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).
Shonen Trash. It’s what I call myself. Because I know what I want, and I know what I like. And what that is, is cool characters with cool powers having cool fights against other cool characters with cool powers. Now, obviously, I’d like there to be a little more flare, a little more spice, a little more je ne sais quoi on top of all that. The geopolitical concerns of Naruto, the otherworldly justice of Bleach, even the whimsical sci-fi of Dragon Ball all serve to provide a fun, exciting environment on which to paint a series of fights. The plots, though sometimes sparse, string together moments of high-stakes combat in ways that give structure and meaning. But without the high-stakes combat, my interest often wanes.
There are exceptions. Hunter x Hunter famously, if you ask me, subverts these expectations, routinely sidestepping the climactic battle you expect in exchange for some conversation instead. My Hero Academia strings its fights together with a more exciting and refined thematic unity that imbues the plot with a grand significance and provides extreme emotional payoff in major battle moments. Fullmetal Alchemist switches the fighting and the plot, making it an action-packed series of cool characters with cool powers that really just uses those things to raise the stakes. Ultimately, the story itself takes center stage and makes the fights themselves into the window dressing.
Enter Takama-ga-hara. The series presents an interesting, if not necessarily original, shonen premise: People have superpowers that can be awakened, called kamiwaza. There’s a secret, mystically hidden area where those who have awakened can go to train and become stronger, largely by fighting other kamiwaza users. Our main protagonist is resistant to the idea of being a fighter but is drawn into it with the awakening of his powerful kamiwaza.
Sounds good, right? Or, at least, like something that has the potential. After all, some of the best manga and anime series take a fairly basic pitch and turn it into something dope by way of implementation. Naruto is “what if anime ninjas?” Bleach is “fighting anime but all magic swords.” My Hero Academia is just “let’s talk about superheroes.”
Unfortunately, Takama-ga-hara gets off to a middling, stumbling start and never finds its footing thereafter. The hook of the main chapter is that our protagonist, Yamato, hails from a family of five brothers. All his siblings of various ages are super-strong, obsessed with physical conditioning and martial arts, and are well-known and respected (or feared) by their peers. Yamato, on the other hand, doesn’t care at all about fighting or strength. He cares about manga. He’s working on one, and is desperate to finish it before the deadline to enter a competition. He spends the chapter trying to rope a friend into helping him finish, while everyone around him ponders whether they should tell him that he’s no good at this.
Ultimately, he discovers that kamiwaza are a thing, and has his own awakened. And what does it do? Does it allow him to attain his dream of being a mangaka? Does it make him an incredible artist, an inspired storyteller, or even just give him something like super speed so he can finish on time?
No. He’s just really strong. That’s it, he’s a strong punchy boy. He almost immediately transitions into a standard shonen protagonist, more Ichigo than Naruto, in that he’s the quieter, more serious type rather than the loud, more optimistic type. He meets a series of kamiwaza users, has a series of fights, and then the series gets canceled right at what appears to simply be the end of the setup. In fact, the chapter before the final chapter (it only survived 17 chapters total) seems to be setting up the arc villains for the coming chapters, only for the first wave to be dispensed with in the final chapter. The last page of the story indicates that the heroes are about to properly embark on their adventure, which of course will never come because it was the very last page.
And honestly, I totally get it. I’ve written a few reviews for series which seemed to have been canceled, and for which I felt some grief over this fact. Red Sprite and Stealth Symphony were both series that had strong art and fun storytelling, and both felt canceled before they’d been given a chance. By contrast, Takama-ga-hara never feels like it earns its place. From the beginning, I found the setup of a guy who wants to draw instead of fight to be interesting. But not only does his power have nothing to do with that character trait, but the manga thing is dropped without mention almost immediately. He basically forgets all that and starts flitting from one fight to the next with no mention of the fact that this is not who he wanted to be.
The kamiwaza, at least, are interesting. Outside of Yamato’s extremely basic power, there are some really unique ideas here, like the guy who can turn animals into guns or the guy who can control other people by playing his arm like a game controller. This is out there, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure types of unique, niche powerset ideas. And while I was somewhat thrilled at the very unique power ideas, the implementations never quite matched up. The characters are all bland, basic tropes, with nothing more to them than any number of other functionally identical character personalities from tons of other manga. The powers are also so out there that they can sometimes be hard to understand – not in an “ooh, it’s a mystery” type of way, but in a way that blunts your enjoyment for not properly understanding the situation. If I don’t have a grasp on how the powers involved in a fight work, then I can’t grasp just how dangerous and deadly they can be, which in turn makes the scene one in which I’m just being swept along in a current of vaguely explained power usage rather than a fight that sucks me in and won’t let go.
This is really emblematic of the series as a whole: A confusing mess of out-there ideas, half-explained so as to make little sense overall. Combined with lackluster storytelling, poor character work, and art that just didn’t do it for me, and this one was a manga I never quite looked forward to reading. The first few chapters had me excited with the premise and the potential, even if the implementation was never good. But it quickly became clear that, no matter how many interesting ideas the creator would be able to come up with, the ability to translate those ideas into a compelling or exciting narrative was just not going to happen.
Overall, I think this is not a very good manga. Clocking in only at 17 chapters, you can easily read it and find out if you agree with me or not. But I’d say that only those who really are tickled by the premise, or see some art and think “that’s my kind of thing,” should really be the ones to go looking for it. This isn’t going to be anyone’s favorite series, but I daresay that most people will agree with me that it’s not even that good. Unfortunately, Takama-ga-hara is a story that spends the time it was given floundering about with half-baked ideas, never getting itself off the ground before being quietly, justifiably canceled. It’s an unfortunate end, but an earned one. See for yourself – if you dare.
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!