Manga Friday: Something Old, Something New
Since last week was big swords, I’d hoped to do big guns this week – but I didn’t have enough books to make it work.
So, instead, we have two brand-new manga series (first volumes published at the end of November) and two older, pretty well-known series. (“Old” is a relative term here – one was first published in English in 2004 and the other in 2002…)
Aventura, Vol. 1
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
Our first new manga this week is an unabashed Harry Potter rip-off, set in the Gaius School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a flying magical school divided into two parts. On one side, the students study magic, and on the other, swordsmanship (which somehow also makes magic, or something like that). Lewin Randit is an orphan, a poor swordsmanship student, who has shows no magical aptitude so far. But, once he meets two elves (a boy and a girl) from the magic school, things start to look up for him.
Oh, and the back cover copy, unsubtly, mentions that he “could become the greatest of them all.” Of course he could…
The art is, to my eye, medium-high shojo, with big hair flying everywhere, large luminous eyes, and a fineness of drawing everywhere. I find it very hard to differentiate characters in a style like that, so I might not have gotten as much out of Aventura as I could. But let’s be honest: it’s pleasant but very derivative, for readers who are looking for yet another “magical school” story.
Pumpkin Scissors, Vol. 1
Del Rey Manga, 2007, $10.95
What kind of name is “Pumpkin Scissors,” anyway? Well, it’s the name of a squad of soldiers (officially Imperial Army State Section III, which implies a really weird command structure, or a manga-ka who has never thought about actual military organization), tasked for war relief and reconstruction after a very long, bloody, destructive war with “the Republic of Frost.” (There’s no sign of the Frosties in this book at all, though, nor any clue about what the war might have been about.)
But why Pumpkin Scissors? The book doesn’t say, so I have to guess it’s just some random military codename, with two words chosen from tables at random.
The commanding officer of PS is a young, hotheaded noble, who believes in every last tenet of honor and noblesse oblige in a world where no one else does. (She’s also female – 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin – in one small attempt to keep from being a complete cliché.) The rest of PS have a character trait or two, but don’t get much to do in this book. The exception is Corporal Randel Oland, a hulking man who was part of an elite anti-tank brigade before he was demobbed (off page, between the prologue and the book proper). He’s also the obligatory warrior who never gives up, even when it looks like he should be killed.
OK, given those elements, I think you can guess the kind of plots, yes? Pumpkin Scissors rolls into town, discovers nasty bandits with a tank…and you can take it from there. Pumpkin Scissors is formulaic (though that isn’t the only formula – there’s also the villagers-don’t-trust-the-empire plot, and I’m sure there will be some other variants as the series goes on). It’s also drawn in a very clear shonen style, so I found it much easier and more pleasurable to read than Aventura.
Samurai Girl Real Bout High School, Vol. 1
Reiji Saiga and Sora Inoue
Tokyopop, 2002, $9.99
And this is the kind of silliness that people think of when you say “manga” – an inner-city Tokyo high school so overrun by competing martial arts clubs that the principal declares that all conflicts will henceforth be resolved by single combat. Now, in the real world, this would be a recipe for anarchy and plutonium-grade bullying, but this is a martial arts manga, so all of the fighting that we see is among the top few fighters in the school, who are also (naturally) our protagonists.
There’s the spunky, tough, hard-working girl (Ryoko); there’s the rude, crass new boy with fighting moves no one has ever seen before (Shizuma); and there’s the tough teacher who has never been beaten before (Saotome). And there’s plenty more, but we can start with them. They fight – with each other and with minor characters – and then train so that they can fight again.
I suspect this is much funnier to the Japanese audience than it is to me, since it doesn’t seem to be played completely straight, but the things that might be jokes mostly fly past me. On the other hand, I like ridiculously long titles, and bizarre, unlikely premises, so I do have some affection for Samurai Girl Real Bout High School. But, still, I have to say that I’m nothing like the target audience for this.
GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Vol. 1
Tokyopop, 2004, $9.99
GTO is the best, technically and in its story, of the manga I saw this week – it even has enough of a sense of humor to make fun of its protagonist for about the first half of the book (and on and off even after that). Eikichi Onizuka has just graduated from a minor Tokyo college – which isn’t bad, since he flunked out of high school before that. But, still, his bizarre clothes and his unrealistic salary demands have kept him from getting the amazing job (full of money, fast cars, and nubile, willing office women) that he knows he deserves.
So he mopes and complains to his friends – semi-reformed motorcycle gang members – for the first half of the book, and then suddenly has an epiphany: he wants to sleep with high school girls. The second half of the epiphany is that those girls always look up to their teachers…so he cuts his hair and applies to be a student teacher.
He isn’t the “great teacher” of the title by the end of the book – indeed, come to think of it, we only see him actually teaching in one scene, and he does really badly there – but he’s on his way to winning over the kids’ respect. (By beating them up – this is manga, after all.) I’m not sure where GTO is going, but it’s stylish and definitely has its own point of view, which is not as common as it could be in manga. I hope no one is taking life lessons from Onizuka, since he’s one huge example against, but his story is interesting.
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.