Moderator Edit: This review contains spoilers.
Groove Adventure Rave, or Rave Master, was the first long-running manga of the mangaka now acclaimed for Fairy Tail. I used to be pretty biased towards it, due to it being one of my first manga, but the nostalgia wore off on my latest reread.
At one point a character is introduced as being just an ally of Demon Card, which is this manga’s cliché “evil organization.” Then it's decided that he's a Demon Card general, but he is the weakest of the generals. Then it's decided that he's somehow the strongest. I’m not basing this on observation, I’m actually writing it based on what people in the manga said. Observation is useless when determining power tiers in this manga regardless. Many characters are endowed with completely broken powers, such as the ability to absorb all life, the ability to create anything from nothing, the ability to control gravity, physical invulnerability, regeneration, the ability to twist and break any object, or the power to pulverize anything that touches the user's skin, but they either don't use those abilities in the big battles, they don’t use them to their full potential, or the powers just don't work due to the willpower and power of friendship possessed by the heroes. In most battle shounen, the protagonists always win, but it's still fun to see how. In Rave Master, it just isn't. The battles always follow the same exact arc and I consistently find myself thinking "really, again?" Dark Bring powers get repetitive and some of them are rip-offs of each other. We never fully understand the mechanics behind the characters’ powers either. The way Dark Bring are created is changed about 4 separate times, along with the tiers of them, their extra abilities, what effect they have on the user, and how they are distributed, and then magic is eventually thrown in and utilized in a very cliché manner. In the Q&A section of an early volume the author admits that he did no little to no planning before writing Rave, and it really does show. This is an incredibly lazily told story.
Unlike in the world of One Piece, where people almost never die no matter what, or in an actual realistic manga where people die all the time, people only die in Rave when the plot commands it. Someone can be riddled with stab wounds, get hit with a blast that is imbued with infinite energy, get shot in the head, be struck by lightning, be fatally poisoned, or fall from an aircraft and be perfectly fine, but a wooden-staff inflicted stab wound or a falling rock is enough to kill some of the stronger characters. At one point a little kid gets riddled with machine gun bullets, and he is shown dying, but he is magically resurrected for the convenience of the plot. Well, no, he is never even resurrected, that would be absurd. Instead, the mangaka just ignores the clear fact that he died.
This manga is filled with like contradictions. Sometimes the main characters are perfectly fine with killing people and sometime they aren't. At one point one of their best friends goes missing and is presumed dead for about 5 to 10 volumes. They never mourn or mention him while he's gone and then he just pops up again, somehow managing to know exactly where they would be. At one point it’s stated that two characters are close friends, but then it turns out that one just tried to kill the other once and that was the extent of their relationship. I have no idea how the characters mixed those two concepts up, but that happened. At one point, several main antagonists are killed off and are instantaneously vaporized in a huge explosion; later they reappear with the half-assed excuse of “dude, we had a bunker” even though there’s no possible way they could have seen the explosion coming or hidden anywhere in the vicinity of the blast. Just to make matters worse, events like this, among others, are constantly alluded to by characters who could not possibly know that those events took place. These inconsistencies and plot holes litter the manga. If spoilers were allowed, and if it wouldn't be unnecessarily redundant, then I could spend an entire 3000 word review listing them all. Seriously, I listed them all out on my latest reread, just to get a feel for how bad it was, and I hit that milestone around the halfway point without even using complete sentences or paragraphs. This manga is also filled with anti-climaxes and half-assed explanations that were clearly written after the fact. As a fan of One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist, I think continuity is one of the most important things in any battle shounen. The lack of continuity destroys the atmosphere, kills the world-building, gets rid of all empathy the audience has built up for the characters, and makes the combat more contrived in addition to being less compelling.
The art is bad for the first seven volumes and it never really gets good at anything but fanservice. The characters are all more primitive versions of designs that were recycled for Fairy Tail characters. About halfway through, the art quality peaks at "mediocre" and stays there for the duration of the plot. It’s generally not very creative or detailed. What I can say about it is that it's usually easy to follow, although the character designs aren't too distinctive.
Just about all of the cute women love the main protagonist, without him ever really having to do anything but be his annoyingly cliché idealistic self. The main antagonist for the second half of the series is supposed to be very charismatic, but the source of this charisma and influence over others is not at all apparent to the audience. Characters' entire personalities are changed by tiny things like seeing a pretty dance. Villains are portrayed as absolutely evil, then they are all given some little contrived sob story; they were originally great guys but they turned evil and did bad stuff because they were lonely or because their wife died. The characters are often supposed to be funny, but far too much of the humor consists of ridiculously immature fart jokes and recycled facial expressions. The main cast also consists of a mindless pet, a delinquent with a heart of gold, an airheaded heroine, a perverted land jellyfish, and a dragon-person with a ridiculously inconsistent personality. I barely know what to make of the characters except that they all suck.
This manga is not very good. I found the combat to somehow be less boring than Fairy Tail was (not saying much,) but the issues with continuity ruined it. Then the art and characters made it even worse. This all culminates in a lackluster and bland conclusion, which makes me wonder why anybody would want to read through the whole thing in the first place. There are better and more creative battle shounens out there. A whole lot of them. This manga brings nothing new to the formula and continually trips over itself even while telling the most predictable story possible.