The first volume of Aoharu x Machinegun is a rather odd book. Not in the writing or artwork but in how it transitions from what are essentially two different stories intended to be one continuous narrative. The first section of the volume is an origin for the characters and how they establish their connections with one another as temporary teammates in a game called Airsoft. Hotaru herself is a genuinely compelling character: she has a sense of justice that drives her, and in the latter half of the volume, questions about her true nature and morality are brought up.
These questions, more specifically, are about whether there is a deeper, savage instinct that has been waiting to come out, and whether airsoft will draw that aspect of her personality out. This aspect only comes into play after the shift mid-volume to the series proper though which makes it feel rather jarring. In the pre-series proper chapters volume’s first part, which introduce the core cast, Hotaru feels more like, for a lack of a better word, a Mary Sue. There really isn’t much going on with her character. At least, not nearly as much as the ongoing series part of the volume. She does have a sense of justice, and she is mistaken for a boy, but those seem to be her only definable character traits in the early part of the volume.
In the animated adaptation, which they attempted to smooth this transition out somewhat, this lack of character development still feels rather apparent. NAOE fleshed out her character which makes the latter half of the volume compelling in a different way than the first half. In the introductory mini-series, which launches this first volume, Aoharu x Machinegun concentrates more on the slick action scenes, although there is character development for Hotaru’s smut comic-writing teammate Toru, who starts the series downright antagonistic towards Hotaru.
Masamune is the one who recruits Hotaru onto the team despite her protests and sees potential in her when no others do. Masamune is portrayed as a flirty bad boy in the beginning, something that has yet to be disproven. He convinces Toru to accept Hotaru as a teammate. Hotaru herself, and her pure-hearted sense of justice, which is downplayed somewhat in the series proper, being the tipping point to allow Toru to truly trust others apart from Masmune again. NAOE admits in the book that the shift is noticeable in minor ways between the miniseries and the series proper. Although this should not be a deterrent from picking up Aoharu x Machinegun, as once the series begins operating on full cylinders, it changes from a way to waste a Sunday afternoon to a truly gripping read.
Mysterious new antagonists are introduced and the series’ true conflict is introduced by volume’s end, which is the national airsoft tournament, promising truly formidable foes. The stranger will likely come into play in future volumes as he ignites an anger in Toru, revealing there is more to him than meets the eye as revealed by his sinister foreshadowing smirk. It may be more a matter of future potential at this point, but this series has a lot going for it, from compelling and legitimately cool characters, to slick artwork that makes this an easy to recommend read.