Let me tell you how obsessed we are with skin these days. In manga, there is a simple technique where stuff is applied with different shades of gray, and give us an idea of what color something is within the medium’s grayscale trappings. It can be used—for instance—to imply that a character has a tan or brown skin color. Issaka Galadima made the decision for the main protagonist of Clock Striker to have one shade, giving her brown skin as a result. This one decision has turned the entire manga industry on its head. In true hypocritical fashion, it even earned the mangaka racial backlash. It doesn’t help that the main character’s skin has been the ONLY thing used by the publisher, Saturday AM, to promote it. However, it still looked like an excellent battle shounen. So, let’s see if I can discuss it like a human being in my review of its first volume (although by the time you’re reading this the initial controversy has probably died down).
In Clock Striker, a girl named Cast wants to be a Smith. However, everyone bullies her and tells her no (classic). Double however, she has an encounter with one such Smith, a woman named Philomena Clock. Naturally, after the first major battle in the series, Clock recruits Cast as her Striker, which is a Smith’s apprentice (title drop). The two go on adventures to dispose of the ancient superweapons that survived some war that probably doesn’t get touched on for a hundred-plus chapters.
So, in a way, we were being played for saps with this manga. Calm down! Spoilers, this post will be mostly positive. However, I must note that, despite the heavy emphasis on Cast’s race in Clock Striker‘s marketing, racism is in fact not a theme whatsoever, at least not in this volume. Sexism does seem to play a role, but right now, it’s a non-issue that feels like shock value. Again, this could change in the future.
They really didn’t need to play into sensitive social issues at all, because Clock Striker is off to a rocking start regardless. First off, the art is really good. In fact, it’s probably the best looking manga I’ve read from Saturday AM thus far. It’s not a particularly novel look, but Clock Striker conforms to classic shounen aesthetics really well. Characters are really memorable and expressive, and the fights are explosively cinematic.
It is also as creative as any battle shounen worth its salt should be. Cast’s superpower would fit really well in Dr. Stone; her prosthetic hand allows her to create chemical reactions, which she uses to blind her enemies with science. Clock, in addition to superhuman strength, has the ability to have tools spontaneously created by a 3D printer that gets beamed down via satellite. It is implied that Cast will have this ability added to her arsenal in time.
As for the story, it’s pretty standard shounen fare so far. Cast does have a goal to become the Pirate King Hokage of Smiths, which is probably where the issue of sexism will be touched in earnest, but for now, it’s all about cleaning up those superweapons. However, no episodic battle shounen is complete without detours! This time, the first distraction involves a kid named Klaus, a runaway from a royal family who has a handsome bounty on his head. The first people who come after him are the Demon Bandits, and like any bandits worth their salt, they rob a train.
Fortunately, Clock Striker is starting out VERY well-paced. It doesn’t feel rushed, yet this volume covers the manga’s first THREE arcs in full, at about 217 pages in total. It helps that it’s this tightly paced in a slower, independent magazine like Saturday AM; it forces Galadima to trim the fat and make every page really count. Although, with that being said, I’m pretty sure that this is at least three years’ of chapters in this volume alone. The next one might get us practically caught up with the publication!
Anyway, there are only three staple protagonists in Clock Striker thus far: Cast, Clock, and Klaus. Cast is a classic spunky protagonist; she doesn’t do anything novel (other than the one thing that people like her for), but follows in the footsteps of Jump heroes quite well. Clock is the Best Mom, though. Possibly Best Grandma, depending on her age. She’s all hoity-toity looking, but packs a punch, and never fails to put on a most formal attitude. This volume hints at her backstory, and knowing battle shounen, we won’t know anything about it for a hundred more chapters.
Klaus is the weakest link. He seems like a typical rich kid with snobby parents. However, the Demon Bandits who try to capture him are pretty cool. I hope they show up more in the future.
Current Verdict: 8.85/10
Clock Striker shows a lot of promise. In fact, it could very well become an equal to Jump‘s best, and maybe even surpass a few of them (especially the ones I don’t particularly like). At the rate it’s going, I’ll probably publish the full review in about ten years. I recommend it to any battle shounen junkie.
