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Manga Minis, November 2007

Posted by: Katherine Dacey on November 30, 2007 at 1:46 pm

This month’s column looks at two titles from Hakase Mizuki, Asian Beat (Tokyopop), a collection of stories about alienated teens, and Baku (Tokyopop), an anthology with a demonic element. We also look at Smuggler (Tokyopop), a one-shot about a young actor who accepts a deadly job to pay the bills; Alice on Deadlines (Yen Press), a body-swapping comedy about a shinigami and busty schoolgirl; Operation Liberate Men (NETCOMICS), a manwha dramatizing the battle of the sexes in a novel fashion; and the second volume of Heroes Are Extinct!! (DMP), a sci-fi comedy spoofing the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. All of these titles are available in stores now.

Alice on Deadlines, Vol. 1

By Shiro Ihara
Yen Press, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

alice_deadlines.jpgA shinigami named Lapan is sent to earth to collect the soul of a dead man who’s somehow managed to overstay his welcome. Things go horribly wrong, however, and Lapan ends up in the body of a busty and beautiful teenage girl named Alice. Alice, unfortunately, ends up in the body intended for Lapan: a skeleton. Hijinks ensue. The book is full of panty shots, fan service, over the top humor and pervy situations. It turns out that Lapan is a bit of a hornball who spends most of his time trying to grope, look up the skirts of, and otherwise sexually harass Alice’s friends. Alice chases him around and tries to stop him. Occasionally something else happens, like a short battle with a dead soul turned monster, or a failed attempt at a date. The art is kind of pretty, but that’s about it, as the non-stop pervy humor wears thin after about ten pages.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley

Asian Beat, Vol. 1

By Hakase Mizuki
Tokyopop, 208 pp.
Rating: OT (16+)

asianbeat.jpgThe four stories comprising Asian Beat explore the same themes found in Hakase Mizuki’s supernatural dramas. (See Erin F.’s review below.) Like Chiaki of The Demon Ororon and Takeshi of Baku, the principal characters in Asian Beat are teenagers bearing the scars of parental abandonment and neglect. The first story, “The Town Where Snow Falls,” focuses on the relationship between Koji, an angry, self-destructive girl who clashes with her stepmother, and Maria, a delinquent torn between his attraction to Koji and his loyalty to Yoko, a married woman with whom he’s been having an affair. The artwork is stunning, capturing the young couple’s sense of estrangement from their peers and families with wordless scenes of empty, snow-filled streets, sterile classrooms, and shabby apartments. The other three chapters—“Asian Beat,” “The Grey Town,” and “The Scar”—focus on a different trio of characters: Mushi and Jam, whose alcoholic father disappears for months at a time, and their housemate Yuki, the illegitimate son of a yakuza boss. There are a few well-observed moments in these stories. Mushi’s relationship with Jam repeats the abusive dynamic between him and his father, for example, while Jam masks her loneliness with a fierce, don’t-tread-on-me demeanor. But the frenetic pace and busy layouts compare unfavorably with the poignant, understated lyricism of “The Town Where Snow Falls,” to the overall detriment of the anthology.

–Reviewed by Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

Baku

By Hakase Mizuki
Tokyopop, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen (13+)

baku.jpgBaku is a one-shot volume by Hakase Mizuki, the author of The Demon Ororon and Demon Flowers. Mizuki’s obsession with demons continues here in Baku, a one-shot volume featuring two stories about demons. In the first, perfume ad model Takeshi discovers he is a super-natural creature called “Baku”, an eater of nightmares. Takeshi had suspected something was wrong with him ever since his mother was institutionalized for calling him a changeling. (The crazy-abusive-mother thing is similar to Loveless, while the reincarnation element may remind readers of Daniel’s transformation in The Kindly Ones.) The former Baku’s supernatural adopted children, Fukyuko, a snow woman, and Nekomata, the Prince of Cats, are looking for their reborn father. Makes sense, doesn’t it? No, of course not. Baku is actually about skinny demons in sharp suits with big hair, and if you’re not into the art, you won’t be into the book. This is a book best appreciated by high school girls who read Sandman and admire Dream’s hair. Fortunately I once fell into that demographic, so I found Baku enjoyable. The Prince of Cats! How charming!

The other story in the book, “Mephisto”, reads like the pilot of a failed TV show—it’s the author’s earlier, crappier work. Mephisto, like Baku, is a tall skinny half-demon in a suit. He lives with a pixie named Nana, his creepy twin sisters, and Mika, a hot, gloomy teenage friend of the family. Mephisto acts as a supernatural problem solver. In one chapter, he hangs out with the ghost of a suicidal schoolgirl until she’s ready for the next world. In the next chapter, it’s Mephisto to the rescue of a discarded doll searching for her owner. Mephisto’s hamster, named Creamtea, rides on his hat. Unfortunately, Creamtea is the highlight of “Mephisto.” The supernatural detective agency story has been done better elsewhere in both manga and anime. The stories aren’t creepy enough and the supporting characters are clichés. It’s a lot like the chapters of Bisco Hatori’s “Love Egoist” stories which appear at the end of Ouran High School Host Club.

