February 20, 2010

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Black Cat Volume 3

Written by Kentaro Yabuki
Illustrated by Kentaro Yabuki
Viz

Former secret society member and current bounty hunter Train, now known as the Black Cat, continues his sweeping duties along with his partner Sven and Eve, who they rescued in a prior adventure.

This time around, Train is invited by a former associate in Chronos to stop a serial killer that has ties to both Train and Sven's pasts. Can they stop a man who can use his chi to turn into a freakish version of the Incredible Hulk using only bullets and Sven's secret powers?

Meanwhile, Creed continues his quest to bring anarchy to the world with the help of two new characters that will definitely warm your blood. A top agent of Chronos is out to stop them, but is that enough? And are these two seemingly different plot points related in a way that might draw Train back into Chronos's clutches?

On its surface, Black Cat is a romp of a story, with Train and his pals going from city to city fighting bad guys. It's a variation on the same concept as Bleach, Inuyasha, or Rurouni Kenshin. However, what sets these stories apart and makes them interesting are the characters involved and/or the stories underneath the stories.

In the case of Black Cat, it's mostly the latter. I enjoy reading about conspiracies or secret organizations, even if I don't believe they exist in real life. Chronos must have been bad if Train wanted to leave them, but now Creed has a second secret society, one that is more evil than the first. Train does not want the help of either, but can he fight both at once? That's a question that's going to need to be answered over the course of the series, and I'm curious to see what Yabuki does to resolve that dilemma. No matter how he tries, it seems that Train can't escape his past. At some point, he's going to have to face it. I think we get several hints of this here in this volume, as the Black Cat's past bleeds further into his present.

This doesn't mean I don't like Yabuki's characters, just that I'm more interested in how the overarching plot plays out instead of seeing the cast evolve over time. Yabuki sets a lot of the future up in this story all while giving the reader a huge battle that at first seems impossible to win. Eve wants to find herself, but can she do so in the transient life of a sweeper? Creed's schemes seem to place him one step (maybe even two) ahead of Chronos. Does that mean they will fall? How often will Sven be the key to winning a fight?

Black Cat almost slips too far into traditional shonen drawing tropes for my taste, but seems to manage to skirt the border of my tolerance for such things. There are quite a few action lines in every battle scene, but the exaggeration is saved for when it's most needed, namely when serial killer Gyanza bulks up. Some faces get turned into rubber, but only here and there. Despite these quirks, it's still very easy to tell what is going on from panel to panel, which is what I look for in a shonen manga. If I can clearly see the action being portrayed, you can use all the action lines you'd like.

One of the interesting things I noticed this time was how Yabuki used a shot of a prior page as the flashback tool rather than draw a flashback sequence. I thought that was kind of neat. (There seems to be a lot of casual self-referencing in manga that you don't see in capes comics.)

Black Cat's story is still intriguing to me and is well written by Yabuki. While it follows the standard action formula, there's a lot going on underneath and I look forward to seeing how this plays out. This is a shonen title I can definitely recommend to any reader.