WARNING! Possible SPOILERS!
The Soul Eater anime put out by Funimation was my introduction to the work of Atsushi Ohkumbo. I was immediately drawn to the idea of weapons being human and able to transform at will from their human form to their weaponized form. For example, the main character, Soul, is a tough talking youth with an angular mop of white hair who can transform into a scythe, wielded by his meister, Maka. Both are students at the Death Weapon Meister Academy, where they suffer the same anxieties and pressures that your average middle schooler or high schooler might.
B. Ichi shares the same somewhat slapsticky humor and zingers as Soul Eater. Its main character, Shotoro is reminiscent of Soul Eater’s Black Star, thick-headed and single-minded (but without Black Star’s bravado and ego) — Actually, I have it backwards. Ohkumbo wrote B. Ichi before Soul Eater, so it’s more accurate to say that Black Star is reminiscent of Shotoro. I learned about the books in reverse order. You could say that Shotoro’s character and his relationship with Mana, his newfound friend in B. Ichi Book One, have been ground up and sprinkled throughout the characters in Soul Eater.
Mana befriends Shotoro after running over him on her scooter. She is not dokeshi but she is not helpless either. Mana is a martial arts expert who (happily) is depicted as someone who can competently defend herself. In her relationship with Shotoro, she is the rational one. Shotoro is rather dimwitted.
The description of the B. Ichi story states:
Most humans use only a small percentage of their brainpower, but a certain group of people called “dokeshi” can use a greater percentage to unleash special powers given one condition… For dokeshi Shotoro that condition is doing one good deed a day.
Again, Ohkumbo’s concept is really creative and intriguing to me. I like the play on karma and spiritual balance he has employed. Shotoro’s dokeshi power is that he can take on the characteristics of the animal whose bone he has clenched between his teeth. Like a shaman, he carries a collection of small bones from a variety of animals (a bird, a monkey, a dog, etc.) As the description says, when he uses his power, he needs to do a good deed (regardless of size or importance) to avoid disastrous consequences. It’s these deeds that set the stage for his adventures. The deeds and his search for his childhood friend, Emine, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Emine is also a dokeshi. His whereabouts are a mystery to Shotoro but Ohkumbo lets readers know that Emine has taken up (willingly or unwillingly) with an organization known as the Masked Assembly. It’s not clear in Book One whether we should root for the Assembly or not. But you get the sense from the portrayal of its leader Shinoda that they may be malevolent. Then again, the book ends with Emine and the Masked Assembly preparing to confront the Fear Factory, a group clearly portrayed as the bad guys in the story.
A lot of the conventions used to move the story along in B. Ichi are familiar but based on how much how well they were executed and how the characters were fleshed out in Soul Eater, I’m looking forward to reading Book Two and more.