Before I launch into my reactions, let me reuse a summary so that you won't have to read the rest contextually blind.
A jungle and war victims: these fragments constitute Yo Mizunashi's leftover memories. A doctor's son, Yo questions whether these pieces of his "past" aren't just constructs of a delusional mind. He forces himself to remember and in seeking his personal truth, alienates himself from his peers and presents school bullies with an easy target.
One day, while he is being harrassed, a mysterious man—with a gaping wound on his abdomen—appears before Yo and his tormentors. Yo hastens to help the stranger and in return, learns that his unexpected patient goes simply by the name "R" and that R trades in secrets.
Will this fateful meeting lead to Yo's recovery of his past—?
—is obviously the question we're supposed to expect answered sometime in the course of this espionage series.
Rocket Man volume 1 shōnen manga review:
Initial reactions (second, third thoughts a given)
by huamulan03 (Some rights reserved)
Now let's get into what I didn't like about this series:
R: I don't like the titular character. At least, not this early in the spy game. After finishing the first chapter titled "R is for Rocket"—a nod to Ray Bradbury's 1962 short story anthology—I can state with L-like certainty that he succeeded in impressing me... not. BS detectors immediately blared over R's risible, not to mention elliptical,
If you help me with my work, you might find that 'truth' you're searching for offer to the amnesiac school boy protagonist Yo. Cringing, if not downright annoyed grrr-ing, characterized my reactions to almost all (okay, all) of R's pronouncements, the most egregious being,
First, go to that place you want to go to with your own two feet. Secondly, gather information with your own eyes and ears. And finally, work it out for yourself. This is the only way for you to arrive at the real answer.
Neither physical resemblance to the affable Loki of Q.E.D. Shomei Shuryo (Katou-sensei's most successful series to date) nor R's supposedly awesome feat (smirk) of singlehandedly assembling a rocket from Soyuz launch vehicle parts in between information-trading jobs couldn't save him from my not-so inchoate irritation.
Nagatsuki Yayoi: Another Rocket Man character that totally annoyed the hell outta me was the mandatory female sidekick slash possible love interest Nagatsuki Yayoi. Now don't get me wrong; I love Mizuhara Kana from Q.E.D. and even that bossy what's her name? That girl who dogs C.M.B. Shinra Hakubutsukan no Jiken Mokuroku's Sakaki Shinra? Well, even her I mildly like. But Nagatsuki? Like R, she disappointed me and that's not even because of the fan service shot of her panties when she and Yo, while trying to catch up with the fleeing R, leap into the chopper R is on (though that gratuitous public exposure didn't help her cause any).
No, I just find it totally implausible that Nagatsuki's supposed to be the most popular, receives a kokuhaku prolly every after school princess at Yo's school. With her short hair and grade-schooler features, she's more tomboy than Oujo. (I'm sorry, Katou-sensei, but this time the art didn't match up with the intended character sketch.) So she has a good heart—she saved Yo once from bullies—I give her that; I'm not being bitchy for the sake of it, but Nagatsuki's still the farthest away from Kana whom I consider the epitome of effective Katou Motohiro-sensei manga heroines.
I might as well drag this supporting character in, too: I also dislike (it's verging on loathe) that Dandelion Girl wannabe whom Yo "saw" while being hounded by a couple of tyrannical senpai. Like RahXephon's Mishima Reika, she's probably going to turn out Significant to the story, but unlike Reika would probably be destined to remain a plot device.
As for our real hero, Yo—him I like. There's a refreshing honesty to this introspective main character that translates to reflexive emotional investment. Even his apathy towards the bullying he receives is credible (he's got more important things on his mind than real life). Katou Motohiro-sensei's art has a lot to do with the emotional capital immediately being funneled to Yo (and no, his resemblance to Q.E.D.'s Touma Sou had nothing to do with this munificence). The first time we glimpse Yo, we don't even see his face. Instead what we ogle are his hands under running water, interspersed with a panel of banana leaves. The "camera" pulls out and Yo is shown washing his hands in the middle of a jungle.
After sterilizing his hands, he then walks to a rundown cottage, using his chin to depress a door handle to enter what is apparently a makeshift operating theater. He pulls on rubber gloves and proceeds to assist an old surgeon. Yo's job, you see, is to bear down on the patient's exposed intestines to make sure they don't spill out like so much, er, guts.
With that kind of an introduction, who wouldn't be intrigued?
The scene fast forwards to Tokyo, 2001. Yo is watching a news clip about a civil war in Africa. He listens intently as
GNN reports that the United Nations has passed a resolution meant to end the internecine conflict. We discover that the flashback in the beginning is all that is left of Yo's memory of his past. The summary I quoted more or less fills in the next gap, so let's move on to what happens after Yo stitches R's slash wound (yup, he's handy with a needle and thread like that).
R uses Yo to corner the African guerrilla deserter who fled with a metal plate used for printing diamond certificates of authenticity (something like the Kimberly Process Certificate) to guarantee their provenance. With proceeds from the sale of the blood diamonds financing the revolutionary faction in the civil war that Yo had seen in the news, the guerrilla Kidenia Tokimarenca (who is also responsible for R's slash wound) is a man wanted on all fronts. Through R's manipulation, Yo succeeds in making contact with Kidenia—all the while being surveilled by R. After Yo and Nagatsuki's convo with Kidenia, R's quarry vanishes. Yo realizes that R is behind Kidenia's disappearance and when confronted, the cryptic agent reveals that his client was the UN and his job, to retrieve the metal plate.
The only redeeming feature of R's deceit is that he helped Kidenia get into a protection program and gain a new identity.
I have to say here since I already seem to have talked about everybody and his/her bestfriend that I also like Kidenia, abbreviated though his appearance. Kidenia turned to the illegal diamond trade after realizing that he could no longer stomach pulling the trigger on innocents. In fact, he froze on killing the grieving son of a father he had mowed down, despite knowing he should shoot. That Kidenia also perceives that ceasing to kill directly regardless, he is still ultimately responsible for thousands of deaths resonated with the lawful good in me, but it was actually his statement:
I have regretted many things in my life. The one thing I don't regret is not having gunned down that boy—sed with a relieved smile—now that moved me.
Comparison with other Katou Motohiro-sensei manga
For a work by the manga-ka who regularly draws from physics and math—superstring theory, Dedekind cuts, wave function, the Riemann hypothesis—for plot bunnies and actually makes them work, Katou Motohiro-sensei's "R is for Rocket" is surprisingly easy to follow. It's almost a no-brainer, a solve the mystery by numbers thing. The seeming simplicity didn't detract from my enjoyment of it though, even if I had to qualify my first Rocket Man experience with rants about certain characters. The next story, "The Age of the Pussyfoot" (from Frederik Pohl's science fiction novel) which bandies around public-key cryptography, large integers, and the RSA Factoring Challenge more closely resembles Katou Motohiro-sensei's usual math-flavored Q.E.D., but paradoxically, doesn't register as much as the first episode of Rocket Man did. (That could be because my eyes start to glaze over whenever I hear or read anything about algebra.)
Rating Rocket Man volume 1:
I give the first volume of Rocket Man a 6 of 10 surgical stitches. Dislike of R notwithstanding, I will get the next volume—probably all nine succeeding—and follow Yo on his quest to find himself.
Rocket Man is © Katou Motohiro. First published in Japan in 2002 by Kodansha Ltd. - Tokyo. Indonesian version published by PT Elex Media Komputindo under license from Kodansha Ltd.
~niki DBA huamulan03 (花木蘭03) who thanks Elex for publishing this series. Now what about C.M.B.?
P.S. Yes, I also review shōnen.