Black Torch (ブラックトーチ) by Tsuyoshi Takaki is a shōnen, fantasy, supernatural series that I came across while browsing VIZ Media’s online catalogue. A few of the things that appealed to me the most about this series was the title, the short length, and the fact that the synopsis mentioned an animal loving ninja. It sounded a bit cheesy and cute, so I went ahead and read the first volume just for kicks.
Black Torch revolves around an adolescent named Jirō Azuma who has the ability to communicate with animals. One afternoon, Jirō is led to a dying black cat, whom he brings home and tends to, hoping to save his life. When the cat awakens, the teen learns that this kitty is in fact a Mononoke, or an immortal being, named Ragō who was attacked by forces that wish to absorb his power. From here, Jirō and Ragō become intertwined in a strange plot of power, vengeance, and survival that’s also laced with malevolent government shenanigans.
Overall, the story so far seems quite standard. You have a youngster with a cool ability—in this case, that skill is speaking to animals—that has an encounter that shall turn him into a hero of sorts, one that will bridge or unite opposing forces. There is a bond that is filled with snarky banter that veils an evolving relationship of mutual respect and camaraderie. Plus there’s this girl who has a complex due to sexist expectations from long-standing cultural practises. Personally, this is a combination that I tend to enjoy very much, more so when it has some unique elements to spice it up. But I understand that for many other readers out there it can be a bit too formulaic. Nevertheless, what makes it work so well for Black Torch is the chemistry between Jirō and Ragō.
I feel like if I could communicate with my kitty, Kheb, in the same ways as this duo, much of our conversations would involve salty bickering back-and-forth. While growing up with my closest mates, being a sassy little prick to one another in jest was a means of showing affection and adoration for one another. It was always quite light-hearted and good natured. Because of those experiences, I find Jirō’s and Ragō’s interactions to be wonderfully endearing and amusing. They are both idiots in their own rights and that idiocy creates a chemistry between them that is comfortable yet not afraid to make them question their individuals ideals. It’s super easy to get wrapped up in their exchanges, which then made me want to keep reading. This is the biggest fun factor of Black Torch.
The second thing that kept drawing me deeper into the narrative are the Mononoke. Chock it up to my obsession for Natsume’s Book of Friends and supernatural stories in general, but I find these immortal beings with remarkable powers, most of whom are inherently evil and greedy for authority, to be quite fascinating. From the Mononoke that have been introduced thus far, they reminded me a bit of a weird mutation of Homunculi from Fullmetal Alchemist and Japanese yōkai (or spiritual beings such as ghosts, spectres, deities, etc.). It one-hundred-percent helps that the first Mononoke we meet is a black cat. As a Crazy Cat Human, cats will almost always guarantee my undivided attention (no shame in admitting that).
Beyond their skillsets, and the fact they eat humans as well as consume other Mononoke to get stronger, I’m curious to see if Ragō is the only exception to being a neutral minded person from his race of beings. Seeing grey characters or just characters that break the mould of what is naturally expected of them are a narrative weakness of mine. It’s probably why I love Drizzt Do’Urden from The Legend of Drizzt novel series, or why I’m such a fan of a certain villains/antagonists from Naruto, InuYasha, and Natsume’s Book of Friends. Toss in some wacky government conspiracies and an exploration of humanity loathing what they don’t understand or fear, I’m typically going to swoon.
Black Torch also has some phenomenal artwork to it. Most of the drawings employ a minimalist appearance and don’t focus too much on atmospheric details or heavy use of shading and dark blotches of black, which allows the eyes and attention to remain solely on whatever is unfolding in the moment. The vividness of the white spaces really makes the fine grey/black lines of the action sequences pop delightfully. Even if the story and characters were as humdrum as possible, I’d probably keep reading this just to experience the artistry. Some things are emphasised, such as Ragō or when Mononoke transition into their fighting forms, however beyond that, it’s still quite understated and lovely; a rarity in shōnen, at least form what I’ve read so far, which granted isn’t much (yet!).
All in all, I’m loving Black Torch for what it is and I’m excited to finish reading the series. As I briefly mentioned earlier, the series is relatively short with 15 chapters and 5 volumes total, which makes it rather perfect for anyone who may have limited amount of time to read (such as a university student who has no concept of “free time,” yet keeps on adding more stuff to their plate because they are a workaholic, oops). My goal is to have this series finished up by next week so that I can do a proper review for the whole shebang.
Have you heard of or read Black Torch? If so, would you recommend it or not? If you haven’t, does it sound like something you may want to invest in?
You can read the first volume of Black Torch on VIZ Media for free or check out the whole series for $1.99 per month (I’m not an affiliate, I merely think this is a fantastic deal for legally reading manga online).