Manga Fridays: Is That a Giant Sword in Your Pocket, Or…
This week: four manga series featuring protagonists who carry very large, sharp objects. Hmm… Overcompensate much? I’ll take them in size order, starting with the smallest and least impressive:
Togari, Vol. 1
Viz Media, 2007, $9.99
In Togari, Tobei has been in hell for the last four hundred years (being tortured unceasingly, yadda yadda yadda). He’s still utterly unrepentant and completely focused on getting out, which may be why the upper-level functionary Lady Ema hands him a wooden sword and sends him back to earth.
His mission: to kill a hundred and eight Toga (sins), monstrous vaguely-anthropomorphic creatures that attach themselves to humans and cause those humans to commit evil, within a hundred and eight days. He has all sorts of restrictions, such as the fact that any harm he does to a human is immediately replicated on his body. Along for the ride is Osa, a young demon-dude who was his primary tormentor in Hell, and who doesn’t think much of the plan.
So, to sum up: Tobei’s a bloodthirsty doomed soul and Osa is a tight-ass minor demon. Together, they fight crime!
Tobei learns that there have been many wielders of the Togari (that wooden sword, which is more than it seems), and that none of them succeeded in their mission. But that’s okay, because he’s uniquely powerful and special.
Everything about Togari is generic: the set-up, the characters, the art. It’s the manga equivalent of the Superman of Earth-7895; some of the details might be slightly surprising, but the overall plot goes exactly as expected. On the other hand, Togari is solidly professional and entertaining; it’s not likely to surprise you, but the same goes for most Top 20 comics in any given month. Togari’s pleasures are just as derivative as a random issue of an X-comic, but they’re just as real.
Samurai Deeper Kyo, Vol. 1
Tokyopop, 2003, $9.99
With Samurai Deeper Kyo, we move up to an actual sword made out of metal.
In 1604, Mibu Kyoshiro is a wandering medicine seller, a klutz, and, in general, Clumsy Hero Manga Archetype 1. However, he greatly resembles the deadly samurai “Demon Eyes Kyo,” which causes spunky female bounty hunter Yuya Shiina to capture him for the reward. Mibu has just convinced her that he’s not Kyo when they run into a band of exceptionally nasty criminals, and Mibu has to let his other personality take over to save himself, Yuya, and the requisite terrorized villagers.
If you haven’t figured out who his “other personality” is yet, you need to read more popular fiction. It’s the deadly samurai Kyo, of course – they are two vastly different minds, sharing one body in turn. And meek Mibu has to “hulk out” when faced by deadly danger…although he never wants to, since Kyo has a habit of not leaving any survivors.
Again, it’s predictable but dependable, down to the gratuitous fan service shots of Yuya bathing.Samurai Deeper Kyo won’t change anybody’s mind about manga, but it’s a solid adventure story told well. (But that title is weird –Samurai Deeper Kyo just doesn’t sound right to my American ears. It almost sounds like porn, to be honest.)
Claymore, Vol. 1
Shonen Jump Advanced/Viz, 2006, $7.99
With Claymore, we move up into the realm of unfeasibly large swords. In a post-apocalyptic future… In a world where Yoma monsters roam the earth to prey on humans… Ahem. Pardon me, I’m channeling Don LaFontaine.
Details of Claymore’s world are sketchy – it’s the common manga setting of random villages separated by badlands of various types, with no noted connection to our own world. Yoma, who can masquerade as humans, are evil, vicious, man-eating monsters too powerful for any normal humans to defeat. The only hope for the world are the Claymores, cute female warriors who are part-Yoma and part-human, and who wield ridiculously large swords and engage in slow-motion martial-arts aerobatic combat with Yomas to keep the villagers safe.
One Claymore arrives in a small village, and a pre-teen boy, Raki, tries to befriend her. He gets her to tell him her name – Clare – but his brother, Zaki, was the Yoma, and he witnesses Clare battling the thing he thought was his brother.
Eventually, Clare and Raki start traveling together – though, unlike most manga with that plot point, it’s made clear, early on, that Raki can’t possibly become a Claymore. (Though I wouldn’t bet against the possibility that he does, round about volume seven or so.)
Claymore is yet another adventure story for teenage boys, like Togari and Kyo. And it’s similarly solid and entertaining, without really trying to be any more. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Buso Renkin, Vol. 1
Shonen Jump Advanced/Viz, 2006, $7.99
Last is Buso Renkin, which shares some elements with Claymore – again, we have a secretive group of super-powered folks (here a group of alchemy-powered warriors with strange weaponry hidden in their bodies) who battle monster homunculi (also alchemy-powered, to keep the premise simple). Kazuki Muto, the obligatory high school student hero, stumbled upon a battle one evening and was briefly killed by the homunculus.
Luckily, the monster-killer, Tokiko Tsumura, brings him back to life by replacing his destroyed heart with a Kakugane, an alchemical whoositz that keeps him alive and allows him to manifest a ridiculously large sword.
(Well, it looks like a sword, but it’s sometimes called a scythe. And “Buso Renkin” seems to be it’s official name. Hey, it could be worse – Tokiko’s weapon is a silly thing called the Valkyrie Skirt, four long blades with hexagonal thingies that extend from her thighs. She looks like the bastard daughter of Witchblade and Doc Ock, to be honest.)
Kazuki throws himself into his new monster-killing role with gusto, as one would expect, and has to save his younger sister several times. (Which is only to be expected; the only reason she exists in the story is to have someone to be rescued.)
Like everything else this week, Buso Renkin is a product aimed at teenage boys, carefully designed to push very specific buttons. (And American boys seem to have many of the same buttons as Japanese boys do, from the popularity of books like these over here.) None of these books are transcendent, or particularly special, but they’re all decent examples of their genre. I hope we don’t settle for that all of the time, but competency is still a positive in my book.
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.