It seems like that for every good and/or successful shonen series out there, there are half a dozen titles like today's selection - ones that try to appeal to older kids, try to be grittier, but never quite manage to becoming something other than a mild diversion.
BLOODY MONDAY (Buraddi Mandei), written by Ryou Ryumon & drawn by Kouji Megumi. First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2011.
Takagi Fujimaru is by all appearances an ordinary high school kid. He screws off in class, he helps out with the school newspaper, he even takes care of his sickly younger sister. He also has a secret that's known only to him and his intelligence agent father: Takagi is also the notorious hacker Falcon who uses his skills for the cause of justice. When Takagi's father gets caught up in a Russian bioweapon plot, Takagi must find a way to help his father clear his name and potentially save the world to boot.
Bloody Monday is a decent shonen series, doing its best to incorporate a lot of political thriller trappings into a format suitable for teens. If it has any sort of major failing, it's that it feels the need to explain everything to its audience instead of letting them discover things on their own and make their own connections.
I'm not joking about that in the least. There are a ridiculous amount of blatantly expositional conversations that exists only for the benefit of the audience. It's hard to believe that Takagi or anyone else can keep a secret considering how often they blather away about every little thing about themselves or what's going on. It's also kind of a ridiculous story unless you're willing to accept it at face value. You have to be willing to accept everything from the idea of some high school kid becoming a world-class hacker with secret government support to the notion that Ebola and smallpox could be spliced together successfully. It's also not afraid to wallow in some spy story clichés like the Russian femme fatale who serves as the main villain of this volume. She might have been more intimidating if Ryumon wasn't so focused on reminding us of her enormous rack. It's not like that Ryumon isn't capable of that; Ryou Ryumon is just one of many psuedonyms used by Shin Kibayashi, creator of many other shonen mystery series like The Kindachi Case Files and Sherlock Bones. He knows how to create mysteries and thrills that kids can grasp, he just needs to trust in their intelligence a little.
It does at least a sense of the burning spirit that all good shonen needs. Takagi has a strong sense of justice and wants to use his skills for good, and it makes sense for an idealistic teenager to feel this way. He manages to convey that enthusiasm to his friends once he informs them of his secret identity, even if they never rise above their one-note personalities and remain little more than lackeys to Takagi. Just like a hot-headed teenager, though, he's also prone to plunging himself into danger without a thought towards the consequences. He doesn't listen when his father tells him that his current mission is too big and dangerous for Takagi. He doesn't notice that his mysterious new science teacher might not be the best person to confide in when it comes to his hacking. Worse still, his plot and the bioweapons one often feel like they're happening in two different spheres. Even after Takagi starts to suspect his teacher, the two never quite mesh together. Maybe they're just saving that for a later volume, much like the payoff for the plot thread about Takagi's father gathering allies of his own while on the lam. So in spite of some serious flaws and an utterly terrible tag line ("Spy vs. Spy: the 1337 Edition"), it's got enough passion and intrigue to keep me reading. It's just going to have to try a lot harder before it can become something genuinely good.
Megumi's art is very realistic and more than capably drawn, even if his adult characters are more distinct than his teenaged ones. He's also terribly prone to throwing in pointless fanservice, finding every excuse possible to have the Russian spy walk around in her underwear or flash some panties. He even tends to focus on her chest during serious scenes, and at times I wished someone had taken him aside and said "Her eyes are up there, off panel." It's like he was terribly afraid that we might not get the point that she's meant to be sexy, when really it's just overkill. Still, the realism goes a long way towards selling the reader on the gravity of the story. It's just that sometimes that realism gets stretched when he loses himself in the fanservice or makes it a point for Takagi and his father to go weirdly cat-eyed during dramatic moments. I'm still not sure whether this is just artistic license on his part or whether it's supposed to be a hint to something else entirely. He does certainly try his hardest to bring some visual excitement to the concept of hacking, with plenty of dramatic close-ups and dark, moody lighting. I just wish that he had focused more on the serious elements and less on indulgences.
Bloody Monday does have the potential to become a decent political thriller, but if it wants to be great then it needs to stop relying so much on exposition and fanservice and instead focus on tightening its narrative and putting some trust in the reader's ability to put thing together.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 11 volumes available. All 11 have been published and are currently in print. They are also available in e-book form through Barnes & Noble's website.