Air Gear Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

A look at the new manga from Oh!great, the creator behind CMX's red-hot but controversial Tenjho Tenge.

(Del Rey; 225 pgs B&W; $10.95)

(W/A: Oh!great)

When someone best known for creating pornography attempts to go mainstream, it inevitably turns heads. Manga artist Ogure Ito, a.k.a. Oh!great, was best known on this side of the Pacific for hardcore "mangerotica" titles like Silky Whip until his breakthrough came with Tenjho Tenge, a racy, action-packed martial arts epic–adapted into a hit anime–that became the subject of controversy stateside when DC Comics subsidiary CMX licensed the series. Despite knowing the reputation of both the series and the artist, CMX intended to market the series to the high school crowd and edited it accordingly, excising much of the sex and nudity and infuriating the book's adult fanbase in the process. Lucky for them, Del Rey will likely not be facing charges of "butchery" for Air Gear, Oh!great's follow-up to Tenjho Tenge, a shonen sports series that, despite some minor fanservice, is much lighter in tone and content and aimed right at the heart of high school boys.

 

[EDIT: Since writing this article, it has come to my attention that although Del Rey did not censor the artwork for Air Gear, they did intentionally tone down dialogue on certain pages in order to downplay a rape scene that takes place off panel in this volume. Stunningly, Del Rey has seen the errors of its ways, and will be publishing the second printing, and any future printings, of Air Gear Vol. 1 with a more accurate translation. For more information, read Del Rey's Dallas Middaugh's comments here. –JG, 9/13/06]

 

Itsuki Minami is a big fish in a little pond, the 13-year-old, "babyface"-d leader of the thugs of Higashi Junior High. At one of their regular wrestling matches against their cross-town rivals, Itsuki picks on the wrong guy, and soon ends up receiving brutal payback at the hands of the Skull Saders, a local gang of rollerskating "storm riders" on fancy Air Treck skates. His fortunes change when he discovers that the Noyamano sisters, the four girls he's lived with since the loss of his parents ten years earlier, live a double life as the rival skater gang Sleeping Forest. So mysterious that most other storm riders consider them an urban legend, the girls help Itsuki exact revenge on the gangsters and open up "a thrilling and terrifying new world" of hardcore skating.

 

Suspension of disbelief is a vital part of enjoying most comics-how else can you believe a man can fly, after all?-but Air Gear is a title that asks you to more or less check your brain at the door. Huge portions of the book fall apart on close inspection, most notably Itsuki's relationship with the sisters: how could he live with them for ten years, virtually his entire life, and not know that they were these bad-ass skatepunks? The physics is, at times, downright laughable as well, with the skates empowering the characters to regularly defy gravity. Air Trecks also supposedly feature a high-powered motor inside the wheels, propelling the characters at speeds that would only be possible if this motor was the size of a lawnmower engine.

 

Nitpicking? Probably. If you can get past these logical fallacies, there's certainly much to enjoy here. Itsuki is a headstrong and charismatic lead character, and thankfully he isn't on a hackneyed quest to become the world's greatest skater; he simply lives in a world of thugs and gangs and wants to make sure that he and his friends can stand their ground. Of the four sisters, only second-youngest Ringo, the one that is Itsuki's age, gets any real screen time in this first volume, but as the mystery surrounding the girls' origins stirs up in the book's final chapter it appears that the girls will be seen much more in the next volume. Oh!great's slick, clean linework is perfect for this book, and becomes downright gorgeous in the book's many implausible flight scenes. They may not make much sense, but they sure are nice to look at.

 

Air Gear is not a book for everyone. It's somewhat juvenile plot and subject matter will frustrate sophisticated readers, but with tight, action-packed art and a story to match, extreme sports fanatics will eat it up. The direction of the book implied by the first volume's final chapters also imply that this is a book that's headed into much more interesting and exciting territory in future volumes.

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