Barrage, vol. 1

56-coverIt is the Era of Warring Planets and Industria, a hardscrabble little world, has been invaded by aliens of all kinds. Enter Astro, a brave, caring fifteen-year-old who lives in the slums, supporting a ragtag collection of younger kids. Astro adopted the children out of a fierce desire to have, and provide for others, a family. So, when a stranger shows up who is trying to escape his own family and responsibilities, Astro just can’t relate.

This stranger looks exactly like Astro, but claims to be Industria’s heir, Prince Barrage. He proposes they switch places, takes off his bracelet, and jams it onto Astro’s arm . . . and is promptly shot in the head by what seems to be a stray laser beam. Before Astro can recover from his shock, he is mistaken for Prince Barrage and taken to the palace.

The king – and Tiamat, Industria’s foremost knight – soon realize that kind, hapless Astro is not their prince, who was lazy and cruel. But, unlike Prince Barrage, Astro has the ability to activate the bracelet known as the Orgue, transforming it into a mighty spear. The Orgue gives its incredible power only to one who has what it takes to be king of Industria. It is decided that Astro will take the place of the prince. Unfortunately, he has no idea what he’s doing. And before the planet can be peacefully ruled, it must be taken back from the outlaws who are running it now.

This lively volume, the first of a two-part series, features likeable characters and high adventure. Astro is a goodhearted, self-sacrificing person willing to risk his life for his family, or even for people he has just met. Happily, that’s not all there is to his character and he isn’t sanctimonious about it. Astro can be naïve and thoughtless; he gets scared, makes fun of Tiamat, and throws himself into training for his new role as defender of the people of Industria.

Tiamat, Astro’s companion and teacher as they set off to rid Industria of hostile aliens, is nuanced as well. The best fighter on the planet, he has some reservations about saving the world alongside this new not-actually-the-prince prince, but devotes himself to protecting and training Astro. He gets frustrated trying to make Astro understand that the life of the “prince” – and the only one known to be able to use the Orgue – is more valuable than the lives of other people, but he grudgingly admires Astro’s refusal to put himself first when others are threatened.

There’s a lot of battle, as you’d expect. The violence isn’t gory, but can be startling – when the real prince is shot in front of Astro, it’s totally unexpected. The violent aliens confronted by Astro and Tiamat are no slackers about killing innocent people, either. This is likely what earns the volume its Teen rating, since there isn’t profanity or sexual content. But violence isn’t played for shock value and then forgotten. The king of Industria, despite knowing the unfortunate nature of his son and asking Astro to replace him, grieves for Prince Barrage. On the other hand, the story is mostly upbeat, and contains plenty of light moments and jokes: Astro cries easily and can’t master royal manners, while Tiamat is so shy around women that he cannot look directly at them.

The art is classic shonen, concerned with action rather than elegance. It doesn’t take itself too seriously – people’s expressions, in particular, take on some extreme and even humorous contortions when they get angry or upset. This doesn’t stop the art from being detailed and interesting, especially when it comes to the aliens.

Despite being full of these aliens, as well asof lasers and talk of warring planets, Barrage doesn’t really have a space-age feel. Not a single spacecraft appears or is mentioned and the main characters fight with a spear and sword (a highly unusual spear and sword, but nonetheless). The feeling is more that of a world full of dangerous, sentient monsters than one under attack by extraterrestrials. Fans of epic monster-fighting adventures – and of straightforward, action-filled stories with easy-to-like characters – will enjoy Barrage.

Barrage, vol. 1
by Kouhei Horikoshi
ISBN: 9781421552750
VIZ Media, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

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