World Trigger (ワールドトリガー) by Ashihara Daisuke (葦原大介) is a shounen battle manga that I love dearly. Once it got its hooks in me it nestled into a snug position as my third favorite manga of all time. My objective with this review is to convince you that it’s worth reading, and to be honest that might be a little difficult with how I typically do things. Usually, I’ll sum up the first two or three chapters and then discuss other things, because with most manga in two or three chapters you know everything you need to know. With World Trigger, by chapter 20, you know most of what you need to know. This is a series that isn’t so good at the start. When I reread it, I actually appreciate how it starts, but when I first read it there were a number of things I had issue with. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t think it was special. My opinion changed with chapter 20, which seems to be the firm turning point for most readers, so before I say anything else about this series I’ll say that you really have to give this twenty chapters before casting judgment.
World Trigger is atypical for a boys’ manga about fightan’. One Piece is an exemplary shounen battle manga, right? Okay, so, the way things work in series like One Piece is that you ask the heroes “How much do you want it?” If the answer is “a lot”, then “even more”, and after “THE MOST, I WANT IT THE MOST” then the heroes win. This is simplifying it, of course, but the overwhelming factors of victory are “passion”, “determination”, and “friendship”. If you have a combination of these factors, you beat the bad guy in a flourish of hotblooded zeal. An example of this using One Piece is to cite the protagonist Luffy’s victory over antagonist Rob Lucci at Enies Lobby. Lucci kicks Luffy’s ass up and down, Luffy’s friend tells him that he can’t lose here, he gets up and beats up Lucci with lots and lots of punches while thinking about the feelings of his friends and their struggles up until that point. Now, this is definitely awesome — it’ll pump you up and make you feel like you can do anything — but perhaps realistically, Luffy’s journey should have ended there. Or perhaps if he was going to win against an overwhelming enemy like Rob Lucci, he wasn’t going to do it on his own.
This is how World Trigger operates. If it’s a strong opponent, it takes a team to down them. Even if it takes time, even if it takes several encounters, even if it takes losses and bouts with seemingly no practical purpose (because no damage was dealt), the heroes will try and manage a win. For example, maybe a hard fight will force the enemy to reveal a devastating and tricky technique that offs a fighter, and later on because of that loss a later fighter is prepared for the trick. I should say that One Piece is not unfamiliar with using a team’s aid, but strategy and teamwork aren’t really why you read One Piece. You go to One Piece, and battle manga like it, for rousing adventure and spirited fights with a few clever twists. In World Trigger, you can have passionate battles, but your emotions and will to win are not going to let you triumph over superior skill, competent strategy, and a run of bad luck.
Basically, World Trigger surprised me by treating its setting seriously and strictly adhering to its own rules and internal consistency. I dropped most of the battle manga I’d been reading when I was around 19 or so because while the intense sort of emotional clashes in most battle manga do work for me to an extent, they could get pretty tiring and I found myself questioning the logic of most of it. You shouldn’t do that, since obviously these things are about obliterating rationality with irrationality, but I did it anyway. I cautiously moved in on World Trigger, running in a magazine that I generally had a very low opinion of (Weekly Shounen Jump) and only read for one series (One Piece), expecting nothing of particular note. I wasn’t given a pitch on it, just a single page that made me think “oh, yeah, sure, I’ll give that series a look” (it wasn’t even a particularly interesting page) and put it in my backlog. I was also intrigued by it from hearing some opinions on it from the Weekly Manga Recap podcast (good manga podcast that reviews WSJ manga and other manga by request, also on iTunes!), the hosts of which were quite enthusiastic about the series.
I was lightly amused for the first eighteen chapters, then I started getting invested in the characters. Shortly after that we had the first “team versus team(s)” fight in the series and I was sold. The series was doing things I hadn’t really seen before from shounen manga, and it felt like literally every person on the battlefield mattered immensely. Visually it was amazing, the choreography was cool, the weapons were neat, and the characters were actually all rather likable on both sides of the engagement — damn, why hadn’t I heard of this before?
Well, on the west side of the world World Trigger isn’t very popular, and I understand that since the very things I like it for are things you don’t see in the megahits (to the West) such as Naruto and Bleach. I have been shilling the series for a while on other realms of the Internet, so now comes the time to shill it here, too.
