Book Review: Black Cat Volume 1

July 5, 2018

Black Cat Volume 1 cover

I hope that everyone is having a good week, especially those that celebrated Independence Day.

Things have been going fairly well here, with no distractions, and I can still do what I like.

Recently, I was looking through possible titles to try out, while waiting for this month's preorders and I found out the original source of a series that I remembered liking in the past had been published here, and I decided to check it by purchasing the first three installments.

Today, I will be reviewing one of those books, which is called Black Cat Volume 1 by Kentaro Yabuki.

Train Heartnet and Sven Vollfied are two seemingly normal guys, living as bounty hunter, and enjoying the life they have led for the past couple of years.

However, while chasing down a lowlife criminal, with a minuscule bounty, somebody from the past that Train tried to leave behind approaches Train to try and get him to come back, and, unfortunately for Train, this is only the beginning, as his past and present lives will clash even more, if wants to continue living as freely as a stray cat.

While a series might not have been the best thing one has experienced in the past, even if it was not exactly on the dislike list, a person's feeling may change toward it, so it is good to revisit things from time to time.

And after having read this, I must say that I liked it quite a bit.

From the moment that I open up this book and started reading the first few pages, I found myself so engrossed that I did not want to stop reading for any reason.

The most important thing about any work of fiction, especially if it is the start of a series, is how well it can draw the audience into the world, and have them lose themselves in the work, and if the viewer, or, in this case, the reader, cannot lose themselves in the work, they will not be able to really enjoy themselves and even find issue with the most minor problems.

Now, this can be accomplished in many different ways, depending on medium and genre, and both the anime adaptation from Gonzo, which can be watched over on FUNimation's website, do have interesting starting points, but some beginnings work out better than than others, and the way this one begins seemed to be just the right kind of beginning needed for this series.

If I had to say why, it would be because it caught my interest quicker and far better.

In the pilot episode of Gonzo's adaptation, Train is seen fighting his former partner right up to the point where I am left to wonder what is happening, before going back and showing Train during his days as a trained killer, which leaves me stretching my head more than gets me interested in the series, unlike Pandora Hearts, which did a much better job of using this kind of beginning, and does not provide any sense of mystery.

However, in the first chapter or two of this volume, we see Train living his normal life as a bounty hunter, or, as it is called in the world featured in this series, a sweeper, giving off the impression that he is normal, but when things really get serious, or Train's mood goes sour, because something happens, he shows off a side of himself that is no stranger to killing people.

Yes, Train's life as a bounty hunter is not a cozy as desk jobs and such, and he does have to be ready to take a live, in order to preserve his own, but the way Train comes across to me in those moments suggests to me that he had killed for purposes other than self defense way before it is explicitly revealed that Train was a former assassin, and when he is revealed to have once been an infamous assassin, that makes me want to find out more about Train and how he came to join up with Sven, as well as see where his adventures take him.

If this book started out any other way, I might have been able to still become interested in the series, but I do not think that it would have caught my interest as quickly as this one did, not to mention it would not have been able to show that there is really is more than one way start a story.

Fortunately, Kentaro picked out a great way to have this series out the way it did here, which worked out better than Gonzo's beginning, and that makes me want to give him some bit of applause.

Hopefully, the other volumes start off just as well this one did, as I do not want to feel like my time has been wasted, and I am pretty sure that fans of the series would want others to see why they enjoy it, but because Kentaro only real has control over how chapters start and end, as far as I can tell, I would not be surprised if things go downhill.

I also liked how Sven seemed to be interesting and Intelligent in this volume.

One of things that I did not like so much about Gonzo's anime adaptation was how Sven seemed to be just as much of an idiot as Train and was more of a doormat than somebody that I could actually believe used to be a law enforcement official, as was later revealed in the anime.

Now, my elders would be probably like the anime version of Sven Vollfied, because he believes in chivalry or a knight, as it is known today, as opposed to what it really was in the past, and would do anything for a lady or a child, but because of those flaws in him, and his inability to notice anything quickly, any woman can go up to him and use her feminine wiles to get what they want, even if it is his head, because Sven never veers away from his code.

In fact, it takes a slip up in conversation for him to notice anything, and even then, he does not put much thought into things.

However, in this volume, even though Sven is still the kind of person that my elders and peers of the opposite sex think that I should aspire to be, he only seems to be weakest around children, because he immediately notices something is up, when the woman running and asking for help just calmly watches as the thugs chasing her get beat up, and asks her who she really is, as well as noticing her gun.

