February 19, 2010

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The Law of Ueki Volume 1

Written by Tsubasa Fukuchi
Illustrated by Tsubasa Fukuchi
Viz

At my old job, I was called the "recycling cop" because I hated to see things wasted. So when I saw this at the library, I figured I'd give it a shot.

Ueki is a young man who was unknowingly given talents by one of his teachers to serve as a proxy in a king-making contest. His biggest talent is the ability to turn trash into trees, but there are ten of them all told.

There's only one catch: If he uses his abilities to harm someone, no matter how noble the reason, Ueki loses a talent. Now he's forced into a contest without really knowing how or why, with only classmate Mori to help him. Can he survive or will he end up on the contest's trash heap?

This is a manga that is definitely skewed to a younger age demographic. There's nothing complex about the characters, the plot is entirely action-based, and the flow is all action, all the time.

Ueki is a pure hero, out to stop evil in all its forms, from neighborhood bullies to evil doctors to those who wish to win the contest for their own greed. Mori is the straight man, there to complain at the insanity of it all and unable to process that Ueki's world has changed. The villains are bent on evil, without any sort of redeeming value or complication that makes their position anything you might support.

As far as the story goes, we have a bit of a mystery at the beginning, as Mr. K (the teacher and king candidate) sets up tests for Ueki and discusses the contest. Once that is solved, however, we're into battle after battle as Ueki tries to right the wrongs he sees, no matter what the cost.

The art in Law of Ueki uses all the shonen tricks I'm familiar with, and uses them at every opportunity. There are action lines everywhere, making it hard to follow what is going on. Characters' limbs are exaggerated for either comic or action effect. People shrink or grow in size, as needed to fit the mood. Faces turn into rubber at a moment's notice. It feels like Fukuchi was afraid of missing any of the usual tricks of the shonen trade, so he added all of them, just in case.

I realize that saying this has too many of the typical shonen elements going on at once is funny coming from a guy that eats up shojo tropes like they were chocolate covered pretzels, but I think Law of Ueki overdoes it a bit, at least for me taste.

Law of Ueki was not written for an older audience, and it shows. If I had a young son or daughter interested in manga, who weren't yet ready for the character complexity of, say, Bleach, I'd give this to them and I think they'd really like it. The manga is fun and moves very quickly. It just isn't very deep. I could see them laughing at every exaggeration, but I was just wishing for a bit more. I can't recommend Law of Ueki for adults, but if you have kids at home, read it first and see if you think they might like it. I'm betting they probably would.