Mikado City, Japan. Gates made of science suddenly open up and out pour giant robot monsters that go off killing and capturing as many people as they can. A heretofore unknown military organization calling itself Border appears to combat the beasts (dubbed “Neighbors”), rescuing the city from total annihilation. With their weapons known as triggers — technology taken from the other side of the gates — they’re able to triumph over these things that conventional weapons are otherwise ineffectual against. Border erects a giant building in Mikado City to be their headquarters and uses a beacon to draw any new gates to that building. Invasions can now remain confined to this city and this city alone, and Border vows to protect the citizenry. This all happened four years ago.
Present day, Mikado City has become largely comfortable with Neighbor invasions due to Border’s steadfast defense, accomplished by numerous youths living there who signed up for the cause and operate in teams of two to five. We now meet two of the four main characters of the series. Furthest to the right is basically the protagonist, Mikumo Osamu. One left is Kuga Yuuma, who could be called the deuteragonist. Osamu takes a little while to completely reveal what sort of character he is, but Yuuma seems pretty easy to understand from the word go. He’s a strange little boy who’s actually 15 and prefers to solve problems through action (typically violence) rather than diplomacy. He doesn’t seem like a hotheaded bloodthirsty type, he just clearly has a lot of history resolving issues with strength. It turns out he’s been fighting on battlefields with his father for about as long as he can remember, making his more cutthroat philosophy and approach to things make sense. He’s otherwise goofy and very relaxed, almost careless. He makes this face ( =3= ), a duck face, a lot. His chaperon is a little floating AI robot called Replica that’s knowledgeable and multi-purpose.
Osamu is the complete opposite of Yuuma. Osamu cares, a lot. He’s incredibly concerned with things, worries often, and would prefer to talk things out over exercising dominance — not that he could exercise dominance if he wanted to. Unlike Yuuma, Osamu is weak. He’s not “the underdog with a secret power that makes him better than anyone”, he’s not “swelling with potential”, he’s weak. Osamu is a weakling.
Despite this, Osamu is an agent of Border (granted, a trainee/”C-Rank”, the lowest rank, at the start) and when things go bad he doesn’t hesitate to thrust himself into battle. He feels he has to save the people in front of him no matter what, or he can’t forgive himself. As I explained to start, this doesn’t really matter though. During his first “fight” in the series to save a group of people, he charges at a very easy-to-beat enemy and deals approximately no damage before being knocked aside. During his second fight, saving his classmates at school, he’s ripped apart within seconds and is left without a weapon. Both times, he is saved by Yuuma. At the end of the first chapter Yuuma reveals that he is a Neighbor, an alien from the other world, and that he has a powerful trigger and incredible battle sense. He easily pushes over the enemies that were like walls to Osamu with a carefree air. Osamu admits that he doesn’t feel great about it.
But like Yuuma says here, despite his weakness Osamu actually saved people. Both in chapter 1 and at the school, due to Osamu’s quick thinking people were rescued without any harm. He’s not tough, but he has a good head on his shoulders. This comes into play later, and he turns out to be a surprisingly competent strategist.
First, a bunch of other stuff happens. The series is a little too cagey with details at this point, and we haven’t met enough characters that are clearly likable such that you become invested. You might consider Osamu’s weakness a flaw, and there are even people who are up to date with this series who have a problem with Osamu’s very, very slow rate of progress, though there are more who see his weakness as good rather than bad. Also, Yuuma’s personality might grate on you, especially since it’s not entirely clear why he acts like he acts at this point. Border is oddly mysterious and surprisingly antagonistic toward its own members, which makes sense in retrospect but might be a little baffling at the start.
Putting things really succinctly, Osamu’s actions at the school were against the rules; fighting outside of sanctioned zones is forbidden. As a trainee, if he ever falls in battle there’s a chance he could be killed. Furthermore there’s no guarantee he won’t do more harm than good out in public with his lack of training. B-Ranks and above shoot back to HQ if they’re defeated, and they’re much more competent overall than agents like Osamu. Despite this, Osamu fought, and so from this point forward the top brass of Border has its eyes on him. What’s more, some suspect he’s harboring a Neighbor due to his allegedly excellent performance and some strange readings left where he fought. HQ agents butt heads with Yuuma once, but Yuuma manages to keep himself and Osamu’s position at Border safe. Thankfully they also make a friend in a high place — an S-Rank elite agent named Yuuichi Jin — who helps them out a great deal.
