Story by Ryougo Narita
Art by Youichi Amano
Length: 3 Volumes (20 chapters)
Due to its length, Stealth Symphony will forever be a “what-if?” moment in manga history. It had all the proponents of a successful shounen series, with some fresh ideas through darker storytelling that set it apart from the other up and comers. Due to what I can only assume is bad luck, this gem was cancelled prematurely, stripping a lot of readers of what could have been an extremely enjoyable extended series. In this review, I’ll be going beyond what was given to us in the mere 20 chapters this manga lasted, and provide insight into what made this manga so special to me.
Leaving his country home in the search of a better life, Jig sets out to the metropolitan city of Jinbocho, where elves, ninjas, cyborgs and invisible dragons exist. As Jig begins to unravel the secrets within the city he now inhabits, he wonders if he’ll ever find someone that can unleash the curse that rests on his back. While it seems author Ryougo Narita has added every type of character imaginable for a cheap gimmick, the setting of Stealth Symphony felt more like a diverse world than a purposeful fan-fiction. It’s a hot-pot of the powerful, and anyone who dares to go in Jinbocho better be well equipped to survive.
Unfortunately, my main issues with Stealth Symphony can be attributed to its length. To begin with, each chapter just jumps from plot point to point. There is no time for characters to reflect on their experience and no time to develop as characters, because three pages later they’re flung into more danger. It’s still coherent in structure, but it feels like a shonen battle manga where every chapter that has no relevance to the plot is removed, chapters that are essential to characterisation. You have to feel for the creators. The frantic pacing in this manga comes from a desire to materialise all the ideas they had for their creation. He probably had an idea of when his manga would have to be wrapped up, which led to a bunch of great ideas being explained to the reader in frustration, as if saying “this was what I was going to do”, as opposed to letting the situations transpire naturally. This meant that the rare times the story relied on emotional sequences meant little, as the readers lack of exposure to characters hindered a suitable response.
In my mind, Stealth Symphony was designed to be a moderately long shonen manga, indicative of the universe behind it. Within the first five chapters we are introduced to at least six different institutions, all of which house various subdivisions of characters of various races, powers and origins. Again, if over 100-200 chapters, these additions to the world would have been great substance, and what we were given was a cast extremely likeable and unique characters. But, as you’ll see mentioned over and over again, no length meant no characterisation, no time to fully grasp the importance of each organisation, no time to understand the relationship between characters. Each person introduced seemed interesting, and some of the ideas behind them were incredible (for example: a girl who is blind, and has robotic eyes to see with. However, two of them float around her, and the third is in the form of a satellite – I know that sounds crazy, and that’s because it is. But brilliant!). Even though hundreds of characters are thrown our way, they were all so different that you could never mistake one for the other. But more importantly, the felt internally consistent. Despite the contrast between, say the alligator man and ninja boy, they could still be seen co-existing in the same universe.
The art in Stealth Symphony is the best I’ve seen in a long while. There are some artists that use different forms of art to evoke different meanings. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone unhappy with Youichi Amano’s art in any setting. The characters were the perfect balance between fleshed out and simplistically consistent. I would liken the feeling the art gives me to “One Punch Man”. Aside from 2 characters, most females were given the appropriate attire. Going back to length, sometimes multiple plot points were going on at once, which meant there was a lot to process visually, but what seemed overwhelming was somehow made pleasurable due to its quality.
As mentioned in the introduction, Stealth Symphony is a lot darker than a lot of shounen manga. Sometimes it felt like the author was making the story darker to try and force an emotional reaction out of the reader, but there were other moments that felt purposeful and terrifying. Structurally, the manga diverged from the classic template numerous times, creating a surprisingly unpredictable read. The ending of this manga made me so sad. Not because of the ending itself, but how powerful it would have been if it had been 100 chapters later. It was a very bizarre ending story-wise based the events leading up to it, and it came out of nowhere, but I feel like this was how the creators wanted the manga to end. And what an ending it was.
I might be hyping it up a bit, but Stealth Symphony is a shonen manga through and through. And there are a lot of positive aspects of this genre of manga. But this piece diverges from it enough to make a fresh, yet comfortable experience. It’s not a complete mind-f*ck, but it’s by no means formulaic.
I really enjoyed Stealth Symphony, and it breaks my heart thinking that such a bright star was dimmed prematurely. The creators definitely had a lot planned with this series, and so they tried their best to create Stealth Symphony with the little chapters they had before cancellation. This makes the manga, at times, more of a “explaining what I wanted to do with this manga” then actually pulling it off, but it was still such a pleasure to read. I was very excited by what the author was trying to pull off here, and with a bit more time, I believe it could have been outstanding. The art WAS outstanding, and something worth visiting this title alone for. But don’t do that. Read the piece too. And we can all be sad that life takes great things from us too early.
Art – 10
Story – 8
Writing – 7
Overall – 8.5/10