Miss my previous review? You can find it here!
Levius, having finally made it into the world-class Grade I of Mechanical Martial Arts, is stunned to learn his first official bout will be with none other than the “Emperor” himself: Oliver Kingsley.
Seeking to make this controversial bout a true spectacle, the M.M.A decides to put together a massive, multi-day event that will feature promotional bouts for grades V-II leading up to the main event. It’s against this backdrop that volumes 3 and 4 take place.
As volume 3 opens, Zack seems distant, and not actively engaging with Levius’ training even though the big fight is approaching. When Levius finally goes to him for help, Zack makes it clear that he doesn’t know how to help him. He’s overwhelmed by the scale of the bout, and the power of Levius’ enemy. Yet, he commits himself to doing what he can, and the two share an emotional moment just as Bill arrives to chastise Zack for slacking off.
Since the M.M.A bouts are understood to become proxy conflicts for various nations (though the measure hasn’t been officially passed), a protest movement springs up around the uneven match-up between Levius, a rookie Grade I fighter, and the long-standing champion. Natalia shares her unshakeable confidence in Levius’ ability, but the complaints remind Levius just how much is on the line.
Natalia visits with Bart after his intense bout in the previous volume, sharing her excitement to join the “Southern Slam”, as the M.M.A has dubbed the massive fighting event. Bart suggests caution, but Natalia wants to be with Levius and help him however she can…and a spot in the Slam is as close as she can get! Unfortunately, a name from A.J’s past re-emerges to complicate matters further. Balthus Langdon is quickly making a name for himself in the Grade III circuit, and it appears that he and Natalia are destined to clash.
A.J doesn’t appear to recognize her brother at first, but when she goes missing, Levius is ready to take off looking for her. Natalia, having just secured her spot at the Southern Slam, is desperate for Levius’ affirmation, but as she tries to convince him that A.J will be alright, he lashes out at her.
Bart proceeds to chastise Levius for being selfish, but Natalia forces a smile and goes out to find A.J in his stead – insisting he get the maintenance he needs to be in peak condition for his fight.
Natalia finds A.J in the snow, but is nearly captured by a squad of soldiers who had been deployed to retrieve A.J. Her conditions of staying with Zack and Levius was to remain within certain boundaries, and in her search for Balthus, she breached said limit and was subject to being picked up by the government.
Levius intervenes and threatens the squad, but is reminded of A.J’s terms. It appears that they have the upper hand legally…but Timor Gym’s chairman, Edgar Brown, makes it clear that any disruption of Levius could cause trouble for the Southern Slam…and by extension make the entire M.M.A their enemy.
The soldiers ultimately stand down, and A.J is brought home.
Volume 4 opens with President Biscotti (now I want some coffee…) issuing the opening speech for the Southern Slam event. Tracing the evolution of competitive fighting from early pugilism through the advances of steam technology and the foundation of the M.M.A, he riles the crowd properly for the next 5 days of bloody combat.
A.J sends along a message that she’ll stay put and do her best to convey anything she remembers of her time with Amethyst. Meanwhile, a high-profile Grade I exhibition match between Jin Kanesada and Vanessa Louis D’orleans enraptures the crowd.
Their abilities are otherworldly, the power and range of their steam attacks take an entirely new form as they battle one another.
After a few intense exchanges, the exhibition match ends, and the event formally begins. Thousands of fighters in Grades V, IV, III, and II have gathered to battle through their division in a single day. It’s a grueling marathon that claims many lives in the first two days, with no conclusive winner or champion for either Grades V or IV.
As this is happening, Levius goes to meet with M.M.A president Pierre Biscotti to formalize his promotion and sign off on the conditions and details of the bout. As he’s being introduced to the board, he’s shocked and disgusted to discover that none other than Dr. Clown Jack Pudding has been brought on as Assistant to the President. Levius is incensed, nearly moving to strike the deranged doctor – but is stopped by Christopher “Ted” Elphinstone – the rank 6 fighter of Grade I.
When Biscotti shares his twisted vision of why he brought the Dr. onboard, Levius confirms that the winner of the match, the champion, would be able to do whatever he wanted. Biscotti affirms the champion has immense power and could likely do whatever they wanted.
Levius promises that Amethyst would be destroyed with him as Champion – and if the M.M.A wanted to interfere, he would destroy it as well. Signing the conditions, Levius declares confidence in his victory before storming out.
Zack and Bill are disheartened by the news, but soon find themselves being directed to another task entirely: supporting Natalia in her fight against Balthus. Levius goes to her to try and talk her out of the fight at first, but realizing that it was hopeless, he instead sends his trusted seconds to her corner for her promotional bout.
The volume ends just as Balthus and Natalia square off to fight.
Friend – can I offer you a fantastic manga in these trying times?
If you’re reading this review I would assume that you already know the awesomeness that is Levius, but if you’re using these as a general overview for the series and to see if you should dive in, with volumes 3 and 4 I can tell you with absolute certainty: do it.
I really like the nuance that was added to Natalia’s arc in the last two volumes. While the immature, almost harem-esque behavior from volume 2 was starting to get old, fast, things really turned around for Natalia and I’ve grown to respect and appreciate her more. Her infectious optimism was definitely needed in recent chapters, as Levius, Bill and Zack all felt the looming pressure of the fight against Oliver.
The re-introduction of Dr. Clown Jack Pudding is also cause for celebration, vile as he is, simply because his character carries such power in whatever scene he’s in. The comparison to The Joker is an easy one, but to manifest such chaotic energy as effectively as the Clown Prince of Crime? An impressive feat.
What really sells me on the Levius franchise is Nakata’s skillful depiction of facial expressions. Delight, regret, agony, ennui…his ability to breathe such life into his characters expressions continues to impress.
When it comes to the action, there aren’t many epic confrontations outside of the exhibition match, but some of the vignettes from the Southern Slam feature proper slugfests. Looking forward to Natalia and Balthus’ matchup in the upcoming volume!