Anyone remember early Naruto, when ninjas actually used martial arts and weapons with a bit (only a bit!) of ninja magic jutsu? When ninja trainees, lacking power, used their wits and teamwork to win?
Naruto is getting ridiculous these days. Jutsu now means POWERBOMB. Teamwork and strategy? POWERBOMB. You win by getting an even bigger POWERBOMB. They killed off Hyuuga Neji, I suspect, because his special fighting technique, the Gentle Fist which targets acupressure points, is only useful in very close quarters combat. No room for it in POWERBOMB BARRAGE FIGHT.
Anyone remember early Bleach, when Kurosaki Ichigo was a teenager who could talk to ghosts and help them; and after becoming a Shinigami didn’t always “kill” a Hollow; sometimes he talked the Hollow into “crossing over” to afterlife and rebirth? Ichigo the compassionate warrior. And I respected the way he dealt with Kon, letting him live.
Really tough Hollows like the Grand Fisher were overcome by sheer grit and skill. I really was impressed, and was looking forward to a rematch between Ichigo and Grand Fisher. But then Bleach started going weird. Ichigo’s dad finishes Grand Fisher off in just one blow? Whaaat? Where’s my rematch!
I almost stopped reading when Ichigo started powering up with Shikai and Bankai. And after that, the Bankai gets more Bankai, Hollow Bankai, Broken Sword Remade Bankai. He doesn’t even bother locking swords anymore but just POWERBOMBS. What is this, Dragonball? And the manga becomes ever more focused on powerfights. By the way, anyone notice that Shikai never gets used? It’s Bankai POWERBOMB all the way.
And speaking of Dragonball, I actually think the early chapters were pretty nice, when Goku and Kurin were just skilled fighters who actually did kung fu. You know, before everything POWERBOMB.
That is why I really liked Yellow Tanabe’s Kekkaishi; it’s a pity the story ended. Yoshimori does power up a bit. At one point his power actually gets scary. But then he digs deeper and realizes where his power is actually coming from, and in the process solves the puzzle of Karasumori: why spirits are attracted to it, why the power doesn’t always gift the wisest person, why it is almost capricious, why his family has been guarding it for centuries etc. And even after powering up, he doesn’t become Superman. He still has to work with other skill-users, with partners still more powerful than he is. And in the end, he resolves everything on his side with compassion, while his brother resolves and ties off all the other issues.
Full Metal Alchemist is another manga that I liked well all the way to the end. The Elric Brothers Edward and Alphonse gradually become stronger and more skillful, but not overwhelmingly so. Their power levels remain reasonable because Alchemy has a built in limit: the Law of Equivalent Exchange. And shockingly, it is revealed in one chapter that their archnemesis has the power to cut off all Alchemy derived powers, and later the origins of the powers of Alchemy are revealed and is tied into the plot. Fullmetal Alchemist is very well written.
I sense Bleach and Naruto got a bit stuck at some point. Writer’s block or something. And then, “Let’s make up new powers to advance the plot!”. It’s a slippery slope, because it always ends with POWERBOMB.
It takes a very good writer and world-building and long-range planning of story arcs to avoid impasses in plot that are only resolved by power-ups.