The Law of Ueki Vol. 2-3 (Viz Media)

uekiheaderThe first volume barely dipped its toes into the water, but these two volumes transform this lighthearted action series into one of the most action-packed, fun-filled comics on the stands.  

192 pgs ea. B&W; $9.99 ea.

(W/A: Tsubasa Fukuchi)

 

After looking at a series like The Law of Ueki, it's no wonder that the next generation of comics readers is bypassing American superheroes for manga in droves. It's no big secret that the Big Two's superhero books have been getting thematically darker in the last two decades in a desperate search for "maturity" and mainstream acceptance, but with the rise in manga's popularity, they decided to borrow from the Japanese playbook the concept of "decompressed storytelling." A good idea, but unfortunately stories aren't being stretched out to give them room to breathe so much as padded to get a 6-issue, 120 page trade out of 50 pages of story. The meat of any good superhero yarn, the fighting, isn't expanded, just the ancillary crap around it. Why would a kid want to spend $3 for 22 pages of Spider-Man having a heart-to-heart with Aunt May when for $8 he can get a 200 page Naruto collection and watch ninjas beat the tar out of each other for 40 or 50 pages at a clip?

 

The cover to Law of Ueki Vol. 2. Click thumbnail for a larger image.In that context, The Law of Ueki is the dream series for teen readers. It's packed with action without dipping into the staid, stale formula that Naruto and its many predecessors use and abuse. On top of that, it's also lighthearted and, at times, very funny, its characters are extremely likeable, and its premise, though silly, provides enough drama to leave readers thirsty for more.

 

The story so far: the enigmatic Mr. K selected junior high student Ueki to be his champion in the tournament to select the next celestial king. Ueki is granted the ability to turn trash into trees to augment his own innate talents, talents he loses if he hurts a noncombatant. If he wins the tournament, he wins the Talent of Blank, basically the superpower of his choosing. If he loses all his talents, however, he'll disappear, which is why his cute classmate Ai insists on following him around and keep him out of trouble.

 

The first volume meandered quite a bit on its way to the Celestial King tournament, but Vol. 2 makes no such mistakes, bursting in mid-way through Ueki's battle with the fire-breathing brute Taira. The way Tsubasa Fukuchi approaches the tournament is what really sets the series apart, making it less an organized tournament with the rigid scheduling of an NCAA bracket and instead a 24/7 free-for-all where the combatants simply have to find each other, then throw down. At a cross-school track team practice, Ueki meets one such opponent in Adachi, a kid desperate to gain Ueki's talent of running. Meanwhile, Ai busts into Mr. K's apartment and discovers the secret of "the law of Ueki," causing her to completely revamp her approach to protecting Ueki. She doesn't get much time to put her plan into effect, however, before Ueki is dragged into a stunning 60-page battle with Li Ho, a martial artist so skilled at hand-to-hand combat that he refuses to even use his special power.

 

The cover to Law of Ueki Vol. 3. Click thumbnail for a larger image.The third volume doesn't waste any time getting knee-deep in action either, as Ueki finds himself face to face with the tournament's current favorite Robert Haydn, an opponent so fierce that the very mention of his name sends many of the other entrants fleeing in terror. The dramatic arc of the book takes a major turn halfway through the book (don't think for a second I'm going to spoil it here), and from this point out, Ueki enters into battle with a newer, far more intense dedication. He's going to need that dedication is he plans to survive his fight with the headbutting Bolo, a stunningly inventive action sequence where Ueki must persevere despite the interference of king candidate Yodogawa, a bookish coward who plays a sort of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce to Mr. K's Rupert Giles.

 

While the first volume merely showed a promising start to the series, these two volumes of The Law of Ueki do more than fulfill that promise. Comics don't get much more fun than this. | Jason Green

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