Platinum End Vol. 1 - Manga Review

The creators of Death Note and Bakuman return to tell the story of a boy pitted against 12 other chosen humans in a battle to become the next god of the world. Troubled Mirai might have an angel in his corner, but to win he may need to embrace his inner devil.

The Lowdown

On the day he graduated from middle school, Mirai Kakehashi decided that he wanted to die. Fed up with the depressing nature of his existence, Mirai closed his eyes and jumped off a nearby skyscraper - but when he opened them again, he found himself in the arms of an angel. Revealing herself to be his guardian angel, Mirai is given the choice between wings to fly anywhere and arrows make anyone fall in love with him for 33 days. Seizing the chance to take both powers, Mirai uses them to discover the truth about his life, allowing him to finally find a reason to live. However, he’s the not the only one who has been saved by an angel – 12 other humans have been saved to fight in a battle to the death to become the next god.

How Was It?

It feels good to be back – it’s been a long few years after the conclusion of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s previous series Bakuman, and I’m sure that many of us wondered what type of story the dynamic duo would tackle next. With this in mind, we finally have our answer with Platinum End as the two make a return to darker themes in the vein of their most famous series, Death Note, and with this mind I’ll do a bit of comparison below for the majority of readers who are likely familiar at some level with that series. If anything, my primary take-away from this volume is that Platinum End is a different sort of riff on the structure of Death Note – we have a cat and mouse battle between participants trying to figure out the identities of one another, and a healthy amount of psychological gamesmanship – but this time, the action is a lot more direct in focusing on the actual powers given to Mirai and his competitors. It’s tough to say at this early stage how it will all come together, but this volume does a great job setting the stage for the battles to come by spending a lot of its time establishing Mirai’s driving motivations as well as the general mechanics of the battle at hand. While it lacks the type of bold internal stratagems that made Death Note’s beginning such an immediate thrill, Platinum End spends more of its time exploring Mirai’s character as he gets his powers before setting up the contest between the god-candidates.   

Much like Death Note did especially in its early going in centering itself around various conceptions of “justice”, Platinum End’s first volume is similarly defined by the idea of “happiness”, and it is through this lens that we see Mirai’s entry into the supernatural battle between the god-candidates framed. Our introduction to Mirai immediately frames his core dilemma – he’s been told that humans are born for the sake of being happy and the point of living is to become happier, and the first chapter explores his despair failing at these ideals before showing how inheriting his powers gives him the resolve to live on by trying to achieve this happiness. This created an interesting tension as Mirai enters into the supernatural battle against other god-candidates in terms of what lengths he should go to in using his powers to achieve his happiness, as well as an examination of what his happiness would actually look like. Personally, I’m not too sure if the conception of happiness Ohba asserts is entirely logically consistent at this stage, but I think it was effective enough at creating some moral ambiguity to frame the story.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the moral tension that Mirai faces is the inclusion of his guardian angel, Nasse, who saves him and gives him his angel powers as he enters into the battle. It becomes apparent that Nasse, despite being an angel devoted to helping Mirai achieve his happiness, has a strongly “ends justify the means” approach in the advice she gives Mirai in terms of how to achieve happiness. For example, she cheerfully tells Mirai to use his powers to kill his relatives as a form of revenge to achieve happiness, and later advises him to shoot his crush with a red arrow to make her fall in love with him. This betrayed an interesting misunderstanding on her part of what the content of Mirai’s happiness might be, and I thought this was used well to tease out what Mirai actually seeks in terms of his own happiness. Later, Mirai’s morals are further contrasted against the way the angel powers are used by other god-candidates to achieve their own forms of happiness – a scene showing a comedian making a number of idols fall in love with him being chief among these. This scene in particular felt pretty on the nose in terms of playing this comedian up as a bit of a cartoon villain in an explicit way, and I think that the point could have been made with a little more nuance and restraint. The core idea of the Mirai and the other god-candidates using their powers to achieve some sort of happiness is emphasized as the core of this volume, and although I think this was stretched at times and could have been emphasized a little more subtly, it was an interesting frame to enter into this story with.

While Platinum End is largely defined by the moral ambiguity around this idea of happiness, the battle between the god-candidates as they attempt to become god is the main attraction being framed by this. The battle doesn’t quite get underway in earnest in this volume because most of the time is spent setting up the stakes and the players at hand, but we do get some interesting scenes which show the maneuverings between the candidates beginning. Mirai ends up being more of a passive observer here as he watches the first conflict between god-candidates as the comedian is taken down by a mysterious god-candidate clad in superhero gear calling himself “Metropoliman”. Metropoliman becomes the main aggressor here as he makes a bold statement on TV challenging the other candidates after using his powers to resolve a bank-robbery, and I thought this was a really cool way throw down the gauntlet in a way that set the stage for an interesting cat and mouse game that has a lot of potential. There are also a lot of rules in play here about how the powers are used, but I felt that this scene did a good job at explaining how all the rules regarding the powers of the candidates work, and this was welcomed at the story began to heat up. This game of hide-and-seek already pays off in an exciting cliffhanger that this volume ends off on, and after primarily setting up the stakes, the powers, and the players, I definitely felt full of anticipation for the battle to begin heading into the next volume.

It sort of goes without saying that at this point, we expect nothing but the best out of Takeshi Obata’s art, so it is with little surprise that I can confirm that Platinum End is a looker through and through. Most strikingly, Obata portrays the angelic in a way that conveys their almost unsettling perfection, and I thought this really accentuated the difference between the conventional understanding of “good” held by Mirai and the ends-based “good” held by Nasse that I noted above in a cool way. There are also a number of standout full-page spreads that have a wonderful level of detail, and the action early appropriately balances the dramatic horror of some of the events with the supernatural aspects of the powers in play.

Final Thoughts

Platinum End Vol. 1 is a promising start to another morally ambiguous thriller from Ohba and Obata. Mirai’s story is framed in an interesting way through the emphasis on varying conceptions of “happiness”, and I thought that this ambiguity was teased out well in his interactions with Nasse as well in watching the other god-candidates begin the make their moves. Most of this volume is devoted to table-setting in terms of explaining the mechanics of the power at hand and the morals at stake, but we do get a couple thrilling scenes which begin the cat and mouse game between the candidates in a compelling way. It’s not perfect though – the emphasis on happiness sometimes feels stretched in terms of holding the story together, and I thought that it could have been emphasized in a more nuanced way at times. Additionally, this volume is a little bit of a slower start, but it definitely ends on a note that suggests the action is underway. There’s some good potential here, and I’m excited to see how it all plays out as the real battle between the god-candidates begins. 


Platinum End, Vol. 1
By Tsugumi Ohba

Platinum End Vol. 1 was published by Viz Media on October 4th, 2016. Authored by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, the series is currently ongoing and published in Shueisha's Jump SQ magazine. Viz is simultaneously publishing the series with the Japanese releases on Comixology and other retailers.

Verdict:

A-

Date of Publication: October 4th, 2016

Author: Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Translator: Stephen Paul

Editor: Alexis Kirsch

Publisher: Viz Media




Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka