Barrage is a fresh new shonen series that just took the place of Bakuman in Shonen Jump Alpha. It's the story of Astro, a plucky kid from the slums who is suddenly whisked off to the palace to take the place of the prince. This isn't just a retelling of the old Prince and the Pauper story, though. With cool character designs and plenty of action, this is a shonen battle story that's a cut above the rest.
Warning: Spoilers ahead! But since chapter 3 of the manga runs in this week's Shonen Jump Alpha, you'll need this backstory to jump into this week's episode.
The planet of Industria is going through a period of war, with the human-like inhabitants under attack from dog-faced aliens. Only the capital city is safe, and life isn't all that good there for poor kids like Astro. But Astro works hard, because he has taken in a gaggle of abandoned children and he needs to support them. When he loses his job after defending his boss from an alien attack, things look grim.
Then a guy in a hood shows up and announces that he is Prince Barrage, the prince of Industria, but he's sick of being the prince and he wants Astro to take his place. In the way of manga princes, Prince Barrage is a lazy bum who doesn't want the responsibility of restoring peace to his planet; he wants to sleep late and dally with the ladies. He puts an orgue, a special bracelet, on Astro's wrist... and then gets blown away by a stray shot from a laser gun. The thing is, Astro looks just like Barrage, so when the royal soldiers arrive, they drag him off to the palace.
There, Astro is faced with the 98-year-old king and his fearsome military leader, Tiamat. Despite being surrounded by luxury and plenty of good food, Astro is only interested in returning home to his kids, but it quickly becomes obvious that that's not an option. Then the dog-faced alien arrives again and attacks the royal family—and the orgue morphs into a fearsome spear, which Astro uses to fight off the invader. This is the sword-in-the-stone moment: The orgue only transforms when it is wielded by someone who can be king. It never happened with Barrage, because he was a lazy goof. The old king is delighted, but at the same time, he and Tiamat are no fools. They know something isn't right about Astro. And when he sits down for dinner with the old king, Astro's basic decency comes through: He fesses up, convinced that when the deception is found Tiamat will kill him, but he begs the king to take care of the children he took in. AFter a bit of complication, the king turns the tables and begs Astro to step into the prince's shoes, wield the orgue, and defend the kingdom. Astro agrees, as long as the kids can come live in the palace, and the setup is complete.
Barrage is manga-ka Kouhei Horikoshi's second series for the Japanese Shonen Jump, and bringing it to the U.S. just two weeks after its Japanese debut is a bold move on Viz's part. Presumably they are gambling that the series will catch on here. It certainly has all the ingredients: A likable hero, plenty of action, interesting character designs, and nice, clean art that is easy for even manga newbies to follow.
Right now the only way to read Barrage is in Shonen Jump Alpha, but hopefully Viz will be publishing the tankoubon in the future. In the meantime, if you just want to check it out, you can buy a single issue of SJA for 99 cents. It might be a good gamble.