By Dustin Cabeal
The cover grabbed me instantly for Black Torch. The smokey cat sitting on the shoulder of our main character who looks geared up for battle. My mind instantly went aflutter with ideas of what was going on with the cat how cool it would be to have a familiar that was a part of you. I wasn’t too far off as I read the story and was Tsuyoshi Takaki came up with was very cool.
Black Torch opens with a boy named Jiro seemingly talking to a dog. He’s telling the dog his problems which include being bullied for talking to animals. This establishes what makes Jiro special and shows the wisdom of the animals in his life. At this point, it’s not even clear if he has a family which was interesting. The story flashes forward to Jiro as a teenager, probably a teenager. He’s picking a fight with some thugs hanging out under a bridge and uses some ninja skills to defeat them. After doing so, he talks to a few animals that came to him to complain about the thugs causing a lot of noise and hassling them. Jiro is the hero of the animals. Later a bird he helped tells him about a cat in the woods that looks dead. Jiro rescues the cat, and when it wakes up, there’s some confusion for the cat when Jiro can understand him.
The cat tries to leave in the middle of the night saying that he’ll only cause the boy trouble if he stays. Jiro refuses to leave the cat that’s hellbent on dying. Eventually he gets sucked into some trouble when the cat turns out to be a Mononoke and is being hunted by other Mononoke’s and humans as well. Jiro saves Rago, the cat, from a deadly blow and ends up with a hole in his chest. To save his life Rago merges with him and can lend him his own power. A power that everyone wants, but we’re not privy to the reason just yet.
The story has a familiar formula of “you’re the chosen one, but also possessed by the enemy and so we can’t trust you.” There’s also the whole, you gotta leave home for good which as it turns out Jiro does have a grandfather that raised him and once worked for the organization that’s hunting Rago and subsequently Jiro. The parting between grandfather and grandson was very touching and different than how this type of story usually goes. Jiro’s character is pretty typical of the genre, but at least his overwhelming heart for helping people, is explained, shown and developed. That is not usually the case.
The art is great, but I could have done with more Rago popping out of Jiro’s hair or sticking to his shoulder in gravity-defying ways. Other than that, the art is fantastic. It’s clean; there’s emotion to it that comes from the panels. The action is nice and easy to follow. There’s not a ton of it in this first volume, but what’s there is detailed and a highlight for sure. Otherwise, it’s pretty typical clean, detailed artwork that you’d expect in a professional manga. Familiar, but just different enough.
It’s been a bit since I was really grabbed by a first volume of a manga. The last time I was this smitten was with Twin Star Exorcists or Black Clover. Black Torch feels like it has the potential to be just as big as the aforementioned properties. It’s familiar, but clever in its execution. I’ll be looking forward to the second volume for sure.
Black Torch vol. 1