Despite my love of American comics, I never got nearly as invested in manga. Which is a bit strange since I love monsters, and as a young man, I especially adored the Power Rangers. This is why I decided to read Saturday AM and Bon Idle’s Henshin! Volume 1: Blazing Phoenix, because not only does it recapture the Ranger days of my youth, but it also, was clearly inspired by the likes of Ultraman as well mixing exciting action with an interesting, but not overbearing, story.
It all starts in the city of Hollowstone. One day, an electromagnetic pulse knocked power out all throughout the city. Peaceful protests turned to chaotic riots in what was later deemed the Long Night. Instead of chaos reigning, a wealthy benefactor appeared and helped restore the peace. His name is Alton Grieves, and he quickly helped bring infrastructure back, and even introduced his own social media empire called G-Party.
While many would probably love to give Alton a medal, one plucky young journalism student has other ideas. His name is Alex Nolan, and along with his bestie Rosalia Ortega, he’s determined to uncover what he imagines to be a sinister conspiracy helmed by the city’s benefactor. An idea that immediately gets shot down by Rosalia, though not cause she doesn’t love Alex. She just would rather focus on harder hitting stories, like a mysterious masked many purported to be appearing at incidents all throughout Hollowstone.
Alex has his doubts about masked men. He’s much more committed to helping the people through his voice and writing. And going out of his way to avoid the hot guy he had a couple dates with, Jae-Hyun. I appreciated how the story used whimsy and humor to color the characters, and it was easy to root for Alex early on. And that’s before his life was forever changed by a chance encounter with the masked hero.
One night a monstrous creature appears and starts wrecking the place, and Alex does his best to help people that might otherwise suffer collateral damage. The masked hero fighting the creature is impressed. So much so that when the Kaiju he’s fighting gets the better of him, he uses his Spirit Plug to transfer a portion of his powers to Alex. So Alex grabs the torch thus passed, and transforms into a Reikaiger. Though his powers are similar to those of the hero, his are manifested with phoenix fire and a massive flaming broadsword.
As someone that’s not very well versed in manga, I appreciate the little asides where things get explained to the novice. Such as how here, Henshin literally means to become a hero. Or how Reikaiger use spiritual power to transform, and how the various kaiju are given physical form and grow stronger the longer they remain in our dimension. It’s heady stuff, but explained in such a way I never felt overwhelmed.
The other big arc in Henshin! Volume 1 is the introduction of a rival, a phenomenon I know very well from the Pokémon series. Whereas Alex’s heroic persona is garbed in white, this rival, named Omen, is pitch black, and seemingly can manipulate shadows. They’re also much more accustomed to these strange powers than Alex is, and thus Alex gets whupped by the dark figure more than once. It also became pretty clear, to me at least, that Omen was actually Alex’s ex, Jae-Hyun. The question is, why is someone that still has feelings for Alex so committed to villainous acts? Including apparently summoning the very Kaiju that Alex has to fight on more than one occasion!
Besides that, we also quickly discover Alex’s suspicions about Alton Grieves are totally on target, and the wealthy benefactor is behind all sorts of mischief. Including trying to get his hands on his own Spirit Plug, and covering up every incident that involves kaiju.
I really appreciated all the action sequences in Henshin!, and especially how it read properly from left to right, unlike most manga that reads right to left. While I wish the comic was in beautiful full color, it does solid work with just a black and white palette. I also didn’t mind that every time a new character is introduced, their gender pronouns are clarified. Since many of the characters herein are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, it didn’t feel out of place.
Overall, I had a really great time reading Henshin! Volume 1. There’s plenty of mysteries to unravel in subsequent issues, and I liked the characters. Here’s hoping Bon Idle has some great ideas ready to expand this promising new series!