So today I’m going to switch it up. Our past few Manga Mondays have dealt with shoujo or shoujo-y titles, but this week we’re going to talk about the mafia, fighting spirit, and babies. Yep, you guessed right! Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (aka Reborn! or KHR for short) by Amano Akira.
The premise of Reborn! goes something like this: useless kid gets magic mentor, hijinks ensue. In this case the useless kid is Sawada Tsunayoshi or Tsuna, who discovers that he has mafia heritage when a tiny hitman shows up on his doorstep to groom him into the next head of the Vongola famiglia. The diminutive assassin is the titular Reborn (“katekyo” is short for “kateikyoushi”, meaning “home tutor”).
The series starts off sort of slow, just as a warning. The author (Amano Akira, one of the few female shounen mangaka I know of as well as a gorgeous artist) naturally helps the audience get to know the enormous supporting cast through several short and shenanigan-filled arcs, so that once the action finally starts (and when it does around chapter 70, boy does it start) the reader is familiar with all the characters as well as their backstories and abilities. These arcs ostensibly show Tsuna building up (if reluctantly) a loyal and tight-knit group of friends that will make up the core of his generation of the Vongola.
And it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the supporting cast, because they’re pretty awesome as well. The heroes vary from crazy to extreme to laid-back to shy to determined, and the villains are pretty epic as well: body-shifting illusion users, centuries-old revenge-seekers, and even inter-dimensional megalomaniacs. And if you like some eye candy with your badassery, you won’t be let down.
The cons of Reborn!:
- The series is still ongoing with no particular end in sight. (However, the story arcs continue to be engaging and interesting unlike other titles that often become confusing or annoying.
- The female cast is tiny (less than twenty in a cast of, oh, probably a hundred). And less than half of them are particularly badass/strong fighters. This is super-irritating because I’d sort of hoped that a female writer might put some stronger women into her story rather than the typical shounen weepy sidekick/love interest type. On top of that, the guys (probably because they get way more screentime/pagetime/whatever) have much more well-developed characters and tend to be more likeable and less two-dimensional (i.e. they’re not the cute/annoying/tiny/foreign/comically violent one; there tends to be more to the men than what a single descriptor can imply).
- Unavoidable puns: Reborn’s method of training Tsuna involves shooting him with a bullet that unlocks his inner strength (the “dying will” born of regret; think the “If I had known I was going to die I definitely would have asked Kyoko out!” sort of ballsiness). Most internet scanlations call this “the Dying Will Bullet”, almost a direct translation from the Japanese “shinukidan”, “dying spirit bullet”. Viz Media’s legitimate printed translations substituted for whatever reason this plain but workable term with the cringe-worthy “Deathperation Shot”. (It hurt my soul to type that.)
The pros of Reborn!:
- The art is really just gorgeous, like I said earlier. The character designs, the attention to detail on weapons and uniforms and scenery; all of these things make KHR stand apart from other Shounen Jump regulars which skimp on things like backgrounds (I’m looking at you, Bleach manga).
- The cast of characters is varied and interesting (if not particularly diverse) and the reader really comes to care about what happens to them.
- The main character exhibits plenty of weakness and lots of character growth (unlike other heroes like Fairy Tail’s Natsu who just continually power up to defeat bigger and badder enemies). This is not to say that Tsuna doesn’t also continually bust out bigger and badder attacks—it’s just that he has to work for it. The villains are also excellently nuanced, with different and sometimes opposing motivations.
Long story short: I definitely recommend Reborn! for people who are tired of the regular shounen grind. Readers may even eventually discover why a baby is a hitman anyway.