Sporadic Sequential
Friday, August 25, 2006
Unfair Comparison Reviews: Zombie Powder

Zombie Powder Vol. 1
By: Tite Kubo
Length: 208 pages
Price: $7.99
Publisher: Viz

The Bottom Line: Well, it's no Bleach, that much is for sure.

The Details: Zombie Powder was creator Tite Kubo's debut work, serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump starting in 1999. Apparently it wasn't well received in Japan, lasting only four volumes. (By comparison, Bleach, Kubo's follow-up work, is still running in Japan and has already reached 23 volumes there, with 14 of those currently available here in the U.S.) The book is a quasi-Western revolving around Gamma Akutabi, a rogue in search of the legendary "Rings of the Dead." Collect a dozen of the Rings and you'll find yourself in possession of "Zombie Powder," a substance with the power to grant immortality or return the dead to life.

It's the latter property of the Zombie Powder that most interests Elwood, a young boy who decides to join Gamma's quest after his sister is brutally murdered before his very eyes. Gamma, taking pity on Elwood, agrees to let the boy tag along with him, but Elwood keeps getting into spots that Gamma has to get him out of. How long will Gamma be able to put up with this burden, especially since he wants the Zombie Powder for his own purposes?

Zombie Powder is classified by Viz as a Shonen Jump Manga, and it's very reminiscent of the titles serialized in the Shonen Jump anthology magazine. Elwood's heartfelt promise to his dead sister as he stands before her grave ("I'll bring you back to life no matter what!") sounds much like Hikaru's declaration that he will be the top Go player in all of Japan, or Naruto's insistence that he'll someday become the most powerful ninja in the world. These are boys with a mission and they're not going to let anything get in their way. Even the search for the Rings is similar to Luffy's quest for the titular "One Piece." (Speaking of One Piece, Kubo's art in Zombie Powder reminded me a lot of Eiichiro Oda's style. I swear this guy could be a villain straight out of One Piece.)

Overall this first volume was a bit of a disappointment. As a big Bleach fan, I was hoping for more of Kubo's trademark blend of stylized designs and kinetic action. The good news is I was getting more of a sense of that energy by the end of the book, but the first half of the book just didn't click. It felt rushed, perhaps because Kubo was hurriedly trying to introduce his characters and concepts so he could move on. (Thinking back on it, I remember not being that impressed with Bleach until the second volume, so maybe Kubo's works take time to grow on the reader.) Things really start to take off once Gamma confronts a sadistic villain in a battle that allows Kubo to let loose with his imaginative and playful variations on traditional fight scenes. Here's the bit that finally sold me on the book:

Behold the brilliance that is...

(Click for larger image)

That alone is almost enough to convince me to check out volume two. Actually, I know I'll be coming back for the next installment, but a big part of that is due to an interest in seeing how one of my favorite manga creators developed as an artist. Those of you who aren't already Tite Kubo fans probably won't get as much out of Zombie Powder as I did. But if you are a Bleach fan, or if the idea of crazy-ass sword fights involving rocket-powered weapons appeals to you, I encourage you to check out this book.