Life is full of inevitabilities and uncertainties. Considering how much I loved the first Law of Ueki manga and the anime adaptation, I was bound to read the five-volume follow up, Law of Ueki Plus. Whether I liked it or not was not so obvious, since sequels are a bit of a dangerous area; some simply repeat the format of previous successes and feel uninspired or dull as a result, whereas others simply lack that spark of the original and thus taint one’s adoration for the source material. One thing that I WAS sure of was that I had no intention of actually reviewing this manga. However, as is the way of this world, things change and as soon as I read two little words at the end of volume one, I just knew that I couldn’t leave this franchise alone – “MOP PUNCH!”
Plus picks up two years after the events of the first series as Ueki and Mori are about to graduate from middle school. Their life since hasn’t changed all that much, though the green-haired boy has now lost his capacity to turn trash into trees and can no longer wield his sacred weapons, he still continues to stand up for his justice while Mori wibbles around as useless as ever. Of course that peaceful life cannot last forever and on the day of their graduation ceremony, the entire population of the world has their recollections of those they care most about stolen from them and placed inside a bizarre sheep/dog creature named Wool. As the only one unaffected by the strange turn of events, it’s up to Ueki to sort the problem, which he must do by travelling to an alternate dimension filled with power users and release the memories stored within Wool – but first he needs to obtain a new ability of his own…
Now, as I stated earlier, sequels often fall into two categories, and on this spectrum, Plus straddles the fence between the two. Initially, this follow-up seems to divert away from the formal tournament format of the God Selection Battle from the original in favour of a more linear set-up. However, the all too familiar contest aspect soon rears its head and sadly doesn’t add anything new to, or even achieve the heights of what its predecessor had accomplished. Unfortunately, despite mixing together the same things that made Law of Ueki such a fun manga to read (crazy challenges, freaky abilities, and a cute mascot), Plus doesn’t quite hit that same level of awesome. It starts out well enough, but its major pitfall ultimately stems from its rather short length.
At a mere forty-six chapters spanning five books, Plus isn’t really long enough to develop its story or characters properly – especially towards the end. The final volume covers so much of the narrative that massive chunks feel as if they’ve been abandoned for time-saving leaving an altogether haphazard conclusion with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. An entire fight that should have been a huge plot point considering the build-up of the protagonist involved is thrown by the wayside with only the relatively shocking fallout getting any sort of page time. Considering the frames spent on far more pointless bouts, it feels like such a let-down. Building up a character as being super-strong, only to NOT show his one fight is just bad shounen – you wouldn’t see Kishimoto saying “I’m sorry I know we’re all excited to see Naruto’s kick-ass new technique, but I’m running out of pages, so tough shit”.
One aspect however that has really upped the ante is the inherent zaniness of mangaka Tsubasa Fukuchi’s imagination. Anyone who thought the lava-surrounded skipping rope battlefields from the first manga were weird should really prepare themselves. Probably the finest example of Plus’s “WTF?! factor” is Ueki’s new power, which is worryingly reminiscent of “Ultimate Mop Daisuke” from the Anime News Nina webcomic. While the green-haired teen’s ability to turn trash into trees was a bit odd, and possibly quite lame, it feels like the equivalent of invisibility or teleportation when compared with his new talent, which involves producing a mop from his hand and using it to grab things. I’m not joking, I kind of wish I were, but I’m not. Add to this a giant tower of ramen and making bubbles into springs and the Law of Ueki franchise is certainly as wonderfully wacky as ever. However, while the insane randomosity can cover for many flaws, even a giant cup noodle can’t compensate for the hurried ending. What was once an endearing quality becomes just plain stupid when mixed with the built-up irritation at missing sections of narrative.
Comparing the first chapter of Law of Ueki with the opening of Plus, I wouldn’t have said they were from the same artist. Though still not at the pinnacle of creative brilliance, the mangaka’s progress is clear as Plus not only shows a marked improvement from the latter parts of the original manga, but appears virtually unrecognisable to his humble beginnings. Fukuchi utilises a variety of panel sizes and layouts with suitable amounts of action effects, complimenting the bold imagery and suitable – yet sparing – use of screentone. The odd body proportion issues in Ueki have mostly disappeared leaving respectable, shounen-worthy artwork in its wake, something that is certainly this manga’s greatest strength.
I can’t help but feel that Plus’s characterisation suffers from its short length. While there’s a reasonable amount of introduction and development for the central protagonists, the majority of other cast members remain sadly flat. Ueki himself needs little introduction, though his self-doubt when it comes to his motivations and actions does add an extra dimension to the usually confident teen. As for the newer personalities, Haiji gets the most exploration, and by receiving a little backstory and demonstrating a change in demeanour and attitude, the young lad feels all the more relatable and thus, more intriguing to follow.
When it comes to the secondary and minor cast members, they don’t attempt to do anything that hasn’t already been seen before in the prequel. Wool essentially takes on the role of cute mascot character from Tenko, while the King from the previous series passes the fun-loving tournament organiser baton onto fellow hat-wearer Lucha. The one-shot baddies such as the Pamidoro Restaurant workers make little lasting impression and neither does the Midnight Black Hair Salon team – even though they play more of a role in the overall plot. Finally, the development of the manga’s antagonists is fairly poor to say the least. Unlike Law of Ueki where the main enemies receive plenty of build-up and insight into their motives, Plus’s “final boss” makes a shadowy cameo or two before appearing out of nowhere and rattling off his intentions in super quick time to the point where his entire presence has as much impact as a damp towel.
Starting out well enough, with an interesting concept and some fun oddities, I was actually enjoying this manga until I got to the final volume. Unfortunately, from then onwards the narrative sped ahead so quickly for fear of missing its plane that the passengers weren’t even allowed to stop for a toilet break. Now, instead of being left with some final fond memories of a holiday, I’m stuck with a couple of plastic bottles filled with warm pee to dispose of.