The term hiatus usually refers to a temporary break in an anime or manga’s run (though in Hunter X Hunter’s case, that is more of a semi permanent break).
Hiatuses are an appropriate element in anime, even encouraged as an acceptable substitute for filler. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Not so with manga; few elements are as irritating about manga as hiatuses; and the reason is less about the anticipation that results and more to do with the story continuation issues that arise.
When I finally sat down to read Zetman a month or two ago, following its resumption after a more than three year hiatus, the first thing I took note of was the fact that I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on.
And it took a few chapters and several guesses to find my place within the story and even that is an assumption on part. Chances are I only think I know what is happening.
It is probably for this reason that I can find some excitement over Otogi Matsuri’s return; it hasn’t even been more than a year since I caught up to its 66 chapters, and that was less than two months after it went on its break.
No, not excited; I am ecstatic about Otogi Matsuri’s return; and if you have read the manga then it should be clear the reason for the surprise. Dark offering, as it translates, couldn’t be more typical as far as shonen is considered.
If you wish to encounter true shonen in its raw essence, then look no further than Otogi Matsuri, a story that doesn’t even try to do anything really that new or different, but which more than exceeds at doing the same old thing better than most.
Yousuke is your average high school student, living peacefully in the town of Miyakono, until he accidentally breaks a shrine belonging to the Guardian of the South, the phoenix. He then unwillingly sacrifices his future, in return gaining the bow of the Suzaku. Now, to regain his life energy and protect the innocent people of Miyakono, he must battle against monsters called the Kenzoku using his new found power.
If I were to use visual relations, I would compare Noblesse to a hand glider descending over verdant lands; most other manga and Manhwa are content to simply show us the glider, mostly from above but sometimes sneaking a shot from below.
Noblesse places you in the driver’s seat, allows you to almost feel the sensation of traversing through the air, the world blurring about you, the wind whipping your face silly.
Otogi Matsuri is keen to bring to your senses the impact of a devastating collision, its art that clean and striking in portraying what is a rather chaotic and disturbing world.
As mentioned above, Dark Offering doesn’t try to do anything overtly different; you have a fairly typical ancient betrayal turning into an ancient grudge morphing into an ancient evil that was then sealed away by four guardians.
Powerful guardians taking familiar forms such as Byakko, Suzaku, Seiryu and the like; and as would be expected, a fault in the seal, a threat regarding the Rukujou clan’s return and their bereaved, vengeful and somewhat justified rage makes for a union of four heroes who will sacrifice greatly to the four guardians to wield their power, standing to fight the approaching evil.
Okay, the element of sacrifice makes for surprisingly riveting reading, at least with regards to the depths of drama it sometimes infuses. But again far from riveting stuff.
Where Dark Offering manages to stand apart though is the way in which it actually tales its typical shonen story.
And this somewhat harks back to Gamaran; the manga wasn’t always the riveting samurai epic I perceive it to be today; and even after coming to an end, i wouldn’t place Gamaran within the same ranking as greats such as Samurai X.
Yet Gamaran managed to reach such incredible heights of entertainment because of its thrilling approach to the story.
MINOR SPOLIERS AHEAD: Considering its weak beginning i was surprised to find myself hooked to Gamaran within the first 15 chapters. The manga made efforts to create the setting for the core of its clashes in crafting the tournament that would choose the next great leader of the demon’s haunt.
And my expectations weren’t particularly out of this world; of course Gama would descend to the city as champion warrior to a leader in the making; of course he would briefly encounter many powerful foes. The final battles would approach steadily, Gama cutting his way through various unique enemies to achieve easy victory.
Admittedly the manga did a great job in stoking my expectations shortly after that. The opponents were more than strong. They were intimidating. And this wouldn’t be an all out brawl between the best of the best.
Rather the tournament intended to pit entire schools against one another; that allowed a sense of strategy to enter the equation as different schools began planning about who would fight who, when and how in a battle that would constitute multiple rounds, and in which victory would come to those schools that maintained the strength of their greatest fighters until the final round.
Immediately things were falling into a strange place because Gama’s school had long since lost its student save for one; Gama couldn’t possibly challenge entire schools in combat over a period of several rounds. And while my initial assumptions created images of our Hero obliterating entire schools per afternoon to get to their leaders, the manga had already proven mere chapters earlier that Gama was barely of equal skill to some of the lower ranked members of various schools.
This wasn’t a fair fight by any means; and certainly I was expecting Gama’s supernatural power up to come in future arcs, when we would learn of his demon half and whatnot. None the less I was on the edge of my seat with regards to the events to come.
Then we met the first school that would contend with out young hero, watched them plan their strategy, walk out the door to prepare for their oncoming challenge only to meet Gama, on their front porch, waiting, already on the offense.
