The first volume of Black Torch wastes no time establishing itself as a fast-paced, action manga. The protagonist, Jiro Azuma, is introduced in a single page of panels as a child having a conversation with his dog. A two-sided conversation.
Flash forward to teenage Jiro involved in a fight under a bridge with some thugs that he quickly dispatches with some quick ninja-like fighting moves. Besides having the ability to talk to animals, Jiro is a descendant of a long line of ninja, having been raised and trained by his grandfather. Although his irascible grandfather berates him for acting like a punk and getting into fights, Jiro was defending some helpless animals. This tendency will lead him into more trouble than he’s used to when he finds an injured black cat named Rago.
Rago is no ordinary cat, but a powerful, immortal creature called a mononoke. When Rago ends up in a battle with another demon, Jiro leaps to his defense—and to his death.
Nothing in the plot of Black Torch is new or groundbreaking for supernatural, shonen action manga. Rago makes a decision to fuse with Jiro and his power brings the boy back to life and to the attention of a secret government agency called the Oniwabanshu. This shadowy organization was established in Edo Period Japan to act as a spies for the shogun, and also is, apparently, responsible for battling supernatural forces.
Jiro is unwillingly recruited into the group as an omitsu by his unorthodox superior, Ryosuke Shiba, and steadfastly ignored by his new co-worker Ichika Kishimojin, who despises mononoke and Jiro’s status as a half human hybrid. Her own lineage is as impressive as Jiro’s, but as a girl she must fight for her right to lead her clan.
Shiba pulls one more teenage operative into the group he calls Black Torch; another heir to an Oniwabanshu clan, Reiji Kirihara, who takes an immediate dislike to Jiro as well.
In volumes 1 and 2 this group of characters are introduced to readers and to each other. The plot is explained with minimal exposition and the usual banter between likable, attractive protagonists. Tsuyoshi Takaki’s art is beautiful with dark-inked panels in action sequences and clean, character renderings. The art includes well-drawn, exciting battle scenes
The cover of the second volume is pure fan-service, as Ichika is the only member of the team whose uniform includes short shorts. But it swings both ways, with plenty of panels of Jiro’s shirtless six-pack abs. The fan service doesn’t detract from the overall plot and it’s not salacious beyond a few visuals.
The manga is not without other flaws. Most of the plot is pretty predictable, but the story is compelling and the art is quite good. While the give and take between the Black Torch team is amusing, the best relationship in the series is between Rago and Jiro. Their partnership is enjoyable (at least for the readers) from the first minute they meet. They bicker like a married couple between battles.
The series was serialized in Jump Square, a monthly shonen manga magazine in Japan in 2016. This series will appeal to fans of shonen manga like Yu Yu Hakushu or Bleach, with their supernatural action-based plots.Sadly, according to the artist’s Twitter account, Black Torch was cut short and will end after volume 5.
This is a mixed blessing for librarians looking for another shonen title to replace Bleach, which ended its seventy-five volume run in 2016. But I would recommend Black Torch for any manga collection because it’s a great story and doesn’t require a huge buying commitment. I am looking forward to seeing how they wrap up the plot in Viz Media’s English translation.
By Tsuyoshi Takaki
Art by Tsuyoshi Takaki
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974700462
vol 2 ISBN: 9781974701520
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen