Zatch Bell!

Alt title: Konjiki no Gash!!

Vol: 33; Ch: 323
2001 - 2007
4.096 out of 5 from 675 votes
Rank #1,952
Zatch Bell!

Takamine Kiyomaro is a junior high school student who thinks he’s too smart for school, to the disappointment of his mother. On his 14th birthday a surprise literally crashes through Kiyomaro’s window, in the form of… a small naked child?! His name is Gash Bell and his goal is simple: be a mentor for Kiyomaro, at the request of Kiyomaro’s departed father. In return, Kiyomaro must help discover the secrets behind Gash Bell’s amnesia and his past, with only a red book as a clue. As if things weren’t crazy enough, Kiyomaro soon discovers that Gash Bell is a demon -- one of many on Earth -- who can be forced back to the demon world if its corresponding book is burned. Armed with the power of the red book, Kiyomaro must now help Gash Bell defend himself against other demons who want to vanquish him from the Earth, lest his newfound friend vanish forever!

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It begins by establishing the protagonist as an antisocial who doesn’t have friends, gets bullied at school, and treats everyone else as inferior. I like this guy, he reminds me of someone. With that said, this information is told to us, we don’t see it, so it comes off as lazy. I’m not going to believe him just because he said it, I want to see him being an antisocial who doesn’t have friends, gets bullied at school, and treats everyone else as inferior. Doing stuff like making youtube videos for showing off how smart he is by constantly shitting on the opinions of others, like someone else I know of. But we don’t see him doing anything, we are just infodumped about all that, because the mangaka is incompetent and clearly beneath smart people like me.If this was your typical manga for horny roneries, you would most definitely get a manic pixie dream girl jumping in his life for taking him to a world of magic and adventure. And she would instantly get sexualized so the protagonist, and by extension an audience of horny roneries, would simp for her as means to accept whatever absurd things she wants them to do. Luckily for us this manga is not that modern. Instead of a sexualized naked loli or some shit, it has a butt naked boy. We get the subversion of a manic pixie dream boy jumping in his life, so instead of horny roneries the manga is inviting fujoshits and shotacons. By the way, am I the only one who had Dragonball flashbacks from this image? A naked boy with a big fish? The introduction of Goku?The protagonist is not a shotacon, so he refuses to listen to the naked boy with a big fish and goes to school where the local school bully is some sort of a psychologist. Besides bullying girls and stealing their lunch money he also speaks like he has a degree in psychology and describes how the protagonist thinks. Talk about a wasted talent, instead of becoming a doctor he just bullies girls and steals their lunch money. Or it’s another case of the mangaka being a bad writer since instead of showing us the protagonist being an antisocial who treats everyone else as inferior, what does that remind me of, he has a school delinquent infodumping all that even if it doesn’t fit.The no longer naked boy with a big fish psycho analyzes him further, because the manga doesn’t rely on exposition too much already, and says it’s not the protagonist’s fault he’s a genius, it’s the other kids who are jealous of his intelligence. This is so relatable for some reason. And it’s also a power fantasy for everyone who is lonely and has convinced himself everyone is jealous of his intelligence. By the way he keeps calling the protagonist a friend although they just met. Real friendships need years to form properly, but in shonen they happen in a few minutes. All you have to do is give someone food or some shit.Anyways, the school bully who is also a psychologist is dealt with when the relatable protagonist reads a magic book that causes a building to blow up behind him. Something which took him like a minute to do while the bully was right in front of him and did nothing to stop him. It’s like magical girl transformation sequences, you cannot interrupt them.The logical thing to do after that is to throw away the book and call the cops, because the former naked boy with a big fish is some sort of a super weapon he has no business keeping at home. But this is an anime so we get the Elfen Lied logic of doing things. Just like that protagonist keeps the horny naked girl at home despite the constant deaths she is causing, this relatable protagonist keeps the horny naked boy at home (yes he also has horns) despite the constant destruction he is causing. Because they are friends. An unknown boy jumped butt naked in his room and blew up a building, so that makes them friends. As for the building he blew up, nobody cares about it. The school bully said nothing, the news media didn’t mention it, and it’s generally treated like a building in Power Rangers. You know, they destroy a dozen of them in every monster attack and everybody acts like nothing happened. And wait a second, the sound effect of throwing a book is ban? Is there going to be a kai after that?Here we go again with more Dragonball flashbacks. Remember the episode Bulma gave Goku a bath? Why do I think of Goku whenever I see a naked boy? Maybe I’m the one who needs a psycho analysis. Anyways we find out the boy has fast regeneration because it would be inconvenient to wait months for the wounds to heal after every mission. Your average shonen character would be an uncle after a dozen missions. We also find out that the again naked boy but without a big fish is here for helping the protagonist to