Not only does he question the woman, who quickly reveals herself to be an infamous thief, but later on, he tells Train that he might be all onboard with the idea of being a chivalrous knight, but he does not trust her enough to help her with her job, whereas Sven immediately accepts her proposal in the anime and has not seen through her disguise.

By having Sven be so observant, it helps to show that he is quite capable as a bounty hunter, as well as helps him to seem a lot more realistic and believable, though I am quite sure that there are men out there that think all women are too weak to handle themselves or incapable of manipulation and deception.

If Sven was the character that was a gullible as his anime counterpart was, I do not think that I would be able to put up with this, especially because the story here takes place two years after Train and Sven met, rather than before, and would have made him nothing more than the kind of gentleman that earns my disdain.

Thankfully, Kentaro made the right decision in having only one character seem to be a clueless idiot, and that helps to make things a bit more interesting and enjoyable.

Another nice thing about this book was how the two main protagonists were adults.

While this has not been particularly a big issue when I got into anime and manga, with series like DBZ, Rurouni Kenshin, and few others, or even before that, a complaint I have been seeing from one or more people, at least those growing tired of it, is that every protagonist in an anime today is a child or a teen, so they have a hard time relating to the main characters because of that age difference.

Even though I would not consider a legitimate problem with anime, as the characters can still suffer the harsh realities that adults do, with depressing stories or learn things that quite powerful, even today, such as how Tomoyo Sakagami's backstory in Clannad showed that the family one is born into may not be your family, it does kind of give off the feeling that anime is not as diverse as once was, with things becoming worse with the prevalence of dull protagonists that are as overpowered and wish fulfilling as Kirito from the Sword Art Online.

In this series, however, even though it is still the same adventure type set up that is typically found in other series, with the same target audience as FMA and One Piece, the main cast is mostly made up of adults.

If Kentaro did not have these characters be adults, I have no doubt that I would have still enjoyed it, as I care more about getting an enjoyable story or adventure than the ages of the characters, but this series still would have just become lost in the sea of anime and manga, just like has, even though it came out in a time in which adult protagonists were not scarce.

Fortunately, Kentaro did not do that, so that means that people that are tired of adolescent protagonists, yet do not want to get out of series that target those than are younger than Boku Dake ga Inai Machi's target audience, can at least have something to enjoy, even if it is more than 10 years old.

Hopefully, anime and manga can become a bit more diverse in the ages of the characters, as well as provide interesting characters and stories, but because anime and manga are mainly targeted towards Japanese citizens, and, according to a video by Lachlan Still, of The Pedantic Romantic, adult life in Japan is nothing like the lives of adults in the United States, or countries with similar a culture, which ends up being pretty as dull, at least to normal people, as the life of an introvert, I highly doubt things will change any time soon, unless the culture stops favoring workaholics.

It was also nice how there were quite a few things to chuckle about.

Even though the humor found in here is not really that unique to anime or manga in general, or even seem funny at a quick glance, Kentaro and those who helped him seemed to execute things well enough that I was at least able to get some laughs while actually reading the content.

Aside from a great beginning and maybe an overall storyline, the thing that series really need to have is characters and an atmosphere that intrigues the audiences, and a great way to create that is by adding in some humorous moments.

The one that really stood was when Train went to scout out Torneo Rudman's mansion.

After Train decided to accept Rinslet's proposal, Sven and Train go to meet Rinslet, who hopes to devise a plan that will work, Rinslet is shocked to find out that Train went to scout Torneo's mansion and Train starts causing a ruckus, upon seeing somebody about to be killed.

Seeing all of this play out and Sven's to what Train got caught up, I started chuckling because Train made it seem like it was no big deal.

If Kentaro forgot to add in some humor, I probably would have found myself to be a little bored, as much of what is seen here would otherwise be monotonous and not worth my time, especially because fiction is supposed to help us relieve stress by temporarily going to a new world and allow us to see things we might not see otherwise.

Thankfully, he remembered that there needed to be some humor, and that makes me feel like giving him a good amount of applause.

The thing that I liked the most though was how this volume ended.

As I have stated many times already, the second most important thing for a work of fiction, regardless of whether it is a standalone work or an installment in a series, is how it is ends.

The purpose of an ending is to either leave the reader satisfied with what they read, or, if it is part of a series, especially the first installment of a series like this, give the reader an incentive to continue on with the series, and if neither one of those conditions are met, readers will walk away frustrated that they invested time that they will never get back, thereby resulting in writers and other creators losing possible revenue.

While I have encountered a few instances of terrible endings in my exploration of anime and manga, this was fortunately not one of those moments, because the volume ended so well that I want to jump in and start reading the next volume.

