Black Gate (omnibus ed.)

February 5, 2012

Yukiko Sumiyoshi – Tokyopop – 2010 – 3 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 1-3

I always assume that, if a publisher sees fit to release an omnibus, it probably means the story is amazing. This is almost always true of June and their BL omnibuses, and Viz’s 3-in-1s are always of their best stuff. Even Tokyopop has released the Demon Ororon omnibus, which was a shocking pleasure to read. Black Gate… hm.

The premise is great. The story starts with Senju, an older salesman, and Hijiri, the young boy he is in charge of. Senju is, in addition to a salesman, a mitedamashi, someone who is in charge of closing “black gates,” which pop up randomly and tend to steal away human life prematurely. He’s good at his job, but it doesn’t pay well and he and Senju are constantly poor. That’s fine, because the two of them bicker constantly and keep themselves happy that way. Later, it’s revealed that Hijiri is the last of a race of “gatekeepers,” a people that can choose to open and close death gates at will. Basically, they can stop death from occurring. The others were killed off by humans who wanted the leader to close all the gates forever, thereby stopping any death from happening. Hijiri slowly grows into his powers, and Senju finds that he can’t be with him anymore and leaves him without saying goodbye.

That’s volume one. From there, it becomes a story about Senju slowly growing into his powers, a race of guardians that protects him from supernatural threats, and later, getting to the bottom of a cult of people that seems to be murdering all the mitedamashi. In the end, the question becomes personal. It sounds all right to say that death is a process that should never be stopped, but what happens when someone Hijiri cares about dies? Will he be able to resist the urge to close the death gates then?

All of this is super-interesting, and I like the premise and nuts and bolts of the magic system used in this series. And I loved Senju and Hijiri as a team. It broke my heart when Senju left at the beginning of volume one.

And this next part is where the series fails. Senju is replaced by the two guardians and Hijiri’s eventual partner, the younger brother of one of the guardians. Then the story becomes about Hijiri getting to know the guardians and mending the relationship between the brothers. It’s… boring. The guardians are much less interesting than Senju and Hijiri, and the brotherly squabble felt out-of-place in a story that was either going to be about the morality of stopping death or Senju and Hijiri/Senju finding Hijiri. The brotherly relationship becomes important later, when the older brother has to not hate the younger brother in order for certain story elements to matter, but I just… could not get into those characters.

The Mitedamashi murder plot eventually turns into the conclusion of the series. The climax involves the dead race of gate keepers, and unfortunately the three antagonists are almost… out of character. It’s a little strange, and it felt wrong that they were doing what they were doing. Even after the dust settles and they all explain their reasons, it still doesn’t feel right. Similarly, when Senju eventually comes back, his reasons for doing what he does, during the climax and the epilogue, are similarly vague.

In addition, the middle part of the series is about the weaker characters introduced and the struggle that Hijiri goes through making new friends and using his almost-nonexistent powers. It’s not really about the gates or the magic or anything else in the series, and it just isn’t that interesting.

It’s just… okay. Very middle-of-the-road, unfortunately, despite a lot of the great things in it. It’s a good read, and I’m not sorry I bought it. It’s also a great value, since the omnibus is only $19.99 and is a 3-in-1 you could potentially read in one sitting. But… it’s a little bland, and I wound up not liking most of the characters in the series, which can be fatal when it suddenly switches to character-oriented stories. I also can’t figure out if it’s a shoujo or shounen manga, and am not going to bother to look it up at the moment. It reads pretty gender-neutral and more like a straight up action/fantasy series than anything else, with a little schmaltz thrown in. A decent short series for teens, for sure, but there are better reads out there.