Jin is clearly well-regarded and considered important to Border, so he can pull a few strings to ease the minds at HQ and assist Osamu and Yuuma. He also helps out a younger girl, Amatori Chika, who’s a close friend of Osamu’s that Neighbors regularly target for some reason. Chika and Jin make up the remaining two main characters in the series, and it isn’t too long after Chika is introduced that the series becomes very compelling. Through Jin, we learn that Border is divided into a few major factions, which explains all the internal hostility. One faction wants to indiscriminately destroy Neighbors (which they already know can be “human” like Yuuma), another isn’t concerned with such things and just wants to protect the City. These two make up for the biggest parts of Border, however there is a small but powerful third faction: the one Jin is a part of. Jin’s faction feels like connecting and making friends with Neighbors wouldn’t be a bad idea, and so he offers Yuuma sanctuary by asking him to join Border through his branch.
I started becoming interested in this series when we were shown Jin’s branch, called Tamakoma. With this, we learn how things basically work, characters new and old are endearing, and we get the motivations of three out of four protagonists. For example, Chika has an excessive amount of “that energy thing that shounen series usually have”, called here trion, and that’s why Neighbors are constantly after her. Usually Neighbors come to Earth to kidnap people with high trion, and a consequence of this is that people close to Chika have vanished in the past. Her brother and childhood friend both disappeared, and she blames herself for it. Yuuma tells her that people from Earth are generally kept alive on the other side (called the Neighborhood), if only for their trion, so she determines to join Border and eventually earn the right to be sent into the other world. Though she needs to be A-Rank for that, and the Neighbor countries agents are sent to are chosen by high command, the chances of finding her brother and friend are still better than if she were to do nothing.
On the other hand, Yuuma turns down the offer to join Border and wants to return to the other side. Here is where Yuuma becomes very interesting, and where you’ll likely be sold on the series.
Turns out Yuuma is a lot more complicated than he lets on. After settling the war he and his father had been fighting in out of obligation, he eventually wandered to Earth. His dad told him that there was an Organization there that was friendly with Neighbors, and should anything ever happen to him, Yuuma should head on over and see a friend of his. Well something did happen, and it was a very big deal. Four years ago Yuuma was even more reckless than he is now and ran out onto the field even after his father warned him not to. This basically killed him. After receiving his absolute thrashing — losing an arm, a leg, a chunk of his abdomen, and earning a large hole in his head that blasted out his eye — his father found his almost-corpse and gave him a second chance. Sacrificing his life, he became a “black trigger”, an exceptionally powerful trigger that can only be made when a person relinquishes all of their trion at once for a purpose.
The trigger stored Yuuma’s dying body inside of itself and replaced him with a sleepless, slightly durable trion body. Yuuma came to Earth to see if he could revive his father from this trigger, but found his father’s friend not only dead, but also a black trigger himself, letting him know at once that such a thing is impossible. We learn that Yuuma’s carelessness is true carelessness — apathy, in fact. His body is slowly dying inside his father’s trigger, but he isn’t concerned about this at all. It was his own fault that he “died” that day, and he doesn’t understand why his father had to go and die instead. Now that he knows his efforts to revive his dad were futile, he no longer has any purpose. Aside from a few interesting distractions, he now quite literally does not care whether he lives or dies, and intends to go back to the Neighborhood to presumably fight on various battlefields in various wars until he expires.
