Snarky talkative mascot? Check. Hero with dual nature, one cowardly and one a skilled fighter? Check. Hidden super powers? Check. Big bad guys working for a smart bad guy? Check. A series that obviously and clearly takes from One Piece, Fairy Tail, and some Naruto, among others? Check. In other words, very trope-y Weekly Shonen Jump clone? Check.
And yet this series pushes all the right buttons in all the right moments.
Wonderlandia used to be a very peaceful place with strong powers, until people from Espadian arrived and tormented them. These made the populace pray for a powerful warrior. Apparently this warrior is now hidden in Juan Tamad…yes that guy who expects stuff to happen while he sleeps. But because he is the hidden Juan Maliksi, stuff DOES happen while he sleeps. He just needs to harness it properly for good fighting use, before Datu Nga-nga and his henchmen overthrow all the good Datu Verde ever did. That’s where this talking Bayabas, apparently the son of the man who created this warrior, comes in: as snarky mascot and head coach.
It is this story, this twist on the well-worn Juan Tamad tales, its local flair and awareness…this is what makes it unique for all its tropey-ness. This is not a simple twisting he did, by the way. Instead he created a whole different world around it, just getting generous inspiration from local culture, which adds even more interest. Thus, while the art takes a lot from One Piece, don’t expect a pirate story. It’s a throughly landlocked local tale with local snarky dialogue.
Furthermore, it understands the principle of why and how the tropes work. These principles are then utilized his own way. Therefore said tropes are not followed nor imitated blindly or badly. For example: Bayabas is like Reborn, is like Chopper, is like Meowth (and a few other small mascot-y manga entities), but the fruit has an unapologetic Pinoy mouth. The tropes are used with excellent pacing of the story, such that action scenes last only as long as they should, and info-dumps are not overbearing. They work for the tropes that they are, because they are used well.
Because of these reasons, even if I was totally aware of being sucked into such a typical tale, I still found myself drawn to it, following the characters, gasping when terrible things happen to Juan, cheering on when Juan Maliksi comes into the fray. When it was over, I wanted more.
Of course this series does have the potential to fall into the quagmire of its own tropes and descend into something plain and boring, if the author is not careful. It has happened to many a WSJ and Shonen Sunday title, after all. As long as it is aware of its own weakness, Juan Derlandia may continue to show its own strengths.