This wasn’t a kid boasting of so much confidence as to walk into enemy territory on his own; Gama understood his own short comings and executed a rather flawed plan that, in catching his opponents by total surprise, would allow him to cut his enemy’s three top students down in a single move, immediately leveling the playing field and allowing him a chance to catch a win before the first round went underway and gravely turned the tide against him.
It was in those few pages that I went ‘Whooooooooooa’; that surprise, the understanding that Gamaran not only presented very grounded situations but avoided easy solutions to them. It was always refreshing knowing that Gama had a killer move in his pocket, one that could finish a difficult fight immediately, but which he couldn’t unleash due to a wounded ankle, bleeding stomach or whatever was impairing his physical abilities, forcing him to utilize less than effective skills and basic cunning to overcome.
This as opposed to all those Bleach conflicts that see the hero unleash an all powerful strike after two hours of health crippling punishment.
That is what this manga brings to table; if it must take you down a familiar road with familiar attractions, then it is going to blast through at 300MPH, making certain that you still get a kick out of it.
That is Otogi Matsuri in a nutshell; it doesn’t surprise as much as thrill. The story is slow at the start and doesn’t pick up until the supernatural elements begin to bleed into the public domain. I personally didn’t really get into it until 30 chapters in, during the so called Madara arc.
And thinking about, that was just about a giant rampaging snake; basically Anakonda but with intelligence. Yet it managed to ramp up the chaos to a point where excitement had to be my only reaction.
Otogi Matsuri fails miserably in the character section; take its cast out of the explosive nature of the Otogi Matsuri story and they aren’t really worth the attention.
Yousuke couldn’t be more cliché as far as shonen heroes are concerned; standing at the head of his crew, ready to sacrifice himself even while irritating voices moan about his selflessness.
And let’s not even bother with his school life, which is not only very reminiscent of Ichigo and Bleach but receives way too much unnecessary attention considering how irrelevant it is to the story.
Of course Yousuke is going to have to make awkward excuses to escape his friend's company to fight monsters. Of course he will have to protect his classmates from assaults occurring either as a coincidence or because of his presence even while keeping his friends oblivious of his role in the matter.
Of course their eventual discovery of his true identity will create more problems regarding his role than it actually solves; the romantic elements are a forced and badly executed element. Really, this is the reason I am not a great fan of high school settings for anime and manga stories. The plots, characters, everything is always the same; way too predictable for my tastes.
And then there is Irori, not quite your typical female heroine considering how young the master guardian wielder is. I am glad they avoided the cliché child prodigy angle, instead choosing to follow a more dramatic path with regards to Irori’s mastery over her powers.
Kenji is…a pretty intriguing character, the flaws of his past, the demons and decisions that chase him shaping the curses that make his heroic duties little more than a life threatening activity.
Thinking about it, Dark Offering’s cast is pretty decent; I mean, Enzo, the oldest of the bunch and their history teacher, has to be my favorite, especially this conniving ways, his determination to achieve victory no matter the cost, the enormous guilt he carries and the sacrifices he keeps making to keep his secrets hidden.
Okay, I am starting to think my negative perception of these characters largely comes down to Yousuke, who’s unfortunately very meh as far as main protagonists are concerned; but even Yousuke is fun to watch once the action begins.
The limitations of his Suzaku bow, restricting him to three arrows per hour means every battle, and I mean every battle, with him has to be strategic in nature. And it is a restrictions that persists throughout the various power ups, forcing this strategic approach to battle to persist through out even the most dangerous conflicts.
Okay, I have to admit; Otogi Matsuri has done more with its cast in a few 60 chapters that I was giving it credit for.
If you seen one gorgeously drawn manga or manhwa, you have seen them all. That is what I used to think. Yet even today, I encounter new series whose aesthetic offerings still manage to impress me.
Otogi Matsuri is no different; it isn’t interesting because it avails the crispiest, cleanest and sharpest images in manga, even though the panels are pretty crisp. Rather Otogi Matsuri allows its unique narration to manifest through its art.
While it took the Madara arc to truly sell Otogi Matsuri to me, my curiosity was immediately piqued following the first demonic appearance in the first chapter. And truth be told I expected gross, grotesque and twisted designs.
Yet there was something even more ridiculously disturbing about watching a giant spider with the giant head of a vicious cat scuttling down the hill side.
Every thrilling chase, explosive battle and heart rending scream somehow resonates through each panel of the manga.
It is manga like Otogi Matsuri that deserve monthly releases; their work reflects the care and time injected into providing the perfect images.
No, this isn’t the greatest action, supernatural or shonen series in the world. It most likely wouldn’t make it into my top ten. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t that good.
It doesn’t do anything new, true; but it doesn’t do anything old either. Rather it does the old and familiar in a manner more explosive than most. In a way one need not bother investing in truly unique stories when mangaka like this have the guts to take something old and make it worth the read.
RATING: 8/10, the fact that Otogi Matsuri has resumed its run, and with a whopping four chapters for my consumption, has made my week.