Manga Friday: Miki Falls
Mark Crilley has been influenced by Japan before: his best-known work, the long all-ages Akiko series, is about a Japanese girl who has various adventures on alien worlds, and various elements of Japanese culture found their way into that book. But Akiko was still clearly a Western comic by a Western creator.
Miki Falls, on the other hand, is a deliberate attempt at what’s called an "OEL Manga" – something that follows many of the conventions of Japanese comics but was written as an Original English Language work. Crilley doesn’t draw his book backwards – wisely, I think, since if it can be difficult for a reader to switch orientation, I can only imagine how difficult it would be for a creator to do so – but it’s otherwise a very manga-influenced work. And so I’m looking at it this week as our "Manga Friday" feature.
Miki is just starting her senior year of high school in a fairly rural area of Japan. She’s determined to be really herself during this new year – not to go along with other people because it’s easier. (This seems to be a common desire for manga protagonists, possibly – he said, putting on his armchair group psychologist hat – because Japan is such a homogenous, conformist society.) But, since this is a manga story – and, to be less culturally specific, because it is a story about a teenage girl, and mostly written for other teenage girls – she meets a boy. A new boy in school. A mysterious, attractive, fascinating, keeps-to-himself boy. A boy named Hiro Sakurai.
Miki tells herself that she’s not falling in love with Hiro, but of course she is. And of course he’s utterly aloof, ignoring her – and everyone else in the school – at all times. Spring is the story of their meeting, and Miki’s budding love-hate relationship with Hiro (love him because he’s a dreamy boy, hate him because he won’t even look at her). At the end, we learn the secret, very manga-esque, reason why Hiro must hold himself aloof from all love…nay! from any normal human emotion! (Oops. I’m channeling Stan Lee there. That’s not a specific hint, but Miki and Hiro’s relationship does have aspects very familiar to Western comics readers, with a large helping of angst.)
I have to be vague about Summer, since it takes place after Miki learns Hiro’s big secret – and gets involved with his secret work – and I’d prefer not to give away those secrets. But, since this is manga-influenced – and specifically influenced by girls “shojo” manga – you can be sure that there’s lots of heart-wrenching along the way.
Crilley adapts his art style slightly to the manga form: his character designs are a bit more fully rendered than he usually did in Akiko, but they’re not manga-typical, nor do his lines look particularly Japanese to my eye. (Miki has fairly large eyes, set widely in a large head, but still within the range of realistic proportions.) Crilley works a lot with foregrounded tone and texture, which I believe is still less common in manga – then again, he’s not drawing a comic that will be reproduced on newsprint, so he can indulge in a bit more subtlety than some creators. His panel layout and borders is both more risk-taking and less obvious than in Akiko – in Miki Falls, his panels shift size and orientation to show movement and emotion. Akiko had fewer, squarer panels corralled by Crilley’s fat black borders.
This is only half of the story – Autumn has already been published, and Winter is coming in late January – so it’s dangerous to make any sweeping pronouncements about the series. But the first half is quite good, if a bit overwrought (in the manga manner). I expect the biggest audience will be female and under the age of twenty, but those of us who liked Akiko can read it with some enjoyment as well.
Miki Falls, Book One: Spring
HarperTeen, 2007, $7.99
Miki Falls, Book Two: Summer
HarperTeen, 2007, $7.99
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.