Anyone who has read my review of Law of Ueki anime will know that I love this series and have been sucked into its wacky world twice already now. So when I felt like drifting off into a world of magically-enhanced teenagers and madcap battles for a third time, reading the manga seemed like the natural next step of my Ueki voyage.
Kousuke Ueki is a perfectly normal middle school student who, like every other decent boy of his age, transforms manky bits of rubbish into monolithic trees in order to uphold his strong sense of justice. This ability was a gift from his carefree homeroom teacher, Mr. K, who soon coerces the quiet lad into participating in a tournament known as the God Selection Battle – a contest to determine who will become the next king of the celestial world. From then on, Ueki’s quiet school life fades into little more than a memory as he finds himself surrounded by increasingly stronger opponents, insane fights, and more deranged powers than he could shake a makeshift twig at.
While the basic format doesn’t necessarily set the world aflame, mangaka Tsubasa Fukuchi’s brightest spark comes from the wackiness infused into the plot. With countless bizarre situations and powers, the entire manga explodes in a veritable blitz of fun, with giggles detonating at every turn. Much like the bold nature of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, there are often times when reading that your jaw drops to the floor in a confused state of “what the freaking hell…!?” before launching into that brilliant type of laughter that only comes with a good dose of the bizarre. Certainly, with concepts such as having to wear a hat and do a Cossack dance in order to breathe, Gundam models turning into full-on giant mecha battle suits, and the ability to turn oneself into a billiard ball, there are plenty of opportunities for comedy and not one of them gets wasted.
Though many battles in shounen manga stagnate like a fetid pool of vomit round the back alley of a pub on a Friday night, Law of Ueki’s demonstrate an impressive level of ingenuity. Certain powers such as changing beads into bombs or cotton wool into wooden stakes lend themselves to combat more easily, but more obscure talents like transforming electricity into sugar and turning photographs into models seem like they’d have no place in a fight – yet they still prove surprisingly effective when combined with a clever strategy. Of course, despite the comedy and creativity, the narrative is riddled with fortunate coincidences, suspiciously helpful timing, and myriad other shounen clichés. While not always perfectly executed, these genre stereotypes do offer a certain comfort – the reader knows what they’re going to get and can simply sit back and enjoy it.
Considering how invested I become in the world of Law of Ueki, it pains slightly to say that its artwork doesn’t exactly shine. While not inherently abysmal, the style isn’t always easy on the eye – especially when it comes to the first few volumes. Though Fukuchi peppers in countless shounen standards such as emphasising starbursts and action lines, giant sound effects of doom, and a generally more angular style of drawing, his initial character designs look childish on the surface, and don’t quite gel with the genre. Coupled with some bizarre proportions, the occasional oversized hand, uneven eyes, or a body that looks like half of it has been slammed in a vice, mean that the overall visage doesn’t quite scream out “Kick-Ass!”
That being said, there is a definite improvement over time. As Fukuchi settles into his drawing style, the character designs gradually gain a bit more polish. This is particularly noticeable in the case of Ueki’s irksome wench of a stalker friend, Mori, whose hair in chapter one looks like it belongs more on a Shih Tzu puppy than a human girl, but by volume seven has more style, and is even further refined in the final few instalments. Certainly, from the mid-point onwards, Law of Ueki’s artwork is far superior to its humble beginnings, and – though still not as squeal-inducingly awesome as other similar series – by the time the more engaging fights commence, it packs the sort of punch you’d expect to find in a battle manga.
Whether they’re trying to become the pirate king, hokage or attempting to find a way to regain lost body parts, every shounen hero ultimately has the same goal: to protect their friends. Surprise, surprise that also goes for Ueki. The green-haired teen is a standard battle manga protagonist – ridiculously powerful, super-human healing abilities, reckless, tenacious, and a bit dim. Far from pushing any archetypal boundaries, Ueki’s extreme simplicity means that he nonetheless remains a likeable and entertaining character to follow.
In truth it’s the supporting cast that shines the brightest, especially those more deeply infused with Fukuchi’s zany creativity and humour. Out of the main members of “Team Ueki” Hideyoshi proves the most interesting with his seemingly useless ability of projecting his voice onto a portrait. However, coupled with his mischievous nature and child-like pranks, his comic potential truly takes off. Watching the chimp-faced boy squirt soy sauce in his opponent’s eyes or forcing wasabi up their nostrils undoubtedly makes for enjoyable reading. Likewise his juvenile tricks contrast well against Hideyoshi’s more mature side, such as his status as “big brother” to the orphans at Sun House, his resolve to help his original God Candidate, and his personal battle with his own insecurities and cowardice.
I can’t honestly say that this is the best manga I’ve ever read or that it’s a shining example of the shounen genre, but Law of Ueki is a fun, easy and engaging read – if you let it be. Certainly, the stereotypical but nonetheless entertaining story will appeal to seasoned fans of battle-focused manga and I recommend it to anyone in need of an easy read.