Have you ever wanted to learn how to invest in stocks? Or do real estate? Or engage in day trading like the pros?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should probably go buy a textbook on the topic and start reading up.
For anyone who’s not sure if they’d be interested in any of that stuff, though, I’d recommend you check out Investor Z. Written by Mita Norifusa, the author of the acclaimed Dragon Zakura series about preparing for college entrance exams, Investor Z covers the adventures of protagonist Zaizen Takashi, a middle school student who is suddenly whisked into the high-risk world of stocks and investing.
Like Dragon Zakura, Investor Z is very cerebral in nature. The author goes into quite a bit of detail on the nuances of investing, and depending on whether you’re interested in economics and finance or not, this manga can very much be hit-or-miss.
Light on plot
In general, the plot only serves as a very thin wrapper around the sports-manga-esque treatment of investing topics like Forex trading, real estate, or venture capital financing. The manga is very clearly split into arcs, with each arc covering a different area of investing.
The main plot can be sufficiently summarized in a couple of sentences. Upon entering the prestigious Dojuku Academy, elementary school valedictorian Zaizen Takashi is pressured into joining the secret Investing Club on campus, which is composed of only the top student of each grade level. The club handles what is essentially the endowment fund that keeps the school running, and it’s up to Takashi to learn about various aspects of investing and make good financial decisions in order to help this fund continue to grow.
From an overarching plot perspective, there are “important” revelations that are made about Takashi’s lineage or the truth behind the establishment of Dojuku Academy, but for the large majority of the series, they have very little impact on the manga arcs. If anything, the author tends to bring the backstory in as a plot device to guide the story into a state where the protagonist (and the reader) must learn about the next area of investing in order to overcome the immediate obstacle.
Excellent for the curious mind
The actual coverage of the arc topics are excellent – as they should be – since they are the focus of this manga. Personally, I learned a ton from reading Investor Z. As the story propels you along Takashi’s journey through the world of investing, various side characters – whether they be other members of the Investing Club or pros that specialize on a certain topic – explain concepts that are relevant and accurate not only for the world of the manga but also for the real world as well.
And it might not sound like it, but that’s something that is hard to do in fiction. In stories, you often need a compelling narrative, with clear-cut heroes and villains. It’s not uncommon for big businesses, for example, to be portrayed in a negative light – as places of corruption and greed – so that we, the readers, can feel good cheering the righteous protagonists in taking them down.
Investor Z has very little of that. Like in real life, everyone in the manga believes that what they are doing is right and more importantly, everyone seems to be able to provide a rational justification for why they hold those beliefs. For example, in one arc about the nuances of selling and purchasing life insurance, Takashi meets a successful insurance saleswoman who attempts to sell his family life insurance. The saleswoman goes into detail about not only the benefits of buying life insurance but also about how she began her career.
After finishing the arc, while I was still skeptical about the benefits of purchasing life insurance on a financial level, I could definitely understand why the saleswoman and many individuals out there might pursue a career in selling insurance. While she was portrayed as a clever and tricky individual, I never felt that she was a “villain” or that insurance salespeople were portrayed as evil in any way.
I do want to caution anyone planning on reading this manga for its educational benefits, however. The manga author, like pretty much everyone, is biased in his opinions of finance and investing. His coverage of things like real estate and life insurance deal with the Japanese market, and thus may not apply in other countries. Additionally, though he does a fairly balanced job covering the state of the Japanese stock market, it seems that the author himself is decently optimistic about the future of the Japanese economy, and this definitely shows in the manga.
Characters painted with broad strokes
I’m usually very picky about character development in writing, but for Investor Z, I’m willing to give it a pass despite its uninspiring characters. That’s because the characters are not the main focus of this manga. Sometimes, I think they’re there purely because the author needed someone to attach the speech bubble with the huge economics explanation to.
But let it be known that the main character is one of the worst offenders of poor characterization. He is introduced as an intelligent kid, but his intelligence seems to fall anywhere on the scale from “idiot” to “prodigy” depending on the demands of the plot. In more than one instance, Takashi has asked very silly questions that made him look like a fool because that gives the author an excuse to squeeze in a detailed answer for that question in the next page. At other times, he is fully capable of following along with a complex explanation of advanced financial topics and rebut with the appropriate argument when it’s his turn to speak.
The other characters in the series are little better. The other members of the Investing Club seem to have unique personalities, but these personalities always seemed to disappear when it came time to talk about investing. This phenomenon is usually hand-waved with a simple explanation like, “So-and-so has a short temper and is impatient, but it’s almost as though he’s a different person when we’re talking about Forex trading. When he’s doing that, he is always careful to not let emotion get the best of him.”
But rant aside, I want to again re-emphasize that characterization is not a priority nor a focus for this manga. Investing is.
You’re not reading this for the art
If you’ve ever read Dragon Zakura, you’d know not to expect too much from the art for Investor Z. Characters do not look all that pleasing to the eye. The art kind of reminds me of that of Akagi or Kaiji but not as bad. A positive is that each character either has a unique hairstyle or has distinguishing facial characteristics, so it’s easy to tell them apart from other characters. After a few chapters, you learn to ignore the art and focus on the text.
Again, as with the characterization, the art is not a priority nor a focus for this manga. Investing is.
In general, I think this series does a great job of introducing readers to the world of finance. For the most part, it presents complex topics in a digestible form, and I really hope that there will be more manga like it in the future. In my opinion, though the art and characterization leave much to be desired, Investor Z provides a decently interesting plot and manages to successfully balance reader engagement with educational content.
Overall Rating: 7/10