By: Jimmie Robinson (story & art), Paul Little (colors)

The Story: It turns out even assassins lie about their age sometimes.

The Review: I’m not quite the devoted manga reader now as I once was, but there are still a few I follow with some regularity.  As someone who reviews monthly comics, I find the weekly format of manga an interesting beast.  While I do like getting a complete story more quickly and in even doses every week, I do think the grind of turning around a product in that short amount of time does result in a lot of filler and plot formulas repeated to exhaustion.

I guess what I’m trying to say is we’re all pretty lucky that Five Weapons isn’t a manga.  Even as a monthly mini, the pattern of Enrique challenging a club president and tricking them into defeat has already started staling.  His triumph over Darryl the Arrow is about as ingenious and complex as all his previous victories, which is to say not very.  Given that Darryl obviously picked up and finished the race with a target last issue, we all knew that for Enrique to win, the target couldn’t be real.  Still, kudos to Enrique for tapping into a legitimate weakness from Darryl’s choice of weapon rather than just pulling off a simple switcheroo.

With Joon the Loon, Enrique doesn’t even bring that level of thought.  Here, again, Robinson simply pulls details out from thin air to make the twist work.  Admittedly, if you pay attention to the festival signage in last issue, you will see one that states, “SUPPORT OLD WAR VETS / 50 YEARS OF SERVICE,” which is ambiguous enough to make you think it’s talking about old war veterans who have served for 50 years instead of veterans from the “Old War,” which took place 50 years ago.  But as to Enrique calling the age of L’Harma, Joon’s teacher, into question, there’s no way any of us could have deduced that until he points it out here.

Perhaps this kind of cheap narrative trickery is the result of having only five issues to work with.  The premise of this story does seem to have enough material for a much longer sort of mini, and now that we’re at the penultimate issue, Robinson is clearly scrambling to explain a few details and begin wrapping up his story.  As interested as I was to understand the animosity between Nurse and Principal O, Robinson undersells it completely here.  Instead, he has O deliver a rambling bit of exposition that introduces a whole new plotline, a confusing bit about a faked death, an unintended victim, and failed inheritance.  It is way too late in the game for Robinson to pull this kind of move when other things remain undeveloped.

Perhaps a manga’s weekly format may have given this series enough space to truly explore the odd school lives of these characters and their relationships with each other.  Instead, most of that is left to suggestion and exposition: Jade and Enrique’s burgeoning romance, Joon taking over the exotic weapons curriculum in place of the exposed and resigned L’Harma, and the stress (and injury) from midterm season.  Alas, all that has to set aside so we can see how Enrique manages to survive his final confrontation with a club president, the strong, silent Nat the Gat.

Robinson’s art is really too simple and narrowly purposed to make too harsh a critique on it.  It’s a very pleasant-looking style which matches the gentler tone of this series, but it’s also pedestrian, never once showing any ambition in its choice of POV, paneling, perspective, or posturing.  It has the manga look without much of the frenetic boldness which makes manga so addictively entertaining, and Little’s pale pastels only seems to highlight that fact.

Conclusion: Keeping in mind this is a series more suited for a younger crowd, it’s appropriately fun in certain respects, but Robinson’s storytelling choices are questionable and puzzling for young and grown-up alike.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – O explains her drastic actions toward Enrique this way: “I am an assassin, not a real principal.  So I dealt with him the only way I knew.”  Well, then she’s a terrible assassin, because she can’t manage to kill a weaponless kid.