*This article is a first impression based on the first volume of the manga only and not intended as a judgment for the entire series.
Yellow Tanabe is a mangaka who has been known among manga fans as the creator of the supernatural action manga, Kekkaishi. The manga has been published in Indonesia by Elex Media Komputindo until its final volume (volume 35) last year. And the animated adaptation had also been aired at local TV station, ANTV, a few years ago. Now, Elex Media has once again brought another manga from Tanabe to be published in Indonesia. Birdmen is Tanabe’s current work, serialised in Weekly Shōnen Sunday (Shogakukan) just like Kekkaishi.
Birdmen follows four ordinary high school students; Eishi Karasuma, Mikisada Kamoda, Rei Sagisawa, and Tsubame Umino. Their lives changed after they experienced an accident that brought them to be involved in the mystery of the bird man. In presenting the story, Birdmen does not immediately lay out the plot clearly at the beginning. The manga opts to deliver the plot as a mystery that is uncovered gradually. Even until the end of the first volume, Karasuma and co. still hasn’t received a complete explanation about the bird man power. It’s a mystery that needs to be followed patiently as the story goes on.
On the other hand, characters become the important factor of Birdmen’s narrative. This can be seen, for example, in how the fist two chapters show more of the lives and personalities of the main characters, particularly through Karasuma’s point of view. And in those two chapters, the bird man mystery itself is largely still vague rumors that has not directly related to the main characters, even though interest in those rumors is what brought the main characters to their fateful meeting. In this manga, readers are taken to know and get accustomed to the main characters first, before starting to delve into the mystery after that.
Thus, with the strong focus on characters, it would be a good idea to take a closer look at their characterisation. Take Karasuma, for example, who exhibits different traits from the usual shōnen manga protagonists. If shōnen protagonists are usually kind-hearted boys, helpful, optimistic, and work hard to be better (just look at Yoshimori from Kekkaishi or Izuku from the currently airing My Hero Academia); Karasuma has none of that. He is pessimistic, dismissive of the social relationships, especially among students, and uncertain of what he wants in life.
Upon closer look, though, contradictions between Karasuma’s views and behaviours are noticeable, adding layers to his characterisation. Although he looks down on the social life of his peers, in some moments, he still expressed desires to have a relationship with a girl, or to get noticed by his classmates. In his position as a person who can’t fit in to the social environment of his peers, Karasuma appears to have a complex in which he hates the system that he cannot be part of, and yet, at the same time also yearns to be a part of that system.
Karasuma’s character gets the foils in the traits of the other main characters. Karasuma,s closest friend, Kamoda, is big and scary compared to Karasuma’s small stature, but he is actually kind and friendly, He often gets involved in fights, but does not intentionally seeks them. Sagisawa is good looking and comes from a wealthy background, but seems to have something more behind what appears on the surface. And finally, there’s Tsubame, Sagisawa’s female friend who is energetic and outgoing. Her friendly gestures often puts Karasuma in awkward moments, as up to now Karasuma has viewed girls like alien creatures, distant and unapproachable. These characters are able to create lively interactions among them, combined with sparks of suitably comedic moments accompanying them. In addition, the gaps in the characters allow for spaces to develop them more as the story goes on.
Thus, as of the first volume, it is advisable to tread into Birdmen with the patience to follow the gradual unveiling of the mystery, and the willingness to know and acquainted with the characters. Recalling that Kekkaishi was able to present a story with compelling characters and character development, while also delivering complex mysteries and conspiracies it is expected that Birdmen would be able to present similar qualities, even with different story, characters, and feels. As an additional note, the first volume of Birdmen as published by Elex Media commendably maintained the inclusion of Yellow Tanabe’s character design sheets. For fans of her works, this could be an additional value from this addition that allows for better appreciation of the details of the character designs.
The Indonesian Anima Times | by Halimun Muhammad