Undead Unluck 004-013 – Manga Review

Synopsis: What happens when an unlucky girl meets an undead guy? Pure chaos! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

Undead Unluck continues to be haunted by its early ecchi, sexual assault style, humor. While the series had made efforts to re-contextualize, tone-done and shift itself away from the early, far more uncomfortable depiction in the first two chapters, those efforts have not yet yielded results in the series’ reader ratings. While I complained about that troubled humor in my last review, I increasingly think it’s a shame that Undead Unluck’s missteps might sink the series, especially as other aspects have been quite well done. Let’s Jump In!

I’m by no means excusing the early humor, or even it’s more borderline depiction the deeper we get in. But I think Undead Unluck has a lot of other components that it’s nailed, and I wish the author, or his editor, had put a little more thought into how to introduce the title’s ecchi leanings. I feel this way especially as the series has shifted its focus from a battle manga between Negating power users into a different story where these super powered individuals band together to complete quests offered up by some apocalypse prophesying book.

Chapters 4 through 8 take us on a journey that sees the series close out the type of manga it introduced itself as. I don’t think this is a case of a rushed ending, or an attempt to recapture a flagging audience. What’s here feels natural as Fuuko and Andy are as early as Chapter 2 they can stop being hunted as long as they clear themselves seats on the organization’s round table. While the battle to attain those spots takes a whole five chapters, I never get the sense that the story was going to stretch out longer than this, before both Fuuko and Andy found themselves now as allies to these characters who were once their enemies. It’s impressive how the series manages this transition, dropping hints and teases that lead up to a big re-contextualizing of the series in Chapter 9, and made me deeply intrigued for where our author ultimately wants to go.

Another impressive aspect is the way the series handles plot progression while balancing that with characterization. Andy has a very lively personality, one the series never dumbs down or reworks to make him do what’s so obviously needed to make the story progress. Every action he takes feels distinct to his character. Like when we’re learning about the quests to hunt down UMAs, or other negate power users, and Andy opts to take on the quest that’s the absolute hardest. This totally feels like a natural thing for Andy to do, and thus makes Andy feel real and honest in his depiction. I can’t quite say as much for Fuuko, since it’s clear that if the series is doing any adjusting its to make Fuuko more open to the groping gimmick so as to tone down any sense of sexual assault that was so prevalent early on. Still, the way Andy’s character is handled really makes me impressed, as lesser Shonen might offer up leads that are more easily malleable in making them progress the plot in whatever way the author sees fit, making the character feel weaker or simply less defined as a unique individual.

Again though, not everything is perfect. The way we’re introduced to the clothes UMA, that can take people over, feels squeezed in, ensuring audiences understand what a UMA is before we enter an arc that maybe wouldn’t quite act as the best introductory definition of what to expect. That said, missteps like this feel few and far between. In terms of negating powers, defining what those are, finding interesting ways for them to work, and making sure nothing feels pulled out of its ass, is where Undead Unluck really shines. The battle system in place here continues to feel like so much thought and care has been put into it, much like Hunter x Hunter’s extremely complex Nen concept. The two series aren’t really comparable in any other way, but Undead Unluck feels like it’s taking the ideas it’s presented very seriously, and isn’t interested in more undefined, wishy washy mechanics like, say, Fire Force, where increasingly it can feel like characters can do stuff less because the concept allows for it and more simply because of the ‘rule of cool.’

Ultimately though I’m not sure a tight battle system, an intriguing over arching narrative, and Andy’s characterization are enough to overcome the original missteps in Chapter 1 or the way it handles female characters. Every female character presented thus far seems to fall into a very reductionist mindset of what women care about. Thus far it’s been romance, marriage or looks. So, women are either superficial or near entirely fixated on romance. It’s not egregious compared to other shonen, very few shonen have female characters that break Japan’s gender defined mindset for female characters, but it’s certainly not winning the series any points. I will say at least the message behind these inclusions has had an least a positive outcome. A good example is when Andy confronts the Negate user at the lake, Gina. Gina, as it turns out, is actually in her 60s, despite her initially youthful appearance. We learn the girl has become obsessed over a half century with keeping things unchanged, partly influenced by that being her negate power. In the end when she’s defeated, dying, and returning outwardly to her true age, Andy comforts her, assuring Gina that no matter how old she gets, she’ll always be beautiful. It’s touching certainly, but doesn’t change the fact that we haven’t really had too many female characters (besides a small side character) that care about things that aren’t traditionally feminine.

So, that brings us to the conclusion. I think Undead Unluck is in a make or break position. The current arc sees Andy fighting the first ‘big’ UMA, a creature that turns people into the undead. It’s an interesting tale, with twists and turns, but the question becomes is it enough to turn the tide of Shonen Jump’s Japanese readership’s public opinion. My gut feeling is that if this arc doesn’t shift the Jump readership into a more positive outlook for the series, we’re very quickly going to see a rushed arc looking to wrap the series up. In some ways I do think that’s a shame. At 13 chapters Undead Unluck has proved there’s a lot to love. At the same time its first chapter is a strong reminder that first impressions really do matter, and if that first impression is too off-putting, it may be basically insurmountable in turning things back in a manga’s favor.

That’s it for this week! Let me know what your thoughts are on Undead Unluck!

Undead Unluck is published weekly in Shonen Jump.

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