ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:10 - 22nd March 2013, by Amanda Young

Black Gate Vols. 1-3

Luckily, some people are born with a natural ability to be able to see the gates and close them before any damage is done. These people are called Mitedamashi, and one of our heroes at the beginning of the book is such a person. Senju makes it his life's work to prevent the unnecessary suffering caused by these black gates, but unfortunately for him, closing the gates really doesn't pay all that well. Not only that, but Senju has a young ward to take care of, called Hijiri.

What begins as a fairly standard, formulaic fantasy story soon turns its own setup on its head at the close of the first volume. The events of volume one revolve around Senju and his quest to close the black gates, plus keep food on the table, but it's not until Senju decides to reveal to Hijiri his true origins that the story really gets going.

It turns out that Hijiri is the son of a Gatekeeper called Yoshituna, who lived with his pregnant wife, hot-blooded younger brother and the orphaned Senju, together in a remote settlement. Gatekeepers have much more powerful abilities than their Mitedamashi brethren - not only can they see and close gates, but they can also open them as well. Their peaceful existence is shattered when a group of angry humans happen upon them, demanding the closure of all of the gates in the world, and therefore the right to eternal life for everyone.

It's disappointing that the events were relayed in a somewhat clumsy flashback method, and readers will have to keep on their toes, as at times, the action can feel somewhat confusing. However, that certainly doesn't detract from the fact that Black Gate takes on and tackles quite successfully an interesting concept throughout - that of immortality - which is addressed more thoroughly as the series progresses into the second and third volumes.

Shockingly, after spilling the beans on Hijiri's background - and the death of his family at the hands of rampaging humans - Senju splits, leaving Hijiri to develop his powers as a Mitedamashi. Six years into the future, and volume two finds Hijiri looking no older, and still no more skilled in the art of closing gates. But soon new allies arrive to help him in his quest, which is rather handy considering that a new plot development sees the Mitedamashi being targeted by a serial killer. There follows a series of shocking revelations and twists and turns as old characters return in new roles, and loyalties are tested. Soon Hijiri is pulled into an unexpected struggle over the ownership of the gates, and is forced to contemplate whether eternal life really is better for the world or not - and the decision he makes is then put to the ultimate test in the series' finale.

Black Gate works particularly well as a three volume omnibus because, truth be told, the initial volume isn't as strong as the following ones. The series gets braver and bolder as it continues, and its short length means that it can maintain a breathtaking pace and a sense of urgency that other, longer titles sometimes lack. Whilst it's not without its flaws - namely, a rather difficult to like main character in Hijiri, and an initial lack of energy in volume one, this represents a great investment for the fantasy-story fan, as it's a self-contained cracker of a tale.

Once it gets going, Black Gate is an ambitious fantasy story with great themes.
SCORE: 4/5
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