Reborn! Vol. 1 (Viz/Shonen Jump Advanced)

rebornheaderThere are a few manga series that are so bizarre, so inherently effed-up, that you're forced to sit up and take note of their sheer strangeness. This is one such series.

192 pgs B&W; $7.99

(W/A: Akira Amano)

 

 

Strong Bad (of HomestarRunner.com fame) once remarked "Japanese cartoons are weird, man," and while such a blanket statement certainly doesn't apply to everything, there are a few manga series that are so bizarre, so inherently effed-up, that you're forced to sit up and take note of their sheer strangeness. Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, the tale of a kung-fu fighter who beats up bad guys with his nose hairs, is one such title. Akira Amano's Reborn! is most definitely another.

 

 

Tsuna is your typical high school loser, a guy who can't win at anything, be it sports, school, or with the ladies. His life gets atypical in a hurry, however, when his mom hires a strange tutor: a suit-clad, fedora-wearing baby who happens to be an assassin for the Italian mafia. The baby is Reborn, a lad who, despite his age and diminutive stature, has become one of the highest-ranking members of the Vongola crime family. Turns out the Vongolas have a bit of a crisis on there hands, with their boss entering his twilight years yet all of his successors have one by one met a bloody end. The last surviving member of the family line is Tsuna, whose great-great-great-grandfather was a Vongola who retired in Japan, and Reborn has been sent to toughen him up before the poor lad ends up sleeping with the fishes. Reborn's got a special weapon, too, with the punnily-titled "Deathperation Shot," a magic bullet that causes the shootee to come back to life sans pantalon with the power to achieve his or her dying wish. The shot comes in handy as Tsuna is, to put it bluntly, a big wuss, so Reborn is constantly blasting him in the frontal lobe to show him that he really does have the strength to conquer his fears.

 

 

To summarize: normal teen gets repeatedly shot in face by a baby, runs around in his skivvies solving problems. Sound strange? You're damn right it's strange. Amano's surreal take on the mafia may be light years from Scorsese or The Sopranos, but it's also fascinating in its own weird little way–you may be constantly asking yourself "What the hell are they going to do to top that?" but you certainly will never find yourself bored. There's also an interesting disconnect between Reborn's motive (to turn Tsuna into a hardened Mafioso) and the everyteen problems Tsuna uses Reborn's powers to solve: getting girls, fighting bullies, sticking it to the class prettyboy. While this difference in approach isn't highlighted in this first volume, it could definitely lead to some interesting conflicts down the road.

 

 

Speaking of "down the road," given this book's unpredictable nature it's difficult to even begin to fathom where it might be 2 or 3 volumes from now. In this volume alone, Reborn reveals several new tricks he and his revolver have up their sleeve, while we also get to meet Tsuna's Italian rival, the dynamite-wielding Hayato Gokudera (why does he have a Japanese name? I have no idea…) and Lamba, a cow-suited baby assassin from the rival Bovino family. What lies in the future is anybody's guess. It's hard to imagine this premise supporting a long-running series, but with 12 volumes so far in Japan and an animated series already under way, Amano must be doing something right.

 

 

Despite the story's insanity, Amano's art is surprisingly straightforward. While Reborn and Lamba may look like deranged Precious Moments figurines come to life, Tsuna and his classmates are drawn plainly, with Tsuna and his potential paramour Kyoko looking like they could have leapt off the pages of virtually any down-to-earth romance comic. Things only get strange for Tsuna after he's been hit with a Deathperation Shot, when he starts running around in a blank-gazed fury with a flame on his forehead wearing nothing but his boxers.

 

 

Interior art from Reborn! Vol. 1 by Akira Amano. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Viz has rated Reborn! for older teens, but this is a series that will probably appeal most to readers in their early-to-mid-teens looking for a manga kinetic enough to hold their attention. There's a fair amount of violence in Reborn!, but it's mostly of the comical, Tom & Jerry variety, as no one really gets hurt. Still, there are a number of instances where characters are found pointing a gun at their own head–something that would rightfully make some parents squeamish even if this particular gun isn't as harmful as a real one–and a fair amount of blood comes with each Deathperation Shot. Concerned parents may want to give a flip through this one before handing it off to the young ‘uns just to make sure it meets their personal standards.

 

 

To even try to answer the question "So is it any good or not?" with a book like this is virtually impossible, as one's enjoyment of Reborn! will vary directly with one's tolerance for weirdness strictly for weirdness' sake. Heck, I'm not even sure I liked it, but I certainly couldn't put it down. Many things are called "rollercoaster rides," but this is that rare book that actually fits that bill. A lightning fast tale that always feels within a hair's breadth of flying off the rails (yet never actually does), you may walk away feeling slightly dizzy, but odds are you'll jump right back in line to ride it again.

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