Miranda’s Manga Corner: Aoharu x Machine Gun Vol. 1

Welcome to Miranda’s Manga Corner, where we discuss what I’ve been reading and if it’s worth your time. This week we’ll be inspecting Volume 1 of Aoharu x Machine Gun by NAOE. This was a random pick from the bookstore based solely on the fact that there was a pretty boy holding a gun on the front cover.

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Upon further inspection the art style seemed consistent and visually pleasing, and the premise just strange enough. Tachibana is a high school aged girl with a severe sense of justice that borders on brutish. She’s the student council president and willing to kick the ass of anyone performing a deed she deems unjust. A thin girl with a flat chest, a nonchalant tomboy attitude, and a propensity to toss fists and kicks at evildoers, she wears a boys uniform and loose clothing. If you’re a manga or anime fan, you might see where this is going. She frequently is mistaken for a boy, a mistake she doesn’t take much issue with. It doesn’t help that she speaks with illeism—referring to oneself in the third person. (This is particularly important as in Japanese even first-person pronouns are gendered.)

When Tachibana is asked by her closest friend to go get her money back from a host who swindled her, she’s immediately on the case. She arrives at the club to confront the man and is invited to partake in a survival game—essentially airsoft. If she wins he’ll give the money back. The battle is fierce and while she puts up a very good fight she’s nothing compared to Matsuoka, her extremely talented opponent. In return for her loss, Matsuoka asks her to join his professional survival game team. He also notes that she broke quite a few things, including expensive bottles of alcohol, and if she plays for his team he’ll pay the bill for her. As it turns out, Tachibana really loves survival games.

The art of Aoharu x Machinegun is clean throughout. NAOE does a good job of making us feel the action and movement of the players as they race across the field, sliding and hiding, and shooting at enemy combatants. I am especially fond of the way emotions are displayed on the faces of our characters. Tachibana’s face when she experiences bloodlust is perfectly dark. There is a moment where Yukimura, a hentai manga artist and member of their team, is enraged and it is shown very clearly on his face without being overdone as we frequently see in mangas with any sense of action. It does however fall into the trap of occasionally switching to a childish chibi-like art style when expressing cuteness or melodramatic emotions that I know some are not fond of.

There isn’t a romance aspect to this manga that I’ve seen, and thankfully so. Tachibana is a high school student (though I believe she is a senior) and Matsuoka and Yukimura are both adults with jobs they are invested in. She addresses this frequently, referring to them as crazy adults when they mix her up in some of their goofy shenanigans or expose her to the seedier parts of their careers. Tachibana’s only loves are justice and survival games.

Unlike most manga where a gender is mistaken and not revealed immediately, Aoharu x Machinegun makes the case that it is reasonable. Tachibana’s own nonchalant attitude towards it, combined with the circumstances of her joining the survival games team and her first few quiet attempts at telling them she is in fact a girl failing, it feels justified.

The first volume introduces the main plot and antagonist near the end, and spends the first three chapters building up the relationships between these characters and explaining the sport it focuses on. I appreciated this as frequently in manga we see people thrown together who become best friends for no reason other than the fact that they’re in the same place at the same time.

There is a bit of confusion that occurs in the middle of the first volume. The mangaka clearly didn’t expect such a good reaction to the manga and had built it to wrap after the second chapter. There is an author’s note placed between the 2nd and 3rd chapters explaining this and apologizing for some of the small changes you may notice between the two. There is a somewhat abrupt start to the third chapter and while I experienced mild confusion I quickly caught back up to speed.

So is it worth your time? Yes.

The main characters are all endearing and the hyper-serious atmosphere they build around survival games helps to make it more believable and less on the silly side as one may expect. The antagonist introduced near the end is intriguing based on his initial kind and gentle interactions with Tachibana as well as Yukimura’s visceral reaction to his appearance, and it made me curious enough to buy the second volume.