of the tropes. I don’t think this would be an issue if it was any other incredibly popular sport, but for Golf, something Shonen Jump’s readership is so seemingly disinterested in, it’s a must. Then again, maybe the volume sales are enough to keep the series afloat. It’s still early though and it’s not easy to tell which way this is going.

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.

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