If I had to say why things ended so well, other than Kentaro Yabuki and his crew ending the final chapter of the volume perfectly, unlike Kaiu Shirai in the 4th volume of The Promised Neverland, Shueisha, or whoever they had compile this volume together, chose the right chapter to end on.

If the volume had ended any later or earlier than it did, there would have been a possibility that this volume could have ended well, especially because the manga for Black Cat is supposed to be very different, when compared to the anime adaptation from Gonzo, but I think that there would have been a much higher chance of experiencing disappointment, as I might not be able to see the end of the raid of Torneo's mansion until start of the next volume, much like how fans of The Promised Neverland will find out that the remaining chapters covering the escape from Gracefield is small enough that it should have just been included with the start of the escape.

Fortunately, the pitfalls experienced with The Promised Neverland, were avoided, at least for now, and that makes me want to give Shueisha, or whoever they had put this volume together, a good round of applause.

Hopefully, the remaining volumes this series will be able to end just as well as this one, but because I know that Black Cat is not even close to being just as widely known as the other popular titles of the early 2000's and late 1990's, I would not be surprised if things take a turn for the worst.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else that I particularly liked, at least that could not be shoehorned in to what I already talked about or stand out as much as what was mentioned.

Because my interest was grabbed quickly and held right to end, by a method other than showing an event and then going through the events leading up to it, Sven came across as more intelligent and competent than he did in the anime, the protagonists were adults, though I put more stock in the storyline and whether the characters are interesting than their age, things were pretty funny, at least while reading through the book, and the volume ended at just the right moment, which makes me want to read the next volume right now, this was a fairly decent read.

Although I did like the book, there are some issues.

However, aside from things that are too minor to talk about, such as typos and little things that Viz Media's translation has that are no longer issues with manga translations today, there was only one thing that really bothered me.

This book seemed to drag on.

Now, some of you guys might be wondering why this is an issue, when I said that this volume had the perfect ending point, but the actual content is not the only thing that makes up a volume.

In many manga volumes, there is a small foreword, like what could be found in many of the volumes of Yu Yu Hakusho, then you have the content, and finally you get some extras and/or afterwords.

In this book, that is how the formula goes, and even though I could skip the extra content, just like my family will never sit through the credits of a movie, which causes headaches on some streaming platforms, I do not because there might be something interesting that I probably would have missed, but this time, I just felt like putting the book down.

If I had to why the extra content felt like it was too much, it was because it seemed to feel more like afterword overload.

Fans of manga might like to see snippets of the lives of those involved with making their favorite series available to them, but they do not want to go through each and every assistant and somebody as unimportant, at least to the reader, as a supporter.

Unfortunately, each assistant and one supporter did put in an extra, and the only one I even remember is the one from a supporter.

What the heck? These extras are supposed to be something special for the fans and if a thing from a supporter that is not something like celebrating the release of the first volume is the only thing that even left an impression, then those other extras were nothing more than wasted space.

Not only were those extras pointless because of not remembering them, they even felt like filler just reading them.

A fan of series should be able sit an entire installment and be able to enjoy the extras, but if those extras feel like nothing more then filler, they are going to skip through, just like I skip the ads for other manga in the printed volumes I buy sometimes.

If are going to be like this, I might as skip all the extras in any future volumes of this series, which might also take away from my ability to get insights into things that were going on when this was a new series.

Hopefully, things will improve from here, but, if they do not, then there might be nothing to redeem this series in the moments that it does go downhill, in terms of quality.

Still, Shueisha should have been ashamed for allowing these kinds of extras to be featured, because, as a publisher of manga, they should know what the readers like to see.

Thankfully, that was the only thing that was truly bothersome about this volume, so I can leave Kentaro Yabuki, his assistants, and Shueisha, as well as Viz Media with some dignity.

While there was only one issue, the fact the it had more to due with the extras, which are easily skippable, than the actual content means that the book suffered little to no damage.

Considering that there was only one annoyance, and it was not present until after the final page of the final chapter, this was definitely worth reading.

I mainly recommend this to fans of Kentaro Yabuki and Black Cat, as they will be able to like this the most.

As for everyone else, this might be worth giving a try, as it was pretty enjoyable and it would allow you to see why people enjoy the series, but to get the full enjoyment, I recommend only reading the eight chapters that compromise the volume, and, if you desire, Kentaro Yabuki's comments at the beginning, otherwise the excitement for future volumes would probably be drained.

If you liked this review and would like to see more, please considering donating as little as $1/month to me on Patreon, so I can continue finding more worthwhile reads for you guys without sacrificing activity level.

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