Baku is probably only worth it if you’re really into Hakase Mizuki, or if you’re a high school girl, in which case I would check it out at a bookstore first or opt for a used copy.

–Reviewed by Erin F.

Heroes are Extinct!!, Vol. 2

By Ryoji Hido
DMP, 200 pp.
Rating: 13+

heroes2.jpgYou can read Katherine’s review of volume one here, and my further thoughts on it here.

Volume two of Heroes Are Extinct!! introduces us to Cassiel’s brother Jude, who shows up claiming to be engaged to the less-than-thrilled Lady Velvet. Cassiel continues to play Earth against the Bazue Empire leading both sides himself. Jude and Cassiel create “monsters” for the Earth Rangers to fight. Cassiel is too afraid of a giant spider so they opt for a giant adorable kitten instead. It’s quite funny, despite the art shortcomings. Cassiel’s past is fleshed out from Jude’s point of view, and we are introduced to the boys’ foster father, Drart, who snuck off to Earth to help out LASA (obviously NASA) in the distant past. Drart’s story is totally heartwarming–he sacrificed everything so Cassiel and Jude could play Power Rangers on Earth, for real.

The character art is perfectly adequate, and the story is well written. Particularly in volume two, the characters’ emotions are handled quite well. If I were watching this as an anime series or a J-drama, I’m sure I could really get into it. (The author’s note in volume one mentioned this idea was originally pitched as anime.) However, the backgrounds are so poorly rendered I am reminded of a Far Side cartoon featuring pith helmeted explorers in a jungle stopped by diagonal lines: “We can’t go this way either Simmons… See those lines? That’s the international cartoon symbol for glass! …he got us good, the dirty bugger.” My suspension of disbelief was interrupted many times as I tried to distinguish the minimalist scenes on board the spaceship: is that a door? is that someone’s foot? I enjoyed the story enough, but the art is distractingly bad, at least in the first half of the book. Towards the end, Hido manages a few actual backgrounds and the shot composition improves significantly. It may be too little too late for this three volume series. The author apologizes in his note, saying he expected the series to be canceled after chapter 15. I would give this a “C” but Hido’s apology is so sincere I bumped him up a grade. It’s probably a good thing I’m not a teacher.

–Reviewed by Erin F.

Operation Liberate Men, Vol. 1

By Mira Lee
NETCOMICS, 198 pp.
Rating: 13+

liberatemen.jpgImagine, if you can, a world in which men not only perform heavy manual labor, but also do all the housework, child-rearing, and cooking while women serve in the military, run the government, create artistic masterpieces, and keep male concubines. Sooha Jung stumbles into just such a universe after a beautiful young man implores the Korean teenager to help him liberate “the beta gender” (a.k.a. males) from the oppressive yoke of empress Mahapara. Though Sooha fully expects Para to be heavenly—what girl wouldn’t prefer to outsource the dishes and diapers to someone else?—she’s horrified to discover that women routinely subject men to violence and emotional cruelty, disposing of unwanted husbands with the casual indifference most of us show for ill-fitting clothes and ancient TV sets. The androgynous-looking Sooha then faces a choice: should she reveal that she is, in fact, a girl—and enjoy the privileges of a Para woman—or should she join the resistance?

Operation Liberate Men has the potential to be an engaging read, blending comedy, suspense, and social allegory to highlight real-world gender disparities between men and women, but Mira Lee doesn’t quite have the storytelling chops to pull off her ambitious project. Though she excels at drawing androgynously beautiful men and exotic costumes, she executes other characters’ proportions poorly; Sooha’s head and hands frequently seem too large for her slender frame. Lee also struggles to set an appropriate tone for her story, toggling back and forth between broad, fish-out-of-water comedy and dark scenes of domestic violence. By the end of volume one, however, Lee’s command of the material seems more assured. She ends with a surprising cliffhanger that will leave even more frustrated readers with a keen desire to find out what happens next.

–Reviewed by Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

Smuggler

By Shoei Manabe
Tokyopop, 248 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

smuggler.jpgKinuta is a young, would-be actor who’s fallen on hard times. After ringing up a high bill with the local gangsters, he finds himself working with a crew of body disposal specialists to work off his debt. Unfortunately for him, their current job—transporting a captured assassin by the name of Spine—goes wrong, and he finds himself stuck impersonating Spine to cover for the mistake. Smuggler is a dark and gritty single-volume crime manga with interesting characters and a surprisingly complex story. The art, on the other hand, is horrible. It’s ugly and, early on, it’s actually quite amateurish. There are a few panels where characters with hair suddenly go bald, and the action scenes are just a mess. As the story progresses, so does the art; at times, the rough aesthetic actually enhances the mood of the story. (Some more polish wouldn’t hurt it though.) Notwithstanding the ugly artwork, I enjoyed Smuggler enough to want to track down other works by Manabe.

–Reviewed by Ken Haley

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