Going to get this out of the way now. I know the English title for Konjiki no Gash!! is Zatch Bell, but the scan site I read it on has it listed as Konjiki no Gash!! so I’m just going to stick with that. Also, yes, I read it on a scan site. The English volumes are a pain to get and I’m pretty sure the full series hasn’t been officially released in English anyway. I’m going to use the character names from the scan I read. I know sometimes the spellings can be different or just different names entirely. Even if you’re familiar with the series from the English volumes or the English dub I’m sure you’ll figure it out. This post also contains some minor spoilers.
I first caught Konjiki no Gash!! when it was on Toonami, like I’m sure most people in the U.S. did. I adored the show. I remember spending hours designing and drawing my own demons. What color book would they have? What would the spell names be? What would the spells do? My brother and I even bought the card game. Neither of us learned how to play, but the cards were cool to look at and the little spell book you got with the game was neat.
Konjiki no Gash!! is honestly a pretty standard shonen battle series. The story is a giant tournament arc and the biggest theme is friendship, which Makoto Raiku makes sure you know. The basic premise is 100 demons are sent to earth to take part in a battle royale where the last demon standing becomes king of the demon world. Each demon is paired up with a human, the human partner uses a spell book to command their demon to fight. A demon is eliminated and sent back to the demon world once their book is burnt.
Through the series the titular character Gash Bell and his partner Kiyomaro Takamine fight other demons and make friends with demons in their quest to make Gash the king. What I appreciate most about Konjiki no Gash!! is that Raiku never really strays from this. There’s not giant twists or abandoning the goal. Raiku just powers forward chapter after chapter, introducing more demons and more spells.
This set up works well because it gives the series some inevitability. Eventually every demon except for one is going to disappear. As Gash and Kiyomaro gather friends and eliminate enemy demons it only exacerbates this issue. Eventually Kyanchome, Tio, and Umagon are going to have to disappear if Gash is to become the “kind king” he’s spent so many chapters talking about. It gives the series some stakes that so many other shonen battle manga lack.
Raiku gives the main party plenty of last second power ups (that’s kind of the nature of how the books work), but he’s also not afraid to let the demon you’ve grown the love over the last 50 chapters die. Some of the demon deaths hit pretty hard too. Raiku does a great job with the relationships between the demons and their partners (aside from Lee Yen and Won Lei, their relationship was… weird).
Konjiki no Gash!! does comedy better than any of it’s contemporaries as well. Raiku’s art style shifts from cartoony but expressive to grand and energetic, any panel featuring Baou Zakeruga is great. At times it feels like a precursor to what Yusuke Murata does with One Punch Man or Hajime Komoto with Mashle, bouncing from serious to silly panel to panel. Raiku even has entire characters who’s roles are to be hilarious. I found myself cackling at too many scenes with Wife (the Mantis Joe chapter in particular), Bing Boing, and no one ever figuring out Umagon’s real team.
I adored Konjiki no Gash and had a blast reading through it, but there are admittedly tons of faults. There’s nothing egregious that would make me discourage someone else from reading it, but they exist. The early “demon of the week” chapters are neat, but they last for 80 or so chapters before Gash and co. step into a real story arc.
The biggest gripe I have with the series is that so much of the first half of the series focuses on both demon and human reasons for fighting/not fighting, but the human element is thrown out the window for most of the Faudo Arc. We’re never told why any of the human partners would help their demons destroy the earth, seems like a bad deal.
The main villains in the series are generally pretty well done, even if they aren’t always the most inventive characters. Brago is the standard edgy character, but he comes into his own as the series moves on. Zofis and Leo are about as run-of-the-mill as you can get, they’re just… bad guys. Zeon is a fun villain, it takes a while to get into his story, but grabbed my attention from his introduction (plus, chrome-dipped Gash looks pretty cool). Clear Code is a weird one, he feels a lot like Shinobu Sensui was transplanted in the Konjiki no Gash!! which is all I can really say there.
All in all Konjiki no Gash!! really is one of the best two or three shonen battle manga I’ve read. Raiku doesn’t play any tricks, just gives you fun characters, cool fights, and the occasional sad moment. Plus, thanks to the battle royale set up every fight matters. The series was as fun as I remembered it being when I saw it on Toonami. You should read the manga, the anime makes its own story at a certain point and completely cuts out the last arc.