In 2012 Viz Media launched a new online magazine called Shonen Jump Alpha (later renamed to just Weekly Shonen Jump) and one of their promises was to publish manga at the same time it was released in Japan. One of the magazine’s flagship series was Kouhei Horikoshi’s newly released manga, Barrage. With the almost unprecedented success of My Hero Academia, I decided to go back to the unique and sad history of Horikoshi’s second attempt at a published manga.
At the time, Shonen Jump Alpha only had a few series that were already ongoing and would only appeal to diehard fans. In an attempt to try and get new readers, they decided to release a few of the newer series coming out in Japan. Barrage was the first series to be released with another newly released manga called Takama-ga-Hara coming out a month later. Both of these manga were failures in terms of readership and sales.
This is really unfortunate because it’s not cheap to produce these chapters every week, especially on a time crunch. They were quickly cancelled and Viz became more discerning when picking a new series to translate weekly. So is Barrage worthy of having such a dishonorable past?
The manga centers around Astro, a kid who lives in the slums on a planet with a group of fellow orphans. He works every day just to make enough money to survive and feed his growing family of unwanted children. On a normal day at his gruelling job, he gets fired after saving his boss from a cruel alien politician. While lamenting his inability to help his family, Astro comes face to face with his body double, a prince named Barrage. The spoiled prince wants to swap placed with Astro, Prince and the Pauper style, in order to live a life of pleasure. But after giving Astro a bracelet that proves his royal lineage, Barrage is killed by an assassin. Astro is taken to the palace and must live there as Barrage’s substitute while also trying to understand why he can use a mystical weapon called to Orgue.
One of the reasons Barrage the series never took off with audiences is how detailed and complex its plot quickly becomes. The basic story is very simple and could have been fun, but there’s way too much background stuff to keep track of. Barrage takes place in a world with space travel but looks like a steampunk medieval setting, and there are weird aliens running around all over the place. After the first few chapters, Astro must travel all over the land with his servant/master Tiamat to heal the wounds caused by the greedy aliens invading the planet. There’s not a singular setting the audience can become attached to like My Hero Academia’s U.A. High School. In a weekly series, one of the keys to popularity is keeping the plot very simple and easy to follow.
The story has many issues and it only lasted 16 chapters, so why am I even talking about this? Well, I’m one of those people that becomes interested in the writers and artists of my favorite series. Barrage is interesting as a sort of first draft for My Hero Academia. When you read Barrage you’ll notice a bunch of designs Horikoshi recycled for his later superhero world. Reading through Barrage again, you really don’t get a lot out of this manga since it is so short, but I would still recommend picking up the two published volumes. If anything, Horikoshi’s art is amazing in this book and you get to see how his unique style evolved into something that is so popular today.
In the end, Barrage remains as an interesting footnote on the western manga industry. Its initial impact was short-lived, but it created some lasting effects. If you’re a big fan of My Hero Academia, and I know you are, I would recommend this as a cool art book showcasing what Horikoshi can do when given a more freeform setting. It’s an ambitious piece of fiction that flew too close to the sun, and that is something that can definitely hold my attention.
Also, as a short public service announcement, Viz Media has relaunched their manga website. You can now read chapters of some new and old series for free on the site. If you are interested in One-Punch Man you should go read my review as you can now read the first three chapters at the time of this review here.
You can read other How to Love Manga columns here.