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).
Time Killers is a series of manga shorts or one-shots by writer/artists Kazue Kato. Most known for his series Blue Exorcist, Kato created this anthology before the run of his popular ongoing manga as, seemingly, an outlet for his artistic endeavors.
It’s hard to review any one thing about Time Killers. Where an average review would either be me giving first impressions of the beginning chapters or episodes of a series, Time Killers is comprised only of single-chapter stories. For that reason, I also can’t give an overview review of the series from the standpoint of looking at its plot construction and build over time.
At first, the book seems to be a collection of first chapters that didn’t get picked up to series, although I don’t think that’s technically true. For example, an early story that stands out in my mind is one about some rabbit samurai, which I found charming, exciting, and with a whimsical and fun artistic style. And while it, and many of the other stories herein, could absolutely have stood as the beginning of a larger series, the plot also resolves quite neatly. There is no hint that the story was building or leading to anything more. The characters are still around in a world able to be explored, but nothing further comes of it. Unlike the first chapters of many other series I’ve read, there isn’t really a hook that indicates a continuation was ever planned. The stories wrap up, leave no major important questions unanswered, and are done. You could build a series off the foundation but there is absolutely no sense that this was the intent.
As such, it’s a book largely comprised of first-impression, first chapter experiences. If you love reading short, self-contained stories, you’ll love it. If you love reading first chapters and don’t mind if there’s not much beyond the initial premise, you will probably have fun too. As someone who generally wants longer-form narratives, I struggled a bit with the transience of each individual narrative. Even so, I found myself enjoying the stories more often than not.
Of course, there were some things I didn’t enjoy, but most of it was pretty fun. It can feel a bit like a pitch meeting, with an author providing manga chapters for your consideration to see if anything sticks. And I found a few stories lived in my head, while most of them quietly slipped away into a mostly-pleasing memory blur.
The book also goes down easy; while some stories are the “first chapter of a manga length” of between 40 and 60 pages, some are more in the 20-25 range of an average chapter. There are even a few that are only one or a handful of pages, just playful little wisps of an idea meant to be seen, consumed, and forgotten in the span of short minutes.
Perhaps the most exciting and interesting piece for the general public is the chapter which serves as a clear prototype for Blue Exorcist. Coming at the end of the book, you recognize the art style and main character design almost instantly. Some of the DNA of the eventual series is in place, while some things were jettisoned between this unofficial test chapter and the start of the series proper. It’s always fun for me to see what ideas stick – in this case, very few – and what ideas get reworked. Much like the Naruto one-shot having him as a shapeshifting demon, it can be enjoyable to see these well-known characters playing by different and unfamiliar rules. And if you’re a how-the-sausage-is-made story nut like I am, you will probably have fun imagining the creative decisions that brought characters, stories, and worlds from their one-shot beginnings to the more recognizable, and commercially successful, modern forms.
As such, the book ends with a section that was one of my favorite, though totally skippable by the non-storytelling-technique-obsessed. Here, Kato gives a few text blurbs on the book and why he made it, along with reflections on the inspirations of certain stories therein. It isn’t a director’s commentary for the whole piece, but it does address a wide variety of stories in quick and interesting blurbs. It’s also written from the perspective of him as a current creator of the successful ongoing Blue Exorcist, and it’s fascinating to see how he looks at his past work and hear him discuss the times he was struggling as a promising creative with no big works to his name.
Overall, I am not inclined to give this a glowing recommendation, but that comes with a caveat. Said caveat is that I, personally, gravitate toward long, ongoing narratives, portentous story-hooks, and the like. So when a chapter of Time Killers came round in my self-imposed reading order, I usually had a bit of disappointment that it wasn’t Haikyu or Stealth Symphony or one of the other ongoings I was also reading. But, on the flip side, while not every story was to my liking, I enjoyed more of them than not. So, even if you’re like me with story length, you may find enjoyment here. If there’s a pull on you to check it out, I’d say go for it. It’s easy enough to skip a story that doesn’t immediately grab you, and you won’t have missed anything in the doing. Plus, proto Blue Exorcist is fun and should be checked out by anyone interested in that, regardless of whether you read the rest of the book. And if you, unlike me, really enjoy a quick, one and done tale, this book will probably hit you exactly right. The art is lovely, the stories are fun, the insight into the creative mind is intriguing, and the experience overall really is a nice way to kill time.
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