Edginess is a recurring problem I’ve seen from time to time in certain shounen titles that are aiming for the 16+ or 17+ age demographic. The titles in question often fall within a difficult region wherein they attempt to tell stories that go beyond typical shonen fighting/adventuring plots and focus on darker storytelling elements or premises. Unfortunately these titles sometimes conflate elements like excessive gore and nudity with “cool and mature”, and the overall result is extremely juvenile. Future Diary and Magical Girl Apocalypse come to mind as titles that struggled with this balance and failed, coming off as trashy rather than shocking. The edginess problem reminds me of MangaUK‘s 90’s dubs, which tried to fit as much swearing as humanly possible to make their anime releases more ‘adult’, and instead their dubs came off as unintentionally goofy. With edginess in mind, I discovered that Sukedachi 09, one of Seishi Kishimoto’s recent works was available through Crunchyroll’s manga app. I was intrigued by the manga’s premise about a revised Japanese execution system for criminals, but hesitated when I realized it was a shonen title. Does Sukedachi 09 manage to break the shonen edginess problem? Let’s find out.
Sukedachi 09 was published from 2012 to 2014 in Square Enix’s Shounen Gangan magazine and collected in five volumes. The manga was created by Seishi Kishimoto, the younger twin brother of Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto. Kishimoto’s previous works include O-Parts Hunter, Blazer Drive, and Kurenai no Ōkami to Ashikase no Hitsuji.
In a dystopian future of Japan, a combination of lowered birthrates and heightened murders has resulted in the government re-implementing a “revenge law” from the Meiji era. Essentially, after a criminal is caught, the victim’s families or friends can employ the government’s police force known as ‘Assistors’, who will execute the criminal utilizing the same methods as the criminal did on their victims. However, if the criminal manages to fell the Assistor, they are granted three years of amnesty before being executed by lethal injection.
One of the current Assistors, Yuji Yamagishi, has managed to carve out a distinctive name for himself amongst his fellow co-workers. The survivor of a fire that killed his father and brother, Yuuji lacks the ability to feel pain in his limbs which makes him an effective criminal executioner. Due to his position, Yuuji is put in charge of two newcomers to the Assistors: Kouta Kiyodera, a physically strong but overtly sentimental man and Ryoko Koizumi, an aloof woman who was involved in a high school mass-murder case. Yuuji must balance his responsibilities as an Assistor while maintaining his cover as a mild-mannered doofus everyman who hangs out with a local news reporter.
Off the bat, Sukedachi 09 seems to be on a relatively strong base with its characters and world-building. Refreshingly, the story’s cast focuses on a group of adults (which sadly seems to be a rare occurrence even amongst 16+ manga) who are distinctively designed with fascinating personalities and circumstances within the Assistor system. The manga does seem to have the hilarious problem of depicting adults who don’t actually act like adults, but it is nice to see that the cast isn’t full of a bunch of teenagers. Furthermore, despite some of my initial concerns about the ‘edginess’ of the story’s conceit, I was surprised to find that, for the most part, the manga doesn’t dip too heavily into try-hard dark territory, though it occasionally does slip up. In general and especially compared to other 16+ shonen titles that deal with similar elements, Sukedachi 09 manages to handle its darker concepts and tone well.
Unfortunately, Sukedachi 09‘s most glaring flaw is an inability to step out of its comfort zone. To be more specific, the manga’s moral compass is largely black and white, despite having the potential to explore otherwise. Barring some contrived character twists towards the end of the story, the Assistors are mostly portrayed as good individuals usually with sympathetic circumstances (yes even Yoshihiko Hagwara, the creepy knife-obsessed ex-doctor isn’t particular villainous, just menacing) while the criminals are almost always evil. One short story arc focusing on Kouta does make some attempts to explore a morally gray execution case, but the characters don’t seem to think too deeply about the case or the theoretical flaws within the Assistor system. This wasted potential is incredibly frustrating, given how the story seems ripe for the picking of morally gray issues (accidental murder? murder in self-defense? a genuinely remorseful criminal? etc.) and yet only seems to focus on a by-the-book good versus evil standing most of the time.
Pros: The manga has an interesting dark story conceit and a refreshing focus on a cast full of adults. Kishimoto’s art has noticeably improved since O-Parts Hunter, looking more distinctive from his brother’s designs and maintaining a ‘cleaner’ feeling. The Assistors in general are fascinating individuals, and the manga highlights their interactions and motivations within the story.
Cons: Despite the premise, the story’s morality is largely black and white and does not explore the potential gray areas of the Assistor system. The second half of the story feels somewhat rushed and contrived, relying on an eye-rolling plot twist to conclude the story. While the Assistors are interesting characters, most of the members do not get fleshed out beyond single-chapter focus stories (with the Gene Belcher-looking guy being ignored entirely), and instead the plot focuses mostly on protagonist Yuuji.
Sukedachi 09 does not have a physical English release as of this writing, but is available in its entirety through Crunchyroll’s manga app. Sukedachi 09 gave me mixed feelings; the title barely manages to eek itself into the ‘above-average’ category of shonen titles due to its premise and cast, but frustratingly never feels like it reached its full potential. Nonetheless, I’m willing to recommend Sukedachi 09, since it’s a relatively short title and feels different from a good chunk of 16+ shonen titles.