make friends. Something that is as easy as a stranger jumping naked in your house and blowing up the building next to yours.After that the Froydian reminder of a naked Goku convinces the protagonist to save the girl from a bank robbery. Not a different girl, the same girl that was being harassed by the school bully just one day ago. What are the odds of the same girl needing rescuing so quickly? And I need to point out that whenever the horny boy is not naked he’s dressed like a girl. Look at him, he’s wearing a skirt. I know it’s supposed to be some sort of old-style clothing for dolls, but it comes off as a naked cross dressing boy who attracts a lot of weird people to the manga. And it looks really lame whenever he proclaims he will beat the bad guys, while dressed like that.As for how they deal with the bank robbery, the relatable protagonist simply spends a minute in trying to figure out how to use the spell, and once he does the bad guys are instantly defeated. This time without blowing up any buildings or hurting any of the dozens of hostages that are close to the robbers. How convenient, the destructive force of the spell changed so the protagonist won’t be responsible for something negative. Also this thing wouldn’t be possible if the moronic bad guys weren’t standing still doing nothing. They had guns and constantly threatened to shoot anyone who does something strange, yet didn’t fire once when a guy and a cross dresser jumped inside the building, proclaimed they would beat them up and then began reading a book. In effect these robbers were even more incompetent than the school bully, since at least that one kicked around the main character a few times and also psycho analyzed him. The robbers on the other hand didn’t even lay a finger on him. By the way, the spells don’t activate when you read them but when you have strong emotions. They work when you have the feels and not when you are being reasonable and try to use tactics. It’s the usual copout of any writer who doesn’t want to use his brains for getting a character out of a dangerous situation. He just finds a lazy excuse for sudden power ups that instantly defeat the bad guy and calls it a day. That’s why this manga is super dumb with weird fetishes that make you need a shrink.Unlike the building that blew up and everyone forgot about, the bank robbery made it to the news and people noticed the protagonist being responsible for the capture of the criminals. That’s a nice touch, having the world interacting with the protagonist instead of being an empty city that gets constantly demolished and nobody takes notice of. Hello, Bleach. With that said this happens only once and is then forgotten. The citizens quickly forget about it and not even the protagonist’s mother seems to give a shit anymore.Then a bad guy with his own magic boy appears and wants to fight. When the protagonist asks him why, the bad guy is kind enough to explain the situation although he doesn’t have to, he can just shoot them both and leave. It’s yet another case of an infodump, things that we could have seen but instead we are told, because incompetence. In the tradition of most shonen the bad guy does his worst to come off as a one-dimensional asshole with no redeeming qualities so the audience will want to see him punished and for the protagonist to get the moral high ground. Basically the villain is just an obstacle for the protagonist to surpass, he has no worth on his own and the situation is black and white like in a fairy tale.The bad guy cannot be defeated with the basic attack, because he counters it with his own basic attack. Just like it happens in videogames, the more you fight the more special attacks you unlock so the cross dresser boy uses spell number two, which is sending back an energy attack with a boost. Oh so now instead of a naked Goku it’s an Inuyasha flashback. He too could counter attacks more powerful than the original and it’s why the battles became shit. It’s also a completely broken power, since the bad guy had a second spell as well, and it was just freezing the legs of someone so he can’t run away. The bad guy got that simple ability, while the protagonist gets a boosted counterattack. That doesn’t sound like a balanced videogame to me.The next opponent also throws in another infodump, because we didn’t have enough of that, and the protagonist learns the cross dresser Inuyasha is part of a tournament arc where the winner gets to be a demon lord. She offers to take away the magic book and let the protagonist leave the game instead of suffering a lot because of the cross dresser Inuyasha. This creates an interesting internal conflict which could lead to some interesting theme exploration, if the mangaka didn’t resort to the power of friendship. It came down to “I won’t abandon my friend” and that was apparently enough, although they met like a few days ago. The protagonist also gets plot armored since the woman leaves without taking the book, something she could easily do with her far more powerful magical boy.In the next fight the protagonist finds out magic attacks doesn’t have unlimited uses. Their ki or chakra runs out after awhile and they have to recharge by resting, or by getting emotional encouragement by the people around them, like a genki-dama from Dragonball. That’s a nice thing to know. What is not nice is learning that from the guy who attacked them. They got another infodump from their enemy, the last person who would want to help them because that way it’s way harder for him to win in the tournament. Also, stopping the fight just to explain the magic system is just dumb. But that’s what happens when your plot doesn’t have a mentor or a magical high school that can