One girl gets mistaken for a boy and is forced to join a survival game team after a misguided attempt by her to enact some righteous justice goes awry...
Hotaru Tachibana is a girl (who looks like a dude) with a strong sense of justice - one that is sometimes violent and aggressive, and is prone to get her into trouble. Trouble like getting into a confrontation with her neighbor and survival game player Masamune Matsuoka. After losing her duel with Matsuoka, Tachibana is dragged even deeper into the heart-pounding world of survival games. Can Tachibana survive in this new world of BB guns, and new weird “friends”? And will she ever get to explain to them that she’s actually a girl?
How Was It?
The quick and dirty version to explain Aoharu X Machinegun’s premise is to say it’s Ouran Highschool Host Club with BB guns. Which like most quick-and-dirty explanations is both totally accurate and patently false. It’s accurate in the sense that the first chapter of the book follows some very similar plot threads as Ouran: a boyish-looking girl walks into host club, breaks stuff, and gets roped into a “boys” club to pay back her debt. It’s inaccurate though in that those plot similarities are the only real similarities. Where Ouran was a parody rom-comedy, AXM is a straight action-sports comedy-drama closer to Yowamushi Pedal than to Sabagebu. But I am getting a bit off track, what all this actually means for the story of AXM is that in terms of story structure, it cribs from some well established templates. The real question still lies before us: how well does AXH actually execute on its premise?
One of the more fascinating aspects of AXM’s first volume is that it feels like two different books crammed together, which is pretty much entirely true. As explained by the author, the first two chapters of AXM Vol. 1 are actually a manga one-shot written by NAOE before it was picked up for magazine publication. As such the second half of the book feels like a sequel-reintroduction that is mostly, but not totally, consistent with the prequel one-shot’s story (to the author’s own admission). So that whole plot point (totally cribbed from Ouran) about debt keeping Tachibana on the team is simply annulled so as to give Tachibana her own internal motivation to keep playing survival games. Both reasons I think actually work, but the strange time jump between the two halves of this volume make it so the drama doesn’t really flow through the entire book, rather stopping and restarting halfway through. I mean this compromise feels a whole lot better than starting only with the “sequel” beginning (especially as the opening “oneshot” contains all of the survival game action for the volume) but it does lead to some reader disorientation as we are made to re-orientate to the story after some fairly major plot developments happen off-page in the middle of the volume.
A second unfortunate consequence of the prequel-sequel split is what it does to the comedy and the character dynamics, namely that neither are really allowed to progress much further past the second chapter. The huge roadblock being that the later half of the book had to catch up all the new Japanese magazine manga readers on the plot points outlined in the chapters we just read. It’s not terrible compromise and the new chapters do a decent job in finding interesting new ways in framing the story to keep the plot moving, but by the end of this volume it really felt that some repeated jokes were just overstaying their welcome. The most notable examples being the issue of Tachibana’s gender not being revealed to her teammates and the 3rd teammate’s (Yukimura’s) ero manga-schtick. These both end up becoming overused gimmicks, that just about stretch out the extent of their usefulness by the end of the volume. If there isn’t anything new further on I’m expecting the humor to become really repetitive really fast, so I’m definitely hoping that the next volumes will provide a different spin on the humour seen here. There’s only so many times straight men can unintentionally act pseudo-sexually towards a girl they 100% think is a dude before it just starts becoming ridiculous, and I found myself getting tired of this as the volume went on.
Artwork wise, AXH is for the most part unremarkably decent - action has some decent pacing, and there’s some amusing moments of visual comedy (like a completely unexpected Jojo’s reference in the middle of a exposition scene). However, I did find the character designs to be an area of complaint because I got really confused (especially during action moments) about who was who on the page because it seemed like 70% of the characters on the page had very similar hairstyles and coloring. An example of this is the designs of Tachibana and Matsuoka, the two major characters of the volume, because their similar hair length and light coloration made it difficult to tell who was who at times. The trick I found was to pay a lot more attention to their clothing, but even though the panels are technically “readable” if you pick up on very minor details, overall it still has visually indistinctive characters. If AXH didn’t have the saving grace of at least having a few distinctive shirt styles some of the pages would have been rendered unreadable, and that’s never a good thing.
Aoharu X Machinegun Vol. 1 is a decent if rough start to an interesting premise. While it may definitely have potential, visual homogeneity and a certain rote-ness to the humor hold this back from being a great read. Thankfully latter volumes shouldn’t be quite as hamstrung as this first volume was by false starts, so we can only hope that the pacing and humor issues will be ironed out by the second volume.
Aoharu X Machinegun was published in English by Yen Press on October 25, 2016, and was translated by Leighann Harvey. It covers chapters 0-1 to 02. The original work was created by NAOE. Vol. 2 releases in print on December 20th, 2016 (with volumes 1-6 available already electronically).
Date of Publication: October 25th, 2016
Translator: Leighann Harvey
Publisher: Yen Press