The protagonists’ adventures in Gourmet World have now lasted long enough that the pure novelty of the setting has given way to what it has to offer on merit. The fantastic, other-worldly environments have presented ample challenge to the Four Heavenly Kings, who now serve as joint focal point rather than just Toriko and Komatsu. This transition has been successful thanks to the overall mixture of elements on offer; the Kings haven’t overpowered or cheapened any opponents or locales. In fact, they’ve done quite the opposite, as their established strength has given credibility to the new sources of their struggles.
Unfortunately, while the tension has mounted excellently with scenarios such as the current standoff between Toriko and the Horse King, the payoff has failed to deliver thus far. This clash had every chance to succeed on the highest level, but it has been marred by the revelation of Toriko’s second Appetite Demon, the dangerous Blue Demon. As a conceptual plot element, the Blue Demon is far from special, offering nothing different from countless other shonen heroes with similar latent powers. What makes this particular instance so jarring, though, is its complete lack of foreshadowing.
The shonen landscape is littered with examples of characters being saved at the last possible moment by all sorts of plot twists, such as betrayals, returning saviors, or indeed secret powers coming to light. What sets the best of these examples apart is the preparation that makes them feel appropriate; any author can suddenly change the direction of the story, but only the best authors can balance surprise with feasibility. Toriko’s Blue Demon is certainly unexpected, but shock alone does not make a quality reveal. In fact, counterproductive as it might sound, a certain amount of predictability is important in such surprises, to reward the audience for paying attention to small details that might have hinted at the twist.
Unfortunately, this is not a new issue for Toriko; author Shimabukuro Mitsutoshi has a worrying tendency to abruptly execute massive character- and series-altering twists within the same chapter in which they are introduced. Here, again, readers are left with no chance to prepare for such a monumental turn of events, and the lingering feeling is one of disorientation, not amazement. The Blue Demon does not reflect well on Toriko because he has no direct control over his actions, yet the Blue Demon doesn’t shine as an independent entity either, because of how suddenly he was introduced. For the sake of future major climaxes, Shimabukuro must soon learn to vary between rapidly introducing wild new plot elements, which works well for food and beasts but not plot twists, and carefully establishing important character traits.
Some recent developments have been worthwhile, though. The combined effort to properly harvest Air has been a good display of cooperative strength, showcasing both individual talents and the ability to work in tandem. This is classic Toriko, using established shonen storytelling techniques to make even the most mundane and ordinary concepts – these overwhelmingly powerful heroes are essentially just gardening – into larger than life realities. Still, the author sometimes goes too far with these vintage archetypes; the increased focus on Komatsu’s own latent abilities is self-defeating, as he did not need any more special designation than he’s already been given to make harvesting Air work.
The success of Komatsu’s group makes for an awkward contrast between the release of the Air fruit, which is a glorious sight, and the disappointment found at the battlefield, where Toriko’s internal struggle has robbed the scene of the poise that his awe-inspiring opponent warrants. This is compounded by the Horse King’s own internal developments, in his case an uncharacteristic monologue that does not befit a beast, even such a grand one. The author’s extensive use of narrative boxes are the last factor in what prevents an otherwise astounding moment, the birth of a new Horse King, from being truly fulfilling.
Final Flash: Grave flaws turn what should have been a spectacular chapter into only a decent one.