That’s bleak. After Osamu hears about this, Replica requests that Osamu give Yuuma some kind of purpose in life. He’s not sure what to do at first, but after Chika reveals that she wants to join Border, he decides to form a team with himself, Chika, and Yuuma with the intent of eventually going into the Neighborhood and saving Chika’s friend and brother. Osamu will transfer to Tamakoma, and Chika/Yuuma will join through Tamakoma. Yuuma agrees to the plan, thinking it might be fun, but the issue of his slowly dying is never addressed and still seems beyond his concern (instead, it is Osamu’s secret concern). He insists that Osamu be captain of the team, and Osamu reluctantly agrees. “Tamakoma-2” is formed, and they take positions: Osamu becomes a “Shooter”, Yuuma becomes an “Attacker”, and Chika becomes a “Sniper”. Thus, a very interesting plot begins, slowly being built upon as time goes on.
Phew, done with most of the setup. Where are we? By my count, a little over 2600 words. I get the feeling this is going to be my longest review yet, beating out Helck and citrus; that’s crazy. I still have more to talk about — I haven’t even really gotten into why I love this series!
There is a lot I like about this series, but let’s start with how the battles work. Battles in World Trigger are between people who are fighting in “trion bodies”. When you activate a trigger, like a transformation/henshin you are given a powerful, incredibly enhanced body made of trion. Like Yuuma’s dying form, your body is stored inside the trigger while your trion body gets stuff done. While you can program this body to feel pain, by default it does not. You can suffer extreme wounds like limbs being shot off or cut off and keep on trooping afterward. If you suffer a serious blow to the head or the chest (where your “trion gland”, an invisible organ that produces trion, would be located) or leak too much trion, your combat body fails and you’re left in your real body. Border agents can bail out of battle automatically on “death” or whenever by choice, so basically in any regular encounter none of the fighters are in any real danger.
A common criticism directed at this series is how these trion bodies work, however it’s also commonly praised. This way, you can see the visual spectacle of harsh body damage (trion leakage looks a lot like cloudy blood) without being concerned over questions like “how will that guy get their arm back?” (looking at you, Bleach). And if characters lose limbs, it doesn’t actually lose impact from being seen over and over (looking at you again, Bleach). Another thing to note is that mortal peril is still actually a factor in the series, even for the soldiers, though it’s admittedly rare. Furthermore there are surprisingly scary ways to be taken out permanently in a fight and whisked away from Earth. However, what I think is most important, and what makes this series special, is that there are stakes beyond the scope of battle.
Will civilians die if you’re defeated here? How many members of your team are available? Will more people be kidnapped? Will the city suffer permanent damage? Will an enemy gain an unfair advantage from your loss? Not very long into the series World Trigger has its first massive arc in the form of the Invasion Arc, and that arc is no less intense and awesome (as in, inspiring awe) than other arcs in shounen battle manga. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the best arcs in shounen from start to finish, even with (often because of) the way trion bodies work. It is not only an emotional roller coaster, but a showcase of most of the frankly amazing things World Trigger has to offer: incredible action, smart use of strategy, strange and imaginative weapons, character development, and teamwork employed in many and varied ways.
After the Invasion Arc, the series enters the Rank Wars Arc, revealing itself to also be something like a sports series. Because of the way trion bodies work, even in training Border agents can go all out even for the “kill”. The Rank Wars are based around this. Soldiers are sent into virtually generated environments to fight one another (solo or in teams) where they can advance in rank by beating out other teams. This is both a very entertaining and surprisingly practical system. The Rank Wars are just great, being almost entirely focused on the character development of the cast while also being excellent demonstrations of strategy and action. I also mentioned it was practical, which it is: the techniques and strategies learned through these battles can easily be applied to real fights against Neighbors. That this series was secretly part sports series came as a very pleasant surprise. Ashihara-sensei basically invented a new sport with new positions (Attacker, Shooter, Gunner, Sniper), and gave it its own rules and weapons. You’ve got extending swords, thrusting shields, sniper rifles, guns, and weird floating bullets — cool and often stylish stuff. He even gave these battles commentary and everything! The commentary is great, too! It’s actually informative and enlightening!
