If you’ve seen the anime… the manga is better.
Mikumo Osamu is a high school student working undercover as a trainee for Border, an agency that uses alien technology to defend Mikado City from the beings from another dimension that attack the city known as Neighbors. When a new transfer student, Yuma Kuga, arrives at his school, Mikumo ends up befriending him and finds out that Yuma is a Neighbor himself — that is, he comes from the same world as the Neighbors Border is fighting against. As Yuma acclimates to living in Japan, Mikumo is burdened with the unenviable tasks of helping Yuma fit in, preventing him from being detected by Border, and defending the city from increasingly erratic and dangerous attacks from the Neighbors.
The Good and the Bad
If you’ve seen any of Toei Animation’s 2014 adaptation of World Trigger, rest assured that the (many) faults of the anime do not extend to the manga. There’s not a lot to set World Trigger apart from other Shounen Jump series, but it’s engaging enough on a page by page basis to keep you reading.
The best part of the manga typically come via Yuma, whose straightforward personality, clarity of perception, and previous life experiences — “What was popular there?” a student asks him of his previous home. “War,” he responds — act as a natural commentary on the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of our world. However, Mikumo, who is the main viewpoint character of the series, has his own character quirks that work as counterpoints to both Yuma’s casually violent tendencies and ofttimes utilitarian views. As might be expected of a boy who (presumably) joined Border after being saved by a Border member earlier in his life, Mikumo holds a number of idealistic heroic attitudes towards his job and his interactions with people. Through the first volume, Yuma and Mikumo’s contrasting worldviews have yet to come into conflict with each other, but as both a thematic and narrative thread, there’s a lot of potential there. For a mangaka working on only his second serialized manga, having that sort of depth available at this point in the story is a good sign.
The actual execution of the manga is quite good. It’s well-paced and isn’t afraid to undercut slower moments with new events — one of my favorite such moments is when Yuma gets hit by a car in the middle of Mikumo’s reflections on how Yuma needs to be taught the customs of Japan. There’s a risk that World Trigger could eventually end up relying too much on its recurring threats (to this point, bullies and Neighbor attacks) as sources of new conflict, but throughout the first volume mangaka Daisuke Ashihara has managed to keep things feeling fresh. The series’ sense of humor (appropriately) leans towards darker comedy and jokes derived from Yuma’s status as an outsider in Japan.
For those more well-versed in the Shounen Jump-type manga, World Trigger might come off as somewhat clichéd, but the wrinkles in the formula usually work well-enough to keep it from feeling entirely stagnant. Mikumo, in particular, stands out for being relatively weak despite his noble aspirations and for undercutting his somewhat stiff demeanor as he breaks Border rules by not reporting Yuma. The series also seems to have a somewhat dim view of human nature, and the A-Rank Border squad introduced at the end of the first volume is populated by tropey characters like the energetic bro/sis-con and the prideful female beauty.
Whether World Trigger will fully capitalize on the best parts of its potential and continue its effective execution remains to be seen, but for an introductory volume, the content is solid, if somewhat hampered by the familiar premise.
Visually, World Trigger has its strengths and weaknesses, although the total balance falls more onto the positive side than the negative. I haven’t read much manga, so I’m not sure how unusual this is, but there were a surprising number of full page or half-page panels filled with lots of details. The blockbuster action sequences look reasonably good and convey the motion and impact of the action effectively, while failing to be spectacular. They’re functional and exciting during the first read, but aren’t memorable beyond the moment. The character designs, while not particularly original or complex, are distinctive enough to help easily differentiate between characters. Ashihara does tend to lean on a few stock facial expressions (especially for Yuma), although this is merely a noticeable shortcut rather than an active problem in the experience.
On the surface, World Trigger comes off as a well-executed shounen with a lot of potential and a reasonable pinch of ambition. As an introduction to the series, Volume 1 is an engaging read, although future volumes will need to branch out from the established patterns to keep things interesting. Probably the series’ biggest problem is its unoriginal premise and general shounen sensibilities that keep it from feeling like anything more than just an entertaining read. It’s certainly a much better version of the story than the recent anime adaptation and I’d certainly be interested in reading the next volume.
Final Grade: B-
This review was initially published on The Otaku Review. The original article can be read here.