Tokyo Shinobi Squad 004-009 – Manga Review

Synopsis: In a future lawless Tokyo, retribution is delivered by shinobi! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

Warning: Spoilers to Follow:

Review:

Like I touched on last time: The honest to god truth with Tokyo Shinobi Squad is that, outside of that awkward pseudo-controversy when it first launched, and its solid art, this newbie addition to Jump has so little else going for it. Let’s dive in.

Chapter 003 began a mini-starter arc, meant to introduce more of the team, set the tone for the series, and ease us into more of Tokyo Shinobi Squad’s world. We see Jin and co. go toe to toe with an evil corporation using experimental methods to try and create super-soldiers. The villains are lame, exhibiting tropey dialogue and traits typical of early Shonen manga villains. They’re cocky, and assume victory well before it’s achieved. Of course that’s all to make their eventual snap towards despair, as Jin foils their plans in totality, highlight Jin as the true heroic bad ass worthy of the reader’s admiration. Chapters 4 and 5 are just to show how bad ass Jin, Taigo and even little En can be. It’s a power fantasy arc, meant to make the reader feel like they’re reading about heroes worthy of getting excited about.

Chapter 6 begins a second arc, this time with two goals in mind: firstly we need to see Papillon be a badass too. (we also need some fan service as the opening pages of Chapter 6 offer) The best she got to do in the earlier chapters was showcase her support skills. So Papillon gets a story crafted around her: Jin and Papillon team up to play bodyguards for a up and coming model, Maki Mizuno, like Papillon use to be. This arc is where the series shows what we can expect from its handling of female characters. Papillon is a badass, but our author is sure to make her kick ass in a sexy way, with an ability crafted around her disrobing more and more clothes for greater and greater attacks (Bayonetta fan perhaps?). It’d at least make sense if Papillon dressed conservatively, more thread more attacks, but she already dresses in form-fitting outfits, (with a mid-rift too boot!) making this feel more male-gaze pandering than anything else. The manga does toy with  making girls be more than eye-candy however, ensuring that their model client is shown actually putting in honest to god work, keeping the depiction of her profession from purely feeling sexual and exploitative.

The second goal is to up the stakes. Till now we’ve had about three different starter villains, all near equally unmemorable. Hyosui Magumo, Leader of the Seigan and ice ninja, is much more memorable, in part because we get to see him in brutal action. He’s got more presence than even the first villain had back in Chapter 1, making him stand out. That said, it’s not always in a good way. For a manga with a pretty serious tone, Hyosui Magumo gets one scene in particular that feels impossible to take seriously. For failing him, Hyosui kills one of his own men. That’s good enough, but wanting to really make this sequence stand out our author has Hyosui’s lead henchman, Bei, wheel out an shaved ice machine and grind up the freshly frozen lackey into shaved ice to consume. It’s absolutely absurd, feeling like a darker take on something you might see out of One Piece or the Majin Buu arc from Dragon Ball. It’s so tonally bizarre that it succeeds at making the scene memorable, but not in a good way.

But that’s about where my comments end. The rest of this arc, what’s been printed so far, feels exactly as you’d expect. Papillion and Jin fend off our latest baddie, managing to hold their own before our baddie decides to try again another day. Instead Hyosui blackmails our model girl with the threat that her surrogate father/manager will be harmed if she doesn’t give herself up.

My greatest issue with the series is that, without controversy looming, there’s little beneath the surface to get invested in. Jin, Papillion, etc. don’t have engaging backstories, or any character arcs for that matter. Jin is an out and out badass, without any kind of sordid history teased to make it feel like there’s more depth to his character. Without something like that then the story as offered feels entirely predictable. It would seem like I’m not alone in this ho-hum reception, as Tokyo Shinobi Squad has debuted with mediocre rankings from Jump’s Japanese readership. There’s still time to turn this boat around however. If the manga can course-correct with hints of a darker past for our heroes, throw in a truly awesome bad guy on the horizon, or more importantly make its writing feel a little more complex and weighty it could easily survive these early missteps. We’ll see what the coming weeks hold.

That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on Tokyo Shinobi Squad in the comments below!

Tokyo Shinobi Squad is published as part of Shonen Jump.

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