Beyond that, I spoke of character development. Right, something else I have to praise is World Trigger‘s cast. Right now, I’d say World Trigger has over…hm…one hundred characters at this point? That’s only the ones we know about that have been brought up in the story; there are more in Border alone. I’d say roughly fifty of those are important on some level, and the rest are usually at least amusing, leaving a handful that has yet to be closely examined. World Trigger is at about 130 chapters as of this writing. I do not know exactly how Ashihara-sensei did it, but I am endeared to most every character that’s been given some amount of focus. It’s not that all these characters are simple and thus you can just quickly go “oh, he’s the hyper one” or something; they all very clearly have lives they are living, motivations they’re following, philosophies they adhere to, different friends, different values and so on. I like most of these characters, and off the top of my head I can name eighteen that I consider favorites. Eighteen. I straight up cannot say that about any other series. Possibly my favorite character in the series hasn’t even appeared yet. It’s not like all of these characters get flashbacks or something to get you invested, it’s just their strong personalities, the opinions of others, how they look, how they act, what they’re trying to do et cetera speak volumes about who they are, and they’re so easy to fall in love with.
Take for instance Jin, who I also haven’t talked about. Jin is a sort of character I figured I wouldn’t like. He has a side effect (a minor form of extrasensory perception afforded by high trion) that allows him to see possibilities of the future, he’s smug and doesn’t seem to really care about anything, he’s a goofball who’s super skilled and brags about it…what an ass! But as it turns out, the weight and responsibility put on one’s shoulders from being able to see potential future events is quite heavy. Behind his almost permanent stupid smile, he’s constantly concerned with pulling strings so that the “best” outcomes can occur, even if the “best” means he has to put those he cares about in danger. Ashihara-sensei has described him as probably a deeper character than even he is aware of, and that much is obvious. Even though he’s seemingly aloof, he actually cares about his companions and the good of the world a great deal. Plus, he can be pretty damn cool in action.
And how about this girl? Kitora Ai is a character who’s a member of the least explored faction in the series and yet she sometimes feels like a fifth main character or even the main heroine. She’s one of the more complicated characters in the series, and even 100 chapters in we’re still learning more about her. I love Kitora: she’s a surprisingly insecure ace who’s like 500% badass, can be very rude, and can be quite cute. She’s exemplary of Ashihara-sensei’s character writing, and is integral to Osamu’s character development. All this from someone who’s technically a side character! That’s amazing!
Even the villains are interesting and their motivations complex but we’re getting long.
World Trigger promises more and more. The Neighborhood is apparently a near-infinite and fantastical domain of innumerable countries all with different goals, so who knows what’s going to happen when Tamakuma-2 becomes an away squad. This series has not had a chapter I could call anything less than good since chapter 20, and for a while since that point I would confidently say it only gets better and better, often being great. This is a series with an enormous cast that’s wonderful, a story that’s gripping, action that’s imaginative and intense, and art that can vary between very cool and very amusing. I haven’t really mentioned it, but Ashihara-sensei’s sense of humor is A+, and once the series becomes confident in itself it can often make you crack a smile or laugh. I also love the way he colors things. Basically, what I’m saying is that World Trigger is superb. Everyone should read it!
I have not gone into full detail but I think I covered everything I wanted to. I guess I can also say “Neighbor triggers are always really cool!” because they are, and they change things up. The series is almost like a mystery with how things are revealed and foreshadowed, and that makes reading it very engaging. The “realistic” approach to battles and the natural way the story develops means how things will turn out is often unpredictable… Alright, that’s about it. I love this series, can you tell? It has my high recommendation, and I think anyone could enjoy it. I think it’s a stellar standout among manga.
World Trigger is licensed in English and there are nine out of fourteen volumes translated to date (not bad, and since it’s officially tied with Shuueisha I imagine all volumes will be translated eventually). Furthermore, by subscribing to the online English version of Weekly Shounen Jump for 26 bucks a year (20 on anniversaries, around January I think) you can get it and several other Jump manga translated up to date with Japan. This is that manga that I mentioned in my citrus review that I actually still buy in English. You may look into buying World Trigger in English [here]. Of course, you can also import the volumes of this series from Japan through Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), and ebookjapan if you want to affect those Japanese sales (Bookwalker, honto, and ebookjapan links are to digital). It’s actually a bit cheaper this way, not counting shipping. As is my policy, I won’t demand that you buy this in order to read it, but of course I will encourage your purchasing of this manga. The omake pages of the volumes are definitely worth it — Ashihara Daisuke is a really funny guy.