I learned of this magazine thanks to my local library stocking the first tankobons from them. Saturday AM is one of several magazines by a small outfit called MyFutPrint Entertainment, that publish manga made by people who aren’t Japanese. I thought it was a really good idea, but it’s not perfect. For starters, serialization is way slower than in Japan, either due to the company being smaller or because they treat their mangaka like humans. Also, my library didn’t bother to order some of the titles I was particularly interested in, which means I’ll have to subscribe. With no mention of a trial period, I decided to read the first volumes of several of the series that the library did have, to gauge whether or not such a risky investment would pay off in the long run. I don’t normally read manga when they only have their first volumes out, but I’m doing this because I also need to gauge whether or not it’s worth waiting for more volumes in the first place (given how slow serialization is). After all, my only other gaijin manga experience was Radiant, a manga that I found to be very middle-of-the-road, and haven’t resumed reading since that review was published. Anyway, preamble aside, let’s just hope that I don’t hold these titles in the same regard as Radiant.
Apple Black by Odzune Oguguo
Well, for a battle shounen, Apple Black is way more involved than expected. To put it simply, it stars a boy named Sano, whose left arm—Arodhis—is the last legacy of his late dad, Merlin. It’s the ultimate weapon that can trigger the cataclysmic Infinite Night. Sano, being a battle shounen protagonist, instead wants to end all war (and become the #1 Sorcerer Hokage of Pirates probably). However, there’s a lot more to it. A LOT more. There’s all these organizations, and not to mention, a magic school with its own intricacies. It took me an hour to read this volume, which is not at all the normal reading time for a shounen.
For a manga I wasn’t looking forward to, Apple Black has been much better than I initially thought. It definitely looks the part, with phenomenal artwork and spectacle. The ideas are also off-the-wall, and the humor checks out as well. The large cast of characters is quite good, but due to how many there are in this volume alone, I feel like I’ll only remember Sano and his classmates. Sano himself is a typical dumb shounen boy, but his upbringing in isolation justifies how dumb he is. Oguguo combines the nerd and the pervert tropes to make Symon, a sleazy four-eyes who likes the in-universe equivalent of Wonder Woman comics. Ryuzaki is a typical brash boy, but the end of the volume shows he’s more complicated than that. The female lead is a girl named Opal, who seems pretty awesome, but hasn’t gotten too much screentime yet. There are many other characters, including a very sexy grandma, but this post’d be too long if I discussed them all.
Unfortunately, the biggest flaw with Apple Black that I foresee is a matter of circumstance. It does appear to be one of the more consistent series, since it’s apparently a reprint of the series as of ten years ago. However, like I said before, Saturday AM is a lot slower than Jump. With how ambitious and complex Apple Black is, Oguguo better put recaps in future volumes, or people might forget MANY of the finer details. Sure, you can reread the older stuff, but I’m someone who rarely—scratch that, never—has the time. Sadly, this is something that’s going to bite the bums of every mangaka under this publisher.
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
Titan King by Tony Dawkins
Titan King is significantly simpler than Apple Black: a boy named Eli Santos is abducted from Earth and forced to compete in an intergalactic tournament. The participants are able to summon a bonded titan to fight alongside them and have anime powers. Like I said, simple.
With the entire manga being a tournament arc, there is a much higher focus on action than in Apple Black. I definitely enjoyed the artwork and fighting more. However, I don’t know if it’s because of being nervous to read these manga or what, but I didn’t enjoy it as much? Honestly, it was probably the nerves, because the manga is pretty damn great from an objective standpoint. The only real flaw is that the characters are way more by-the-book. They have awesome designs, but are everything you can expect from a battle shounen cast.
Current Verdict: 8.45/10
Saigami by Seny
Full transparency: I wanted this section to be The Massively Multiplayer World of Ghosts, which is the one I was looking forward to the most, but my library doesn’t have any copies. So, here we are with one of the titles I was least interested in: Saigami! Like Apple Black, it seems to be a flagship series, so I should probably give it a fair shot out of respect.
The reason why I wasn’t interested in it is because it’s a traditional isekai: a girl named Hanasaki Ayumi is miserable, and then gets sent into another world. She then discovers that she’s one of the titular Saigami for a hitherto unexplained reason. However, even with badass fire powers, her new life is hard as nails and a lot of folks don’t like her.
The idea of isekai where the other world isn’t exactly a bed of roses feels as dime-a-dozen as your typical harem power trip. However, Saigami was initially penned by Seny many years ago, so it’s technically one of the first instances or possibly THE first instance of this. However, given my timing with reading it, that whole aspect of Saigami lost its novelty fast.