do the explaining in a more organic way. When your protagonist is oblivious and there is nobody else who knows what is going on besides the opponents, then the author has no other way to explain how the magic system works. Somebody didn’t think things through.Also the author is not doing a good job at setting limitations, not even in the arc where they are supposed to be established. On one hand he says energy attacks have limited uses, and on the other hand he gives Inuyasha boy a buffed counterattack. The protagonist won again by bouncing back the enemy attack. Why does it matter if the energy attack has limited uses when you can just win by counterattacking the enemy energy attacks?I know the answer seems to be physical attacks instead of energy one, but even that limitation went away when the Inuyasha boy unlocks a third spell that lets him magnetize someone on an object. Not even physical attacks have an effect now since the enemy gets pushed back and gets stuck on something. What is this, the protagonist can counter everything.After that the manga follows a very repetitive plot structure. Since the only thing that’s going on is a tournament arc, the plot is always about someone coming after the protagonist with a one-trick pony magical boy. The protagonist will get beaten up until he figures out a way to counter the trick and will then quickly defeat the bad guy. Something he wouldn’t be able to do if any of the enemy attacks were strong enough to knock him unconscious. Conveniently enough none of them can do that while his attacks can, therefore it’s another form of plot armor. Rinse and repeat that for every arc up until chapter 100 with minor variations not worth pointing out.That aside, everything plays out in a very simple way. If you are used to something like Naruto or Bleach you are definitely going to get tired of Zatch Bell in a dozen chapters. Since the choreography of the fights is not based on martial arts it comes down to yelling single word spells and firing energy attacks at each other, many of which are either weak or can be avoided by tumbling to the side. If I summarize my issues, the action is not exciting and gets repetitive fast, there is not much variation from one arc to another, the protagonist’s personality is your typical protect friends type of guy, the support cast is ephemeral so there won’t be many significant interactions, and the setting is just our world, there is nothing captivating about it. It doesn’t have any of the stuff that makes a manga popular, such as mystery, or hot waifus, or gore. Even the artwork is pretty weak, with simplistic character designs and stiff movements. Even the jokes are not funny most of the time. They are like cringe slapstick comedy for little kids.This eventually changes after 100 chapters by having group battles. This made the fights more elaborate and multilayered, since each demonic child has different buffs, but was done by breaking the rules, since the enemies are not from this tournament. They are from the previous tournament and jumped in this one after they got released from imprisonment. As before this had to be explained to the protagonist by his enemy, as if she had something to gain by doing that. The protagonist fends them off by forming a team of his own out of the remaining owners of magical books, which is a good change, but at the expense of breaking the rules of the tournament, since they weren’t supposed be teams, there can be only one winner. If you have to ruin the power system for the plot to continue in a more interesting way, you know you didn’t plan ahead properly.The fights after the tournament rules were thrown in the trash bin are way better than the simplistic nonsense from before. Some of them are on par with early Naruto. Someone creates a diversion for someone else to set up a trap and then a third one hides for the final attack, and so on. It’s still not going to win that many people because the good guys look like silly cartoons, but if tactics is what you want the most you will get them here. If there is something I didn’t like is how all the bad monsters are now controlled by the same one boss monster, who looks and acts like Frieza from Dragonball. It simplified the interactions every different demon had with his human partner. Now it’s just a demon with a zombie human partner.The thing is, they need a human to cast the spells. And that human is specific, it can’t be anyone, they have to form a contract or something. And there is no contract here. The humans they use are mind-controlled; they didn’t agree to this because they have no free will. The excuse of those humans being the descendents of those who had made a contract during the previous tournament, so they don’t need their consent, is very silly. But whatever, the rules don’t actually matter.Something which doesn’t have to do with rules and I can’t get over is how dramatic everyone acts wherever a good guy’s book gets destroyed. A demon simply returns to his world when that happens and yet they make it sound like he died. He didn’t, he just went home where he belongs so why are they acting all dramatic about it? Yeah, supposed they lost a friend but they are acting like he died.Anyways, there’s this other demon child called Brago who is like the Vegeta of the story. Zatch is naïve and kind like Goku, Brago is ruthless and doesn’t take shit from anyone. He’s also constantly presented as the strongest of them all since he easily overpowers everyone. Seeing him going up against the main villain, who’s basically Frieza, gave me Namek flashbacks. That aside, Brago is boring as a character since he’s basically an overpowered edgelord who doesn’t need the help of anyone for beating his