Yuu is a high school kid who doesn’t really fit anywhere. To find a place he can belong, be accepted, he will do anything. However one thing leads to another and he is forced to fight to keep his place, his holyland.
Artist: Kouji Mori
Between the worlds of boys and men, there lies a Holyland. Where laws don’t matter, and the strongest rule. In that world, he roamed.
Kamishiro Yu, he was there.
It’s with great reluctance – and a bit of frustration – that I review Holyland Volume 1.
Plotwise, this volume is very straight forward: several “thugs” from various high schools in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa region have been attacked by a mysterious “thug hunter”, who usuakky hangs out in the local arcades at night. However, the “thug hunter” is a shy, timid (and weak looking) high school kid named Yuu Kamishiro, who roams downtown searching for place where he can truly belong, after enduring endless bullying since middle school. Yuu does manage to make a friend in Kaneda Shinichi, but also attracts more opponents who hope to challenge him, hoping to save (or boost) their reputation by having bested the thug hunter. The volume closes off with Yuu – who, at this point, is only skilled with one-two punch combinations in his arsenal, and little else – going toe to toe with a judo student named Iwado.
I first read this manga 10 years ago, and I immediately fell in love with it, mainly because at the time, I could relate to the main character. Ten years later, it’s still a joy to read, but like all literature, it does have its setbacks.
First, I’ll start with the pros:
Kouji Mori, the manga’s writer and artist, creates a very interesting lead character that I don’t often see in shonen manga. Most shonen protagonists are full of ambition, very impulsive, overly confident, and sometimes either very hot headed or slightly dimwitted. Most of these protagonists either have a goal from the outset of the series (finding One Piece for Luffy, restoring their bodies for the Elric brothers, becoming the next Hokage for Naruto, etc), or they quickly discover what that goal is (i.e. Yusuke in Yu Yu Hakusho, or Goku in Dragon Ball).
These are tropes that many readers come to expect, but this isn’t quite the case in Holyland (at least not as far as Yuu is concerned). Kamishiro – unlike other shonen lead characters – is very shy, self-loathing, timid, weak, and constantly wavers on what his next move should be, only to regret making many of the decisions that he does. This to me is good, because for one, it’s more realistic given the plot, and the reader can enjoy watching Kamishiro grow over the course of the manga series.
The other great thing about Holyland is that it is fast paced, but not so fast that you lose your bearing as you read. It’s impossible to get confused because the plot is so focused on Kamishiro’s journey, and rarely ever deviates away from it. Also, most fight scenes are broken down and explain thoroughly, so the reader will never have to worry about wondering what happened or how.
Lastly, the cast of supporting characters are set up fairly well in this volume, and most of the central players have unique personalities that clearly contrast against Yuu’s character: Shin is cowardly in physical confrontations, but always the comedian, whereas Izawa Masaki – the deuteragonist -is the bold leader that shows no fear at all. I never felt like some characters didn’t need to be there in this volume, or had overstayed their welcome.
And get used to hearing this: Mori is an amazing artist. He’s an expert at drawing raw emotions on the faces of his characters,while using background to amplify how the characters feel, rather than emphasizing their physical surroundings. Backgrounds aren’t Mori’s biggest priority art wise, but he makes up for it with amazing character designs that stick in your head. Mind you, this isn’t the type of manga where characters have wacky hairdos (DBZ) or loud outfits (JOJO), so that’s a plus in my book.
And now for the cons:
I truly love this manga with all my heart, and I hate to approach it with a critical eye. However, having re-read this volume after ten years, I know that the following points will inevitably be made by anyone new to the series:
First of all, while the characters are memorable and interesting in their own right, they do come across as not so much predictable, but archetypal, especially if you’re already used to reused manga trends. Shin is the comedy relief, Izawa is the laid back, mentor like figure that the protagonist aspires to be like, and so on. These are pretty typical in manga, to the point where some characters may come across as cookie-cutter.
While I don’t mind a brooding character (think Batman), Kamishiro does ruminate on his weaknesses and insecurities endlessly in this volume, and it may seem repetitive. However, the fast pace of the volume does make up for it to an extent, but trust me, it’s only gonna get worse later.
Lastly, and this is probably the biggest bone to pick: Mori inserts A LOT OF FIGHT COMMENTARY IN THE CAPTIONS. In other words, like a replay of a knockout in a boxing/UFC match, Mori breaks down each winning move that Kamishiro throws, or he’ll take two or three pages to give some spotlight on a new fighting style. I personally don’t mind this approach, as it sets up the stage for a new opponent, some readers might find it distracting.
But the biggest problem of all is not with the story or artwork at all… but it’s with the accessibility – or lack thereof – of this entire series. Holyland was never officially translated or published into English, but it was “scanlated” by various websites, and that’s the problem. If you look at different versions of this manga, the characters and captions say different things, and the English is definitely not perfect at times.
But hey… this volume is still a true joy for fans of shonen manga!