Jan 21, 2011
Ballista (All reviews)
Taken from my first take post (with accompanying picture snaps) on

Fans of great manga and great art (*cough* Eyeshield 21) rejoice, cos Yusuke Murata (of Eyeshield fame) is now part of a new team creating a new Jump manga once more! It’s been a horriblly long wait for me personally for Murata to finally get back into the manga scene once more, since it’s been ages since Eyeshield 21 finished. While he did have a oneshot recently in Jump (Blust!), it didn’t really have that great of a premise and seemed a bit too shallow for my taste. It definitely ticked all the boxes of a standard hero shounen manga, but like Mashiro and Takagi found out in Bakuman, generic heroes just don’t cut it. So even though he isn’t as good a story teller as I would have liked, his art however has always been top-notched. He just needed a running-mate to help him sort out the story, characters and development while he can just focus on the art.

So he now has a new manga running up in the Monthly-published Jump SQ, where other quality works call home including Ao no Exorcist and D.Gray-Man. The only difference now though is that Murata-sensei is not collaborating with Eyeshield 21 author Riichiro Inagaki again, which is sad for me personally since I loved his characters, humor and penchant for the dramatic. The new author here would be Yasuo Ōtagaki, who’s previous work includes the sci-fi drama manga Moonlight Mile. I’ve never seen his previous work before but since it got adapted into an anime series, he does have the pedigree of being a top-notch writer. And after reading the first four chapters of their new venture, Donten Prism Solar Car, I think this new team will be good enough to really get me buzzing again.

While it is definitely a shounen manga by definition, the characters and setting is evidently more mature than that right from the beginning. For one thing, the hero and characters are all in the college-student age group. No more highschool settings here and the manga really has a more realistic vibe to it since the main character, Shouta Kaneda, is a part-time worker struggling to make end meets, with the goal of eventually having enough money saved up to attend college. The manga starts off tragically, with Shouta hurt in a car accident. It is later revealed that his father had died in the accident and because of that, life has been hard for Shouta and his mother. With the economy bad enough as it is, both of them had to work hard to maintain a steady lifestyle, with Shouta having to sacrifice his dreams of attending college due to a lack of financial backing.

Now much older, Shouta works for his uncle’s ironswork company and lives on the second floor of the company’s warehouse along the outskirts of the city. Due to the accident 10 years before, he has always hated cars, instead using his beloved bicycle as a means of transportation. One evening however, he receives a phonecall that a group of university students would be using the garage in the warehouse as a base of operations for their college project, the revival of an old solar-powered car, with the aim of taking part in a solar car racing tournament in a year’s time. Apparently Shouta’s uncle had given access to the university as it would mean more funding to avoid layoffs in the company. He also requests Shouta to give a hand in the project, as the students did not have any manufacturing skills whatsoever. So the manga builds upon this premise, and the next few chapters overlooks Shouta’s relationship with the students and their college professor, along with confronting his fear of cars in the process. The main goal is definitely the attending of this solar car tournament, so it does have shades of Eyeshield 21′s Christmas Bowl dream.

After skimming through the premise, this is not really a manga that typically caters to the young shounen demographic. Due setting and premise however, the story really struck home with me personally, since the whole “working part-itme jobs to pay off college” is something that I have been going through for the past few years, and quite possibly for the next few in the future. It really is admirable to see a character like Shouta work through hardships like that in order to achieve his dream of a better education and a better life. He definitely has his fair share of downsides, as he is not very sociable and is not really all that trusting of others, but hey, you can’t have the protagonist perfect right from the start right? You gotta start off somewhere and Shouta as a character is very genuine to me, grounded in reality to fit the setting perfectly.

Other characters to note include the heroine Junko Yazaki, her fellow team members Honda Eiji, Teruo and Hitoshina Katsuhiko and their college professor Saeki Kenjirou. Junko is the glue of the group, since she was originally the only member who tried her best to revive the old solar car project. Her enthusiasm is really infectious, as she managed to gain the backing of her fellow teammates but there is a hint of romance on the side as the members all seem to be taken to her. The college professor aids to help the group find funding and parts for the project, and he also plays a major part in persuading Shouta to agreeing to help the project, as he offers to pay him a part-time salary on top of tutoring him to pass the university entrance exams.

The art of the manga is still first-class as usual, as there is plenty of details to be seen especially on the technical side. Murata-sensei has had a lot of experience drawing intricate objects in Eyeshield, so it’s no surprise to see the amount of awesomeness and care that he puts into the solar car designs. The characters are also designed really well, as they do not really remind me much of anyone in his previous works. There are some subtle homages to previous characters, as Junko seems like the combination of both Mamori and Suzuna from Eyeshield and Katsuhiko kinda sorta reminds me of Shin Seijuro a little bit. Other than that though, the character designs are still top-notch and the realistic style matches the story really well. His ability to draw appealing female and male characters are still evident here, so there’s eyecandy for both sides of the coin.

Since this is a monthly, the wait is definitely gonna be excruciating, much like my experience reading DW, Ao no Exorcist and DGM. The manga is longer than the standard weekly-fare, but with the way that the chapters end every month, it really is a pain for me to wait for my next fix. Needless to say though, so far this seems like a keeper for me. The characters and plot really resonated with me and I can see a lot of development going on here, as I can already sense some future romance going on with the characters (awkward love-triangles ftw). There are currently 4 chapters released, with the last one scanlated on New Years eve. I strongly suggest that you give this a go if this post interested you in any way. It’s only 4 chapters into the story so it is still really new so what is there to lose? Plus, you can also join me and Flags in our horrible agony of waiting to get past the cliffhanger of chapter 4 D:

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