enemies. While everyone else had interesting team battles, he just overpowers his enemies. Including the Frieza wannabe. Yes, the final boss is defeated by a side character with no team battles. Because the manga is dumb.Once that is over the tournament continues as before, which is bullshit since a lot of the participants were taken out against the rules. And how do you go back to one on one fights and assume people will still be interested? It’s the group fights that were the best part. Also a demonic building appears out of nowhere, but nobody’s doing anything about it. Just like the people don’t see all the crap going on around them, they also ignore huge buildings appearing out of nowhere. Because the manga is dumb.Anyways, they go to this structure which is supposed to be in New Zealand, but you wouldn’t know that from the backgroungs, since no time is spend on the journey, the protagonist appears where he has to, making the location he’s supposed to be at completely meaningless. Which is something the mangaka hadn’t done during the first trip to England. Since the fights there were happening in the middle of the street, you were clearly seeing famous landmarks so there was some attempt to make you believe the characters were there. Every other trip after that happens inside ancient ruins and you never see any landmarks, thus the whole concept of traveling doesn’t matter.The threat level and the power scaling go a bit out of control after chapter 200, when the structure ends up being a mountain-sized demon who can wipe out entire islands with a single blast. Boy, I really wanna see how the rest of the world is going to ignore this one. Anyways, the team battles are back and there is a race against time before the demon destroys the world, so there is enough tension to maintain the interest of anyone who is not bothered by the overall dumb designs of the ones fighting.As epic as all the action is at this point, the plot becomes really cheesy and it doesn’t fit the seriousness of the situation. When the protagonist’s friends get defeated, they are not sent to the demon world (which for some reason counts as being dead). They get trapped in pillars so they are not going to be “dead” yet when they get freed. Then the protagonist gets killed, but he resurrects with a power up and can spam his magic attacks all he wants with a potion that is basically senju beans. And the final boss this time is the identical evil twin brother of the lead demon boy who is really jealous of not being given the strongest superpower by their demonic father. Because yes, like every generic shonen protagonist he is special, he is royalty, and he possesses the most broken powers. And then they solve their quarrel with a friendship speech or some bullshit. For a supposed planet-level threat it’s all really cheesy.With that said it still has a lot of fucking awesome panels. The mangaka will be wasting hundreds of pages on stupid shit and then he will be making some really epic stuff. If most of the manga looked this amazing it would be a great rule of cool proxy battle manga. But no, the main characters do stupid jokes, get convenient power ups, and send away the mountain-sized demon in a rushed manner.The last remaining demons do the final duels for who gets to be the demon king and to have his wishes granted. Supposed the stakes are high because if a bad demon wins he will wish for the world to be destroyed or for all the demons to perish. The issue here is that there was no build up for the demon world or this final bad guy who wants to destroy everything. This manga doesn’t do any world building so you are not made to care about the world. And the final bad guy is supposed to be the most powerful of them all since the very beginning, yet we never saw him all this time. Does this mean the previous two main bad guys never had a chance to win against him and their master plans were bound to fail even without the protagonist? Well that takes away the importance of the previous fights!Anyways the final battle happens in space where all the previous demons give the protagonist their power for a final attack that defeats the bad guy. Yes, the power of friendship created a genki dama from a different dimension. And then the protagonist gets a dragon wish and resurrects everyone back to life, so it’s like nobody ever died. Although they were never dead to begin with, they were back at their homeworld. If they were dead they wouldn’t be able to give the protagonist their power.So everyone at the end is alive and happy and the skirt wearing main demon becomes the king and we get a sappy happy ending and oh my god what kind of a fairy tale ending was that? Zero negative consequences and it became so childish. I hate it. It’s almost like the protagonist was predetermined to win by being a prince with the most awesome spell from the get go. Yes, another hidden king type of power fantasy. You can’t be a shonen protagonist if you are not born to win. It’s not relatable to the losers who are reading it and imagining themselves being hidden kings or some bullshit. Meanwhile, Brago, the demon who was not a prince, who was not given the most awesome spell, and who got all the way to the end with personal effort, without nepotism, and without even needing others to help him out, does not become the king. He was the actual underdog the whole time and he gets the middle finger. As a whole the manga had some good parts like the team battles and those huge epic panels when they were trying to stop the giant demon. The rest of it was silly comedy with mostly lame demons designs and stupid resolutions. I can’t give this manga more than a 3/10.

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