Serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump is competitive and constantly changing. This is no surprise given how many hits the magazine has churned out; the titles that don’t cut it tend to be canceled quite quickly. Unfortunately this can result in underrated manga ending far too soon. Such was the case with Tomohiro Hasegawa’s Moriking, one of my favorite new Jump titles in years. Fortunately Viz has at least released digital editions so fans and new readers can still enjoy the series in English. Vol. 2 is out this week and it adds several new characters to its cast of wacky insect-people. So, is it good?
Character-wise, Moriking continues to shine. Nowhere is this more evident than with the core trio of Shota, Shoko, and Moriking himself. By this point in the series Hasegawa has figured out exactly who these characters are and how to play them off one another for max comedic effect. Shota is the heart of the series, a sweet and earnest kid with an obsession for bugs that borders on encyclopedic. In other words your average kid, quirks and all. Moriking, meanwhile, is anything but average. His high and lofty speech is contrasted by his utter lack of common sense in terms of human interactions and behavior. While Shota adores him, Shoko plays the straight man role. Whenever there’s a need to emphasize just how ridiculous the characters’ lives have become, she’s generally the one to do so.
Beyond this strong core cast, Vol. 2 introduces a number of new bug characters who add to the fun. The most notable is Oki Samura, a great purple emperor butterfly (who, like Moriking, is just a bishōnen with wings) set up as Moriking’s rival. Despite being a candidate for the title of Forest King, Oki is happy just to live his days as a pet to Shota’s friend Sakura. Design-wise Oki looks like he would be a textbook delinquent archetype. He kind of is, but the contrast between that antisocial exterior and his strict moral convictions and commitment to doing right by other people make him a likable figure. He also contrasts well with Moriking in temperament as he’s comparatively more down-to-Earth and casual while Moriking conducts himself more haughtily.
This being a comedy manga, it’s the jokes that make or break it. Thankfully, almost all of them land. As previously mentioned the characters are all very well-defined and Hasegawa is able to mine their clashing personalities for effective, organic comedy. This is due largely to his willingness to acknowledge the absurdity of the manga’s premise and lean into it without ever demeaning it or coming across as edgy or ironic.
Take for instance a sand sculpture building contest which Shota wins by constructing a hyper realistic depiction of several insect species which he titles “Flight” and explains with a long speech about evolution. Sure, Shota’s enthusiasm is part of the joke, but it feels like the manga is laughing with him, not at him. This is a series that loves and respects its characters, absurd as they may be. Another great scene is when Moriking decides to show another character what a day in the life of a king looks like, just to spend it all clinging around a tree or burrowed underneath the ground. Sure, there are occasionally jokes where the delivery is a tad off, but there aren’t any clunkers by any means.
Artistically the series is good but seldom particularly memorable. The characters’ facial expressions are frequently amusing and the panel sequences are effectively paced comedically. If there’s a con here it’s simply that Hasegawa’s work could feel more polished. An oddly rendered face here, an iffy composition choice there, never anything outright bad so much as just not heightened to meet the comic’s full comedic potential. With that said all the new characters have fun designs that effectively merge their human and insect characteristics. While most of the art is relatively simple, there are some occasional very nice and detailed panels that show off more of Hasegawa’s technical skill. The aforementioned sand sculpture is probably the best example of this.
All in all, Moriking Vol. 2 impresses primarily through its earnestness. This is a comic that the creator clearly put a lot of love and care into producing and that serves as a refreshing, silly pick-me-up read. All the characters are well-defined and have dynamics that naturally spark conflict and its resultant comedy. The pacing throughout is quite strong as well. The art is also well done, with a clarity of action that keeps events easy to follow and allows the jokes to play out smoothly. This is easily one of the most charming gag manga in recent memory.
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