From the same creative mind that brought us the hit manga series Tokyo Ghoul comes another rather dark outing from creator Sui Ishida. If you were a fan of his previous work, there is certainly a lot to love about Choujin X. On paper, both are fundamentally stories about average (and rather plain) individuals being transformed into creatures beyond their comprehension. They are granted abilities they do not fully understand, leaving them feeling like monstrosities that can no longer adjust to everyday life. They have a best friend who seems to have way more going on than the story initially implies, and there is a strong hint of a larger organization orchestrating events behind the scenes.
I would not go so far as to say that Choujin X is a carbon copy of Tokyo Ghoul. Most of the abovementioned tropes are common in many mainstream stories, and perhaps Ishida finds these particular ones interesting. I can understand the appeal of stories that drag seemingly ordinary and innocent personalities through dark and morbid situations, especially if that character comes off as relatable. Our protagonist Tokio feels like someone with severe impostor syndrome. He looks down on himself so much that he determines his self-worth via the people that he associates with rather than from himself, which is what earned him the label of a vulture. The book does an excellent job of establishing that as both a symbol of power and a negative character trait that has the potential to be overcome.
Much of that gets portrayed subtly through the manga’s style and direction. The art design strikes a good balance between being cartoony and oppressively threatening. Character faces have a soft roundness but are also riddled with scratches and details that display prominent emotions that can be felt right off the page. I particularly love the book’s use of smoke and fire effects, rendered via smeared linework to make it look like the flames are practically tearing through characters and scenery on the paper.
The volume can get very striking and intense sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it lacks brevity. This mostly comes from deuteragonist Ely Otta, a young farm girl who seems to have everything figured out. She is a much simpler character compared to Tokio, but her direct and kind-hearted nature is a good contrast to him. While our protagonists don’t get a lot of opportunities to interact with each other throughout the book, these two are characterized well enough that I genuinely look forward to more of their interactions in the future.
However, while this approach of focusing on dual protagonists is appreciable, it highlights the volume’s biggest drawback. Because the book bounces back and forth between characters so much, the pacing feels incredibly uneven. It’s sometimes hard to tell how much time has passed in-between scene transitions, and there were even moments where I genuinely needed to figure out if I was in the middle of a flashback. Things tightened up toward the end of the volume, but it was no less frustrating.
Overall, while this first volume of Choujin X initially struggles to establish a sense of identity, it ultimately does just enough to differentiate itself from similar works. It provides a good foundation for the character arcs of its two relatable protagonists, and the art can sometimes be very engaging. That said, I hope subsequent volumes won’t come off as sporadic as this one as the story builds toward an emotional climax.