The 1990s were a mixed time for Weekly Shonen Jump. The unprecedented success of Dragon Ball, with support of classics like Slam Dunk, YuYu Hakusho, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, made Jump the unquestionable champion of shonen manga for the first half of the decade, but the subsequent conclusion of those series brought this dominance to an end. While the magazine searched for a new generation of talent, the responsibility of bridging the gap between eras fell to a few existing series. One such title was Hareluya II Boy, a delinquent action series by Umezawa Haruto, former assistant to City Hunter author Hojo Tsukasa. Publishing from 1992 to 1999, Boy started in the glory days, survived the rough ones, and finished when the magazine was in the safe hands of One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, and other new stars. Umezawa’s most famous work was the main Jump delinquent series of its time, and even independent of that context, it remains a fun reading experience.
Hareluya II Boy is firmly rooted in the traditional delinquent genre, which immediately guarantees it certain characteristics, such as brash emotions and a heavy focus on action. Further in keeping with its genre, this series is more plot-driven than character-driven, with its cast made to react a variety of challenging situations. Since most story progression comes from events being introduced to the characters, rather than the environment being influenced by character evolution, the cast must be adaptable to any conflict.
For the most part, it is. The centerpiece of the cast, and indeed the entire series, is titular hero Hareluya Hibino. From his self-confidence to his knack for pulling through in a pinch, Hibino is every part the quintessential shonen delinquent lead. His supporting cast is equally straightforward, complete with a kindhearted companion, frequently distressed damsel, and even the usual early-enemy-turned-friend. These characters may not win any awards for originality, but they also never fall short of what the plot demands of them. The core cast members adapt well to most arcs and are typically enjoyable, if somewhat limited by their strict adherence to their archetypes.
Such conventional characters are perfectly acceptable assuming they have interesting plot to support, but this is where Hareluya II Boy begins to struggle. While the conflicts that befall the cast are never explicitly poor, they also rarely strive for any measure of complication. Most arcs revolve around Hibino intervening to help a wronged friend, which leads to both himself and his sidekick Ichijou taking on some new heinous gang in a series of fights, all culminating in an opportunity for Hibino to reinforce his ego by crushing the gang’s leader. As with the characters, staying true to the established formula of a given genre is fine in moderation, but a series does need to find some original point of interest to make it stand out from its competitors. The lack of creativity in the plot is more damaging than in the characters because more options are available for writing a story; delinquent characters are defined by a relatively small group of traits, while the possibilities for story elements are nearly limitless. Therefore, repetition between characters of this genre is more forgivable than an unimaginative story.
Still, though the plot may not be groundbreaking, it is still written and paced well enough to maintain reader interest through each arc. Convincing the reader to become interested in each arc in the first place, however, is another matter, because this is not a series that specializes in long-term story development. Rather than providing any kind of compelling plot threads to tie multiple arcs together, the author instead closes each arc with a return to the status quo. As a result, the overall story doesn’t lead anywhere especially ambitious, instead remaining an episodic affair from start to finish. That said, Hibino and friends are engaging enough to make this approach work, as their escapades through a variety of conflicts are consistently entertaining despite their simplicity.
Occasionally, arc scenarios are a little too outlandish or dark to blend well with the basic style of conflict. Hibino feels perfectly at home working his way through motorcycle gangs or rival schools, but he is less suited to taking on a drug-empowered superhuman or an organization bent on infant sacrifice. Michiru and other female characters routinely being used as bait and otherwise objectified is another irritant, and though this simply reflects the manga’s time period, it’s still unsettling by modern standards. Even tamer subjects are sometimes at odds with the core themes of the series; attempts to diverge the story into topics like music and art are admirable but not always as comfortable as the usual delinquent fare. Ultimately, though, even the most bizarre arcs still allow the characters to shine. Hibino commands attention and succeeds in coming across as reassuring and endearing, both key elements of the best delinquent heroes, while the supporting characters carry their share of the action well.
In all, Hareluya II Boy executes the main points of the delinquent genre correctly. It does suffer slightly from a lack of originality, but this is only a slight flaw, and it is overcome with steady action and good plot pacing. The 33 volumes are easy to read and quick to get through, at no point becoming tiresome. Visually, this series conveys everything clearly, with solid character designs ranging from battle-hardened thugs to wealthy elites, all drawn well; like all other criteria, the art is unremarkable yet effective. That is the overall takeaway from Hareluya II Boy, that it knows its strengths and plays to them, but such a content series should not be mistaken for average. Its long publishing run and status as the dominant Jump delinquent series of its era prove its quality as an uncomplicated, honest read.