Manga Review: "Under Ninja" vol. 1 - 10/10

 Ninjas. Ninjas Everywhere.

This is a very, very much extended review of "Under Ninja" vol. 1. I posted a shorter, abridged version up to other sites, but I had quite a bit to ramble on about with this one, but for the TL;DR - easy 10/10 or 5/5 on whatever scale you're grading on. I enjoyed it; plan to continue to collect it. With that, let there be ninja.

This is not a manga about a dude in his underwear pretending to be a ninja.

I really don’t know where I got that idea from… I’m sorry.

Wait, actually, I do! I very specifically remember seeing someone post THIS random frame on twitter, totally out of context, from this first volume where the main character tries on a woman’s bra; from that I somehow formulated a weird, twisted idea of what I thought the manga would be about. I formulated an image in my head of something like “Hentai Kamen” or “Raw Hero”. This was definitely no “Hentai Kamen”. That being said, just because I was expecting it to be something completely different, doesn’t mean it was bad. It’s pretty damn good actually (i just gave it a 10/10 remember). Just not Hentai Kamen. I should really learn to read summaries for a series before I buy them.

To be clear, the main character trying on a woman’s undergarments had very little, if anything, to do with the plot and in no way spoils anything, so hopefully nobody gets bent out of shape; it also certainly has nothing to do with the ‘Under’ in the title. In this series, ninjas live among us (at least in Japan), working in boring jobs as office workers, retail employees, and delivering your mail. These normal folk are also performing secret missions on the side – UNDER cover if you will. If you’ve never wondered, “hmm, maybe that Pizza delivery guy is actually a Ninja,” you will now. I like the premise for this a lot, because it’s just plausible enough that you can imagine it being based in reality. In fact, I’m sure there are ninjas running all over Japan, doing secret missions for the government. Hell, there probably are here in America too. Ninja epsionage taking place in 2023? Of course. We live in a cyberpunk dystopia these days.

I haven’t read Hanazawa Kengo’s previous work, “I am a Hero”, which is about suriving in a zombie apocalypse (it’s on my tbr, but that list grows faster than i can collect) so I can’t really compare it to this one. The art style though certainly seems to be pretty consistent across both, juding from what I've seen. This series DID remind me of Gigant though, both in terms of aesthetics and tone (except without the titan-sized porn actress trouncing buildings all over Tokyo). The tone in this is peculiarly-comedic, but not really in a laugh-out-loud kind of way. More funny odd, than funny ‘haha’. I really like it, but I’m kind of funny myself. 

Both Hanazawa Kengo and Hiroyu Oka (author of Gantz, Gigant, Inuyashiki) share this very realistic artist style where the backgrounds and set dressing are all done in an almost photo-realistic way. 

This is one hell of a cool spread that I'd mistake for a photo were it not for the SFX

I’m not sure what the technique is behind this is, or if it’s just pure skill, but it’s really cool. The characters also have a very different feel to them than you see in most manga, although I’m not sure I’d call them realistic, so much as based in reality (have yet to witness any 900 year-old vampires masquerading as 8 year-olds). I will say though that the main character looking like he’s been unemployed for a decade, in need of a good shave, but turning out to be just 17, ready to go to high school, seems like something straight out of mid 2000’s WB drama.

In terms of story, this DEFINITELY felt like a part 1 of many. Consulting the ‘ol Wikipedia tells me that it’s currently in its ninth volume on the Japanese side of things, with an anime due out in October (ooh, nice – *adds that to the TBW list on MAL*). So, this book in particular is still just barely an introduction to the setting/world/characters etc. But, that’s fine. I wasn’t expecting them to plot dump the entire thing all at once. RIGHT at the end, they gave us something REALLY, REALLY cool though, which had me going, “OOOOOH! this is gonna be super good”.

Production value isn’t something I usually bring up in my manga reviews, because I don’t think it should be something I base my decision to buy a series on, but I’ll say it this time. Denpa knocked it out of the park with this one. 

This back cover is awesome

This book has no business being this gorgeous. This series is some very pulpy fiction, not exactly a high-brow art-comic. Despite that, the paper quality is superb, the cover is sturdy and thick and even has out-folding flaps. What in the world did we do to deserve this?? Would love it if publishers put out books like this more often. So, as you can imagine, I’m very much looking forward to the next volume. Barnes & Noble has it listed for publication as May 16th 2023, but that could be pretty tentative given Denpa’s busy publishing schedule. Either way, it will be something I pre-order.

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