If you’re just joining us, Briefs by Blake is a special series that spotlights a handful of manga that only ran for a short while (chapter lengths in the teens to twenties).
There’s this thing that happens a lot in Bleach that I’d probably find hilarious or even eye-roll-inducing if I didn’t love it so damn much. Usually appearing as part of two characters squaring off to fight each other, they will be facing off and then suddenly the next panel shows that one of the characters has appeared elsewhere – usually behind the other person – suddenly and unexpectedly. This is always met with wide eyes and small pupils to show a stunned surprise.
Like I said, it’s overused in Bleach to the point that it’s a specific storytelling trick I associate with the series, even though it is by no means unique to Bleach. In fact, if you could distill the “holy shit he moved so fast the other one had no idea and things are about to get real” moment into a fuel source and inject it directly into the veins of a manga series, that series would be Red Sprite.
Speaking of fuel, that’s what Red Sprite is about, or at least the foundation on which it’s story is built. A vaguely Western European-y locale in a recent history (“but not that recent but also definitely they’d still be able to be alive today” type of recent) serves as the backdrop. The world has a spectacular source of energy, Thunder-cores, which power their society, leading them – and the series – to be largely airship-based.
Unfortunately, Soylent Green – er, Thunder-cores have a dark secret. That’s right kids: Thunder-cores is people. Specifically, sad orphan kids who are unwittingly brought up to live short lives as batteries before being made into used-up husks. Well, some of these kids got rescued, I guess, and then re-found by agents of the brutal, totalitarian government and re-kidnapped, all in chapter one. One of the kids was left behind, and he’s determined to get stronger so he can rescue his friends and take on the fascist government that’s hurting them. All while realizing his dream of becoming an airship pilot and, by extension, creating a safe-haven society to rival the one they’re currently trapped in. Thus our hero, Tatsu Frampt, sets out on his journey, and the story begins.
Written and drawn by Tomohiro Yagi, the series runs for a disappointing fourteen chapters. Literally, it was only published for three months before being canceled. Unfortunately, the only other series I could find by this author, Iron Knight, was also unceremoniously canceled early, running for only seventeen chapters, the last of which was exclusive to the tankobon edition. Also, Iron Knight sounds cool to me, so this guy is two-for-two on “series that sound like sure winners to Blake and then get canceled early.”
But don’t let the short run and early demise of the series stop you. Red Sprite is easily one of my favorite manga I’ve been reading lately. Sure, it’s not overly deep, going down easy like a nice popcorn blockbuster. This series is all about big, splashy battles, mostly of the “look how fucking strong that one character is.” It’s not entirely a series of curb-stomp battles, and it totally has tension, but there’s a certain sense that these characters are just so crazy strong that it’s less about if they’ll get out of a jam and more about how.
And that’s great! Partly because, since they’ve been turned into human batteries, they have crazy anime electricity and magnetism powers! And I loooooove electricity powers. That, mixed with being absolute shonen trash, stringing together one battle to the next with only the vaguest ideas of its darker premise being explored, and tying it all up in a neat bow of well-drawn, splashy pin-up action sequences, makes this an easy recommendation by me.
Yes, there’s the tragedy of the early end, and yes, you can feel it. Somewhat similar to Stealth Symphony, it feels that the end comes suddenly and from out of nowhere. I think Red Sprite gets the better deal here, though, for a few reasons. First, the pace of the series is breakneck from start to finish. It also doesn’t spend too much time on the deeper aspects of the story, meaning that it really just feels like a light action adventure. Where Stealth Symphony was trying to be much more lore-heavy and introspective, Red Sprite is about blasting through the air using your lightning powers. Also, they were doing a “small nation getting invaded” arc in the last few chapters, which was almost certainly to be a setup for the Red Sprite crew taking on the Big Bad Government for real this time. While it certainly feels like a setup that didn’t get to go where it was planning to, it also feels epic and high-stakes enough to constitute an ending that isn’t a complete letdown. Leaving you with an ending that feels too-soon, but not too little.
Overall, this series is great. It’s definitely not going to latch people who are looking for something a little deeper to sink their teeth into. But if you’re just looking for a good time, and/or a series you can sit down and read in a short amount of time, the (devastatingly short) fourteen chapter run of Red Sprite will absolutely take you there. And if you’re anything like me, you’re going to be very happy to go there with them.
Blake is one half of Blake & Spencer Get Jumped – a member of The Geekly Grind podcast network! Make sure to tune in and get their thoughts on classic anime series, new manga titles and more!