In any case, there’s nothing overtly abhorrent about the manga so far. It looks like it’s going to be quite lengthy, with this volume just introducing the world, its characters, and setting up for the first major arc. It’s a slow start, but by being a manga, it’s SIGNIFICANTLY more tolerable and faster-paced than 99/100 isekai light novels. It could be a yuri, assuming that the RWBY reference at the beginning was foreshadowing, but for now, Ayumi is the only girl…
Which is a perfect transition into discussing the characters! Ayumi herself is what you’d expect: someone who constantly gets dunked on, and has to learn to embrace her inner power. She’s weak and whiny now, but I’m assuming she’ll be a badass down the road. The other three characters introduced are all boys. Sean is a silly, fun guy, who is basically Ayumi’s BFF in five seconds. Angsty Reyji doesn’t trust her at all, since she’s not from Saigami-land but has Saigami powers somehow. Last but not least is Daiszke, another underdog who gets treated like crap, this time because his powers were taken too far.
Sadly, I do find the artwork to be the weakest of what was discussed today. It hits all the right notes, sure, but compared to the others, it’s just the weakest. It has a shojo-y look to it, but thankfully, the characters actually look like people instead of Grey aliens wearing human suits; that’s one big positive at least. There haven’t been any major fights, so I can’t really say how good the action looks. In conclusion, this volume was the least impressive, but I imagine it’ll only get better with time.
Current Verdict: 8.25/10
Hammer by JeyOdin
Hammer is, believe it or not, EVEN SIMPLER than Titan King! It stars a boy named Stud Hammer, who has all the relatable quirks of being lonely, having a missing mother, and a dad who’s always going to work. In a depressed stupor, he finds his dad’s journal, and gets Blue-Skadooed into it. He then proceeds to have adventures.
The opening arc of Hammer revolves around the mysterious murder of the Ocean Kingdom’s king. It’s basically a setup volume, because it’s clearly implied that there’s more to this murder than meets the eye. Otherwise, it’s a very Dragon Ball-ish, comedic battle shounen with great fights.
Hammer is, visually, the one that stands out among the manga discussed today. That’s because its artsyle seamlessly blends American cartoon aesthetic with monochromatic manga goodness. It looks awesome, and is by far its greatest strength.
I don’t quite have an opinion on the characters because I really didn’t feel like I’ve gotten to know them well enough. They have memorable designs, but are pretty basic for the most part. Two of them, Stud and a young police officer named Dan (who I enjoyed imagining Dan from Game Grumps as his V.A.), currently rely on classic emotional hooks to get brownie points from you. Dan’s older sister, Diane, is cool, but she’s a pretty typical onee-sama trope herself (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
So, Will I Be Subscribing to Them?
The answer, for the time being, is “undecided.” If I was richer, I’d do it in a heartbeat. However, I have hundreds of dollars worth of subscriptions, including a $300 annual fee for WordPress that I need to pay off, all off of minimum wage! Crunchyroll is something I’d be willing to abandon, since I have gone on record saying that I don’t enjoy anime outside of the movies, but I actually have a relative who’s using my account in my stead pretty consistently.
Even if I could afford Saturday AM, I still don’t quite know what I’d be getting into. The website is pretty bare bones, and according to the description of their app, they don’t even have a series-by-series list like Viz; you still have to pay separate, flat rates for “chapter packs” specific to each series. Also, I’ve known about them for three months now, and they haven’t added a single new serialization since. There was a recent collection of one-shots, but I don’t know if they’re doing the Jump tradition of “the most popular one-shot gets to start as a full series” or not. Also, due to the aforementioned slow publication, I’d be flushing money down the toilet just playing the waiting game for more content. The other caveat is the world itself. Every day, we’re getting showered with news about global disorder, the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, China, etc. The talking heads estimate that we don’t even have a decade left before the next mass extinction. Saturday AM might not even be worth investing in, because there might not even be enough time for them to grow into something truly great; they’ve been doing this for almost ten years, and are only just now printing their first tankobons.
If I could find a way to get out of Crunchyroll, then I’d probably be subscribed to them now; the monthly rate—even if you factor in the chapter packs—is cheaper. However, whether or not I go through with it remains to be seen; after all, what if there’s a TV anime that’s actually good for once? In any case, if you’re reading this, and you have a much better income than me, then I implore you to check these guys out if you’re interested. I don’t want to sound like I’m forcing you… but this little team needs support, and the price of admission is peanuts. I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you highly consider subscribing to Saturday AM!
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