Kokoryuu Kaguya’s high school life takes a turn for the unexpected when he’s struck by a bolt of light while waiting for a bus. Then he’s accosted by Mao-chan, a pink-haired, rabbit-eared girl who claims to be from the moon. Next minute, he’s fighting for his life against a murderous ogre that’s taken over the body of one of his fellow high-schoolers. It’s only then that Kaguya undergoes a life-changing transformation. Later, Mao explains to him that he – like her – is one of the Battle Rabbits, a force established to defend humanity from the ogres. Kaguya realizes that his father was killed by just such an ogre.
Battle Rabbits is the new manga from Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara (Ameichi), whose first major collaboration, 07-Ghost, won many admirers (including me). 07-Ghost was made into a 25-part anime TV series (still available on Crunchyroll) and ran to 17 volumes. So I had great hopes for their new series (originally published in Zero Sum, the magazine that has also brought us Loveless, Saiyuki and Karneval). However, as with Bisco Hatori’s new series, Behind the Scenes, sadly, those hopes have not been fully realized. The problem? The story is presented to the reader in full-on, ‘hit the ground running’ fashion – not a bad thing, in itself, if it can be fluidly delivered. But it’s all over the place. The concept of Battle Rabbits who come from the Moon to protect the Earth is wonderfully daft and the sight of the dashingly handsome warriors with their cute bunny ears is distinctly moe. Mao, the bunny girl Battle Rabbit who becomes Kaguya’s companion, even – annoyingly – says ‘desu’ at the end of every sentence. Are Ameichi gently sending up the whole fantasy action genre?
Volume 2 is a distinct improvement on the first. Kaguya learns more about his role as the bearer of the golden Rabi-Jewel and is put through a harsh shounen-style training by Battle Rabbits Earth Force Defense Commander Hijiri who, it seems, has been watching over him for some time. We get to see Kaguya’s difficult and painful childhood, which makes him a more sympathetic protagonist, but by the end of the volume, the golden Rabi-Jewel cracks in battle and it seems as if his life is over. Which is when he finds himself on an endless staircase (very familiar to readers of 07-Ghost) talking with a black-garbed, fair-haired man wielding a death-scythe. Yes, to all intents and purposes, it’s Frau. Is all finished for Kaguya before he’s achieved his aims, protected the earth and avenged his father?
Volume 3 brings answers – not as straightforward, of course, as Kaguya (and the struggling reader) could wish. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that neither the two mangaka nor their editors were sure which direction was right for the story and the downside of this is their failure to build up Kaguya as the viewpoint character. Too many needless digressions into other characters are annoying when the main character has not been given enough time to let us relate to him (a large part of this volume is taken up with the backstory of another battle rabbit and his little sister). This exudes a rather tired vibe, as if the mangaka were being forced by their editor to take the story in directions they hadn’t intended. A major plot twist occurs in the very last pages which seems promising after all the digressions and confusing background material piled up in the preceding pages. And more names from 07-Ghost are tantalizingly yet frustratingly dropped into the mix. I suspect that there’s a lot of foreshadowing embedded in the text but because of the clumsy way that the story is being revealed, it just adds to the confusion.
Battle Rabbits looks good; the character designs are attractive and distinctive and the action scenes are thrillingly (if sometimes confusingly) depicted. The translation by Jill Morita flows smoothly and each volume of the Seven Seas edition boasts two glossy colour images. Ameichi’s quirky sense of humour is allowed to show through sometimes with some cute chibi designs and one 4-koma strip per volume.
So why the disappointment on this reader’s part? Well, it’s difficult for any writer to follow up on a very successful title and 07-Ghost was deservedly very successful in the josei fantasy/action field, inspiring a 25-part anime series. However, 07-Ghost was set in a fantasy world with a dark, compelling and well-developed mythology/belief system and Battle Rabbits labours under the disadvantage of being set in the present day. This ought not to present problems (Harry Potter, after all, is set in the real world too) but instead of this being helpful, the story has to keep stopping to explain the many fantasy elements that intrude – and the whole warriors from the Moon set-up ends up feeling awkward and underdeveloped. There are allusions to Japanese moon mythology: the rabbits, Tsukuyomi (the Japanese moon deity), Kaguya’s name (as in the recent Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, in which the moon princess visits the earth) but much more intriguing yet frustrating are the appearances of familiar names from 07-Ghost. Will these characters make more than a brief appearance? There’s only one more volume to go as the series was brought to an abrupt end, presumably because it didn’t do well in reader polls in Zero-Sum.
Battle Rabbits is drawn with all Ameichi’s considerable skill and flare but the story it tells is all over the place and lacks focus. Nevertheless, if you loved 07-Ghost, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.