The Law of Ueki (Viz Media)

With the power to turn trash into trees, Ueki is no typical kid, just like The Law of Ueki, thankfully, is not your typical action manga.  

200 pgs B&W; $9.99

(W/A: Tsubasa Fukuchi)

 

Cultural differences between the United States and Japan result in some very interesting divergent approaches when it comes to comics, one of the more obvious of which is their respective approaches to superheroes. In the States, fantastic powers are something to be harnessed for the good of the world by fighting crime and protecting the weak. On the other side of the Pacific, however, often the powers aren't the means to an end so much as the end themselves. That your hero is strong isn't enough; he must continue to build his strength through constant training and competing in massive tournaments, where ever-escalating opponents push the hero until his innate gifts have been fully realized.

 

uekiThese king-of-fighters-style tournaments are nothing new to American audiences of course, as anyone who has seen Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, played Street Fighter II, or watched a single episode of Pokemon can tell you. Tsubasa Fukuchi's Law of Ueki seems on the surface to follow the same well-worn path: 100 candidates select a junior high student to be their combatant in a tournament to decide the "King of the Celestial World," granting the student one superpower. Kosuke Ueki enters the tournament armed with a brutal, fear-inducing power: the ability to turn any scrap of litter into…a tree.

 

Yes, you read that right. Turning trash into trees isn't quite up there with super-strength or firing energy blasts, is it? But no matter, as Ueki is no typical kid, just like Law of Ueki, thankfully, is not your typical action manga.

 

Far from the plucky, "I'll do my best!" lead you'd expect, Ueki's presence in the tournament is not due to any interest of his own, but rather thanks to the machinations of his teacher Mr. Kobayashi, who not only chose Ueki's unique power but also whose motivations aren't quite what you'd expect, either. "I only joined this battle to find out whether Ueki's sense of justice is strong enough for him to sacrifice all of his talents," he states plainly. "I'm not interested in becoming king." Sacrifice his talents? Just another stipulation of the tournament's rulebook: if any entrant uses his powers violently against a noncombatant loses one of their innate talents, something that happens to Ueki twice before the tournament begins in the process of saving others. Meanwhile, he remains oblivious to the prize awaiting the fighters: the Power of Blank, the ability of the winner to have any one superpower they can imagine.

 

A thumbnail from Law of Ueki. Click for a larger imageFrequently unobservant and passive, Ueki, at least so far, lacks the charisma to carry the series on his own. To spice things up, Fukuchi tells the story mostly through the eyes of Mori, a strong-willed girl who Ueki's class who initially suspects that the young man is a space alien. After introducing Mori and the readers to Ueki's powers and his role in the tournament, the series derails a bit with a three-part storyline where the pair gets dragged into a fight between one of their classmates and an unscrupulous local doctor. The malevolent medicine man isn't fleshed out particularly well, and the story drags on far too long. The appropriately-titled chapter "The Battle Begins" kicks things back into gear as Ueki, Mori, and Mr. K. arrive at the tournament and we are introduced to Ueki's competition. He also enters his first battle (a battle which, unfortunately, won't be tied up until Vol. 2) against a fearsome opponent who can drink water and turn it into breaths of fire.

 

Fukuchi's character designs are simplistic yet distinctive, allowing him to contort and deform them for both the high action and comedy sequences, with a look not too far removed from Hiroyuki Takei's Shaman King with a more modern tilt. The characters themselves are the real selling point of Law of Ueki, as Fukuchi shies away from stereotypical action heroes to give readers unique characters, each with their own strange powers and motivations. While this first volume wastes a little too much time getting where it's going, the prospect of meeting scores more of Fukuchi's uniquely warped fighters as the tournament ensues bodes well for Law of Ueki remaining an interesting read for its remaining 15 volumes.

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