Volume 9 of Kekkaishi confirmed what I’d suspected before: what we have here is a good series that feels like a hybrid of tropes from Bleach and Naruto, and falls somewhat short of both of them. It doesn’t stand far enough apart from the spate of other, better series in the market right now that overshadow it. But it is entertaining, and there are bursts of ingenuity and fun throughout that make it a nice diversion.
This book also goes a long way towards confirming a theory I’ve had about anime and manga, one I call the Theory of the Brightly Shining Toss-Off. Sometimes in a series, the incidental characters — the walk-ons, the second-, third- and fourth-banana roles, and the people who just show up and vanish — command the attention a lot more than the main characters do. Why? Because they’re incidentals — they don’t have the burden of carrying the story on their shoulders, so the author (and artist) don’t feel as restricted by what they can make them into. They can be as wild-and-wooly as they wanna be, and they often upstage everyone else as a result.
This definitely applies for Atora Hanshima, one of the other Night Troops aside from Gen (see the previous volume’s review for an explanation), and Gen’s self-appointed tamer. The minute she struts onto the page with her wavy hair, leggy body, broad grin and uninhibited personal style, she steals the whole book. Actually, she doesn’t just strut onto the page: she kicks in Gen’s apartment door — a real feat considering those things typically open outwards — smothers him with affection, and generally embarrasses the heck out of him while lambasting his other three cronies (Gen, Yoshi, and Tokine) for not working together effectively. Cue the volume’s big action set-piece, a game of “capture-the-Atora” on the school grounds, and then after that Atora rides off into the sunset.
She’s such a show-stopper of a character, the rest of the book — taken up with various back-, side- and front-room intrigues and deceptions — pales in comparison, even if they’re taken seriously and played out seriously. Part of the reason I keep making comparisons to Bleach is because many of the same kinds of plot mechanics about the internal operations of a secret supernatural society are used there, too. But they’re played off so much more engagingly in that book; here, a lot of the time, it amounts to people simply sitting and talking (and talking, and talking) about what needs to happen, or what has happened, or what should happen, instead of going out and doing it. That kind of inertia is deadly, and Atora’s exactly the kind of narrative shot in the arm this book needs more of.
It’s a bit of a shame that Kekkaishi comes off as so lukewarm. It’s not a bad book at all. It’s just a merely-decent story suffering from the stigma of not being better, despite everything it tries to do.