Zipman!! 001-003 – Manga Review

Synopsis: Zip up and kick robot butt! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

Zipman is the story of two brothers, Kaname Tatara and Koshiro Tatara, who become one super hero together: Zipman. Kaname is the buff, gruff tough idiot with a heart of gold. The other brother, Koshiro, is a genius inventor, who has attained incredible fame and is loved by all thanks to the massive good his intellect has brought. It’s a similar dynamic to Ne0;lation, which was cancelled earlier this year. Ne0;lation followed a super brainy hacker kid and the big lug that would take on the more physical aspects of confronting villains. Unfortunately Ne0;lation didn’t know how to evenly balance its two leads making the series feel weak from the very start. But Zipman seems to have a much better head on its shoulders, balancing these two leads and their run in with the superhero life, keeping both equally important and relevant to the story. That said, Zipman has a couple issues plaguing it already, namely the way it focuses so hard on narrative push, leaving little room for these characters to breath beyond their tightly defined roles. Let’s Jump In!

The series opens with Kaname Tatara pursuing his dreams in the wake of his brother’s passing. Kaname is trying to be a Tokusatsu performer, or namely the kind of actor that performs the street/local stage versions of the characters, namely Jackman, the Super Sentai/Kamen Rider type hero he and his brother both grew up with. Unfortunately Kaname’s ‘go get ’em!’ attitude doesn’t pair well with his frightening features, often costing him auditions. Not only is the pursuit of his dream not going well, but his brother’s abrupt passing hangs over him. What follows is some heavy exposition as the world around Kaname is still coming to grips with Koshiro’s passing, haunting poor Kaname at every turn as news reports play on Jumbotrons in the city square.

Kaname reminds me a lot of the lead for Fire Force, a selfless individual who seeks to do good, but is marred by his scary looks. It makes a little more sense here because Kaname has a scary face, in general, rather than the contrived creepy smile Shinra sports whenever uncomfortable. Kaname is also immediately relatable because of how downtrodden he is. His dreams are still out of reach and the constant adulation for his brother’s efforts following Kaname wherever he goes. This sense of Kaname falling behind is relatable for anyone frustrated seeing others achieve success, while their own dreams continue to elude them. Unfortunately for as relatable as that notion is, Zipman doesn’t seem all that interested in taking the idea very far. It never allows Kaname to drift into outright, ugly jealously for his brother’s superior accomplishments, always forcing him to remain the noble hero, which keeps Kaname from feeling like all that deep and rounded a character. It’s not to say that Kaname needs to be bitter and hateful, but he takes much of the difference between his success and his brother’s in easy going stride, making it difficult to feel torn up for him. Maybe we could turn that back around to Kaname missing his brother, and whatever bond they had, but even that notion is nothing but lip-service in the wake of establishing the set up.

Also, in an effort to perhaps provide a bit of comedy, or to hammer home how much more brainy Koshiro was before his passing, the series lays it on quite thick that Koshiro was an absurdly brainy genius, posthumously winning the noble prize, drifting the series right into the realm of purely unbelievable. In some ways that works, because of where we end up in just three chapters, as it lets the audience know this isn’t a story to take too seriously. That said, it also damages the drama of the series, as Koshiro feels just too large a character to take seriously.

The series jumps into a flashback as we learn both Kaname and Koshiro were just your average five year olds obsessed with a kid’s tv show. That is until the two were bullied for their love of Jackman and then subsequently saved by a girl. Kaname and Koshiro’s inspiration for becoming the young men (They’re 17, aren’t they still boys?) they are today comes from the same well, namely a love/appreciation for their childhood savior, Cheena. For Kaname, Cheena’s smile is the catalyst to all his dreams and efforts, always eager to make her happy. It’s another way in which Kaname feels like a noble hero, yet simultaneously underwritten.

I’m not a big fan of love triangles, and learning that both Kaname and Koshiro are in love with Cheena had me worried that this would form the backbone of the series’ character drama. Thankfully Zipman doesn’t seem to be all that interested in the mess it itself introduced. We fly through any real resentment between the brothers over Cheena, keeping the series increasingly light on personal drama. In fact after a few pages briefly introducing modern day Cheena, and Kaname’s disappointment that he can’t make Cheena smile like his brother could, we’re onto the main plot. Kaname gets mysterious texts from his deceased brother, followed by the city quacking as it comes under siege from a giant robot.

What follows is a non-stop action sequence seeing Kaname desperate to save Cheena, who becomes separated with him during the chaos. Just when Kaname decides to take on the robot himself, (oh fat chance that’ll work) a truck arrives in front of him carrying a large anthropomorphic body suit, with the voice of his brother urging him to put it on. Once equipped things catapult into a brief but exciting battle that really showcases the author, Yusaku Shibata’s stellar talent for art.

Chapters 2 and 3 build off this start competently, laser focused on establishing the bickering dynamic between Kaname and his brother Koshiro, who turns out to have had his conscientiousness mysteriously transplanted into the Zipman suit. We also see Cheena become a catalyst character as she stumbles upon evidence linking Koshiro’s company, Steel-X, to the giant robot attack. She’s sure Koshiro’s company is being framed, but before she can get very far in the pursuit of truth she becomes a target herself. She’s confronted by a mysterious individual in a suit not dissimilar to the Zipman suit Koshiro’s mind is trapped in. Chapter 3 then sees Kaname and Koshiro learn to work together in order to save Cheena, and the other students at school.

As fast as the story moves, and a tight plot is rarely a bad thing, there’s little time to get to know the characters. Koshiro apparently has a couple of aids helping him in the shadows, but outside of stoking the brother’s feud, we don’t get to know either. The same can be said for our trio of leads, as none of the characters get to shine in these chapters, outside of establishing the main, ongoing plot, and furthering the immediate narrative. Kaname and Koshiro fall into a rather pedestrian dynamic of bickering bros that doesn’t feel all that new or novel. Also the climatic defeat of their newest enemy comes from merely ripping the zipper down on their suit, forcing their adversary to come, quite literally, undone. It feels like too simple a way to defeat baddies, making an otherwise subversive end to the battle feel unearned.

Still, as beginnings go, it’s pretty good. We don’t retread Chapter 1 in an effort to prove to readers the concept works weekly, and instead build the narrative more naturally, really settling in on that Super Sentai, Tokusatsu atmosphere. I think Zipman has a good chance of sticking around, but it’ll need to slow down at some point here and offer a few character centric chapters, or even just sequences/interactions, to really let us get to know Kaname, Koshiro and Cheena as more than they’ve been introduced. That or upcoming developments will have to be crazy and frequent to keep the series interesting when we barely care for anyone. Either way I’m cautiously optimistic that Zipman is a worthy addition to Jump and can hang in there against Jump’s ruthless cutthroat nature. If it can just find the time/ability to make our leads feel a little more fleshed out and unique then I think we could see another long running hit.

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

Zipman is published weekly in Shonen Jump.

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