LBX: Little Battlers Experience Volume 1
Van Yamano is a enthusiastic fan of miniature plastic machine fighters called LBX. On one fateful day, a mysterious woman runs up to him and delivers a special LBX that is highly sought after by corporations of ill repute. Little does he know that this “AX-00″ LBX model could be the key to finding out the secret of his deceased father and the mysterious contents within his LBX that could possibly save the world.
The Good and the Bad
The main demographic of Little Battlers Experience is for children, and it’s easy to see that early on. Van Yamano and his middle school friends face dark suited agents, kidnapping, conspiracies, explosions and massive destruction of property with unwavering eyes — these are all cliched scenarios in that play directly into pre-adolescent fantasies. Who didn’t want to be a hero who save the world at the age of 13?
Little Battlers Experience clearly takes place in a heightened reality from the perspective of children, where there are no repercussions for events that would be life-threatening and dangerous in the real world. The issues that plague real life are practically non-existent in this universe; all that matters is LBX, popular remote-controlled robots that are primarily meant for duels in controlled environments. In a blink of an eye, Van and his friends find themselves surrounded by adults who don’t bat an eye at the idea of junior high schoolers (who battle small plastic robots) taking down government conspiracies.
From this point of view, the entire read is incredibly silly. Why do Van’s enemies, primarily adults, all try to overpower him via LBX duels? Couldn’t they just run over and capture him? The idea of incredibly important, possibly national, or even global issues hinging on plastic robot fights is beyond ridiculous. It may be reaching with its lofty aims, but there’s a part of me that appreciates just how gung-ho the creator throws his young characters into thrilling scenarios with no strings attached.
However, the result of the slapdash, fast-and-loose way the writing creates convenience after convenience leads to situations that lack any real punch and tension. Emotionally written scenes and character motivations end up feeling a little fabricated and insufficient while making the characters move from one event to the next. The straightforward characterizations and flimsy writing makes the overall story and motivations feel a bit flat, making some of the holes in the story even more head-scratching than compelling. I was hoping that the first volume would delve into the world of model building much like a series with a similar elements, Gundam Build Fighters, but unfortunately it doesn’t feature the hobby with the same kind of enthusiasm and magnifying glass that one might expect.
The result was a mildly entertaining distraction, but really isn’t something I could sink my teeth into. Little Battlers volume one suffers from mediocrity. It’s not actively bad, good, campy, or serious, but it takes tiny bites from all of them. There is potential for various subplots, conspiracies, edgy villains who eventually turn good, and all manner of dramatic shounen manga tropes to eventually win the reader over, but for an introduction into the LBX universe, this volume alone doesn’t seem satisfying or compelling enough by itself.
Much like the writing, the artwork on display is a bit middle-of-the-road. It’s by no means bad, but the layouts and artistic sense don’t stand out enough to be as visually engaging as other manga. Most of the panels are flat shots of characters with simple, flat backgrounds. The line work is varied and supports its simplistic style, but when minimal detail and backgrounds fill a panel, it can lead to some pages looking bare or even unfinished. If anything, the style and quality is fairly consistent throughout, which is a positive.
While not compelling to seasoned manga readers, I do believe Little Battlers Experience has something to bring to the table as an introductory manga for younger audiences. Those who are looking for the next big thing won’t find much here to grab onto, and find the story and characters fairly rote and standard. I can only give this a limited recommendation for kids who love robots, or for readers who have a great nostalgia for old Saturday morning cartoon fare and building mech models.
Final Grade: D+