A Manga Review: Iris Zero
A mix of the fantasy and school life genres of manga usually ends with a lot of fighting and battles, but Iris Zero takes a much more grounded path, dealing more with people and their relationships. There is some romance, some intrigues and problems to be solved, but does it manage to rise above mediocrity?
In this world, people have abilities called Irises. People suddenly started being born with them some decades ago, and almost all of today's teenagers have them. An Iris is an ability which lets you see something outside of the normal spectrum, like seeing when people lie, what people feel, or even seeing probabilities for certain things.
Our main character, Toru Mizushima, however, is one of the very few people born without an iris, an Iris Zero. In stereotypical manga fashion, the other students refuses to associate with anyone remotely different, and Toru has learned to have a low profile to avoid the constant bullying. To be honest, the other students' attitudes never made sense to me. Wouldn't it be nice to have at least one friend who does not see all your insecurities, or can tell what you feel at any given time? Especially since a lot of the students keep their powers secret, so you do not know what they see. I know I have things and thoughts I wouldn't like everyone around me to know. But not so with the students at this school, apparently.
Iris Zero starts as Toru's policy of keeping a low profile is challenged. A girl by the name of Koyuki shows up and believes that he might help her with a problem. Her ability is that she can see whether people are “qualified” to do something. Thus she has been tasked with finding the new student representative, but can not find anyone. Koyuki therefore changed strategy, trying to find someone qualified to help her search, and this leads her to Toru.
Toru is initially unwilling to get involved, but in the end gives in. The plot twist in the end of this first story is pretty obvious, but I would still say it is a good beginning. Iris Zero now goes into having mostly longer story arcs, most focusing on character development rather than the powers themselves, which is a good move.
Friends are introduced one by one, starting with Toru's only friend, Hijiri. His ability is to see which people are about to die, a quite traumatic power. He seems to spend time following people he knows will die, hoping he can somehow prevent it. Ahasi is a girl who can see when people, which has made her suspicious of others motives, and others keep coming to join the growing circle around Toru. The conflict at any given time is usually somewhat mystery related, an unknown person is doing something behind the scenes. There are however usually not villains, just misunderstandings and desperation.
Iris Zero is a seinen manga, opposed to shounen, and it shows. The abilities are there to explore what would happen to people with them, not so much for the powers themselves. When the Irises come into focus, they never take it too far, the authors never make the abilities confusing.
There is a maturity here which is honestly refreshing. For example, we get a scene where a boy and a girl are about to have sex, neither of them being ready, and the boy not really caring about the girl. In so many other cases, this would have turned into an attempted rape scene, where the boy tries to force himself on the girl, but we get something completely different. Perhaps because it strayed from the norm, it got a lot more emotion from me.
There are some issues. The main female, Koyuki, is not very interesting, only working as a standard love interest, and the Toru himself has many similarities with other protagonists, the slightly cold but very observant type. In most cases it is his ability to understand other people which carries him through, and there are several others like that. Still, I like that cliché more than many others which flourish in anime these days, so I would not consider it a great problem. Toru manages to be more subtle than some, and does not go completely overboard in his attempts at solving problems while staying out of the spotlight.
A bigger issue is that the authors at times mess up, often forgetting how the use of irises could easily solve problems. Especially the girl who can expose lies seem to lose this ability whenever convenient. As for the art, I can not say it is anything spectacular, but at times it manages to convey emotions very well, and in this sort of manga, that is the most important.
Iris Zero has now started up again after a lengthy hiatus. If you think you might like a character-driven manga about high schoolers with magical powers, but without the usual fighting and flashy action, this is definitely one you should check out. As a bridge between shounen and seinen, it works quite well, being a little heavier on the emotional side than most, without entirely removing itself from the ways of the classic shounen manga.