Manga Friday: Toto & Tokugawa
Manga Friday returns after a brief hiatus — I was on a secret mission in Darkest Florida, and unable to read manga and coherently think about them for several days — with a look at two very, very different books. We’ll start with the easier one to explain.
Toto!: The Wonderful Adventure, Vol. 1
By Yuko Osada
Del Rey Manga, May 2008, $10.95
Toto! is an adventure story about Kakashi, a boy who desperately wants to get off the small island he was born on and get out into the wide world to have adventures. (Not to do anything in particular, just to "have adventures." Manga boy-heroes are often oddly nonspecific. Kakashi’s father, similarly, was famous as "an explorer.") While somewhere there is probably a humorous manga series about a guy who keeps trying and failing to leave his hometown — come to think of it, I’d like to read something like that myself — Toto! falls into the more usual pattern, and Kakashi stows away on a blimp almost as soon as the story begins.
(Toto! is set in the indeterminate future, not an alternate history, depsite the presence of airships. It is an iron rule of alternate-history stories that every possible world but our own is completely covered in zeppelins, and I guess the same may hold true for odd, indefinite futures.)
But just getting onto the zeppelin is not nearly enough; it has been hijacked by the Man Chicken gang, who forced all of the passengers and crew to dive into the sea as they stole the airship for a quick getaway to their secret hideout.
Kakashi begs and begs to be allowed to stay — he’s desperate not to have to go home, because of the "adventure" thing, remember? — and eventually ingratiates himself with the gang’s leader, the "old man." After some minor humiliations, Kakashi is allowed to become something like a junior member of the gang…and then everything goes to hell.
I’m not sure if the Man Chicken part of the set-up will be important further along, so I’ll avoid being specific. But, soon afterward, Kakashi (and the cute dog he picked up on board the zeppelin) run into what looks like the other major character of the series: a cute, spunky girl named Dorothy. She immediately names the dog Toto, in the first of what look to be tediously many Wizard of Oz references.
Let’s add that up:
- one young man driven to see the world, all wide-eyed innocence for reader identification
- one cute girl of about the same age, with amazing fighting skills (because someone always has those in a manga)
- and one dog with Secret Abilities, who looks totally kawaii most of the time but also can make with the amazing fighting skills
Mix with water, airships, motorcycles, and soldiers of the local Evil Empire. Serve at room temperature to an audience that’s seen all of this many times before, but is always happy for more adventures of a nice kid in goggles. Osada’s art is energetic and expressive without falling all the way over into superdeformity — though Kakashi, in particular, has some pretty darn big eyes — but his plotting and dialogue (or the translation thereof) are less accomplished, with events that don’t seem to follow each other clearly and some very clumsy speech-patterns. Still, the people who read books like Toto! read them at great speed — I know, since two of them are my sons — so I doubt any of them will care.
And then all the way over here on the seinen (adult men) end of the manga world, we find Path of the Assassin, Vol. 10: Battle for Power, Part Two. (I suppose if I had some josei — adult women — semi-porno manga, that would be even more of a difference, but, sadly, no manga publishers have sent me anything like that yet.)
Path of the Assassin was created in the 1970s by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima; it’s another historical samurai epic along the lines of their famous Lone Wolf and Cub and somewhat less famous Samurai Executioner. Assassin is closer to history than those other series; it’s the story of the rise to power of Ieyasu Tokugawa, who eventually united Japan in 1600. (This volume is set in 1568, so there could be an awful lot of Path of the Assasin yet to come.)
Assassin has two main characters: Tokugawa himself, who is still a young man here but is incredibly cagey and smart; and his boyhood bodyguard/ninja chief Hattori Hanzo. (Hanzo is also amazingly skilled; he’s not only one of the best ninja of his generation, but much smarter and immensely more compassionate than the usual for his line of work.)
(Longtime ComicMix readers might remember that I reviewed the seventh volume of this series back in November.)
This volume is one long story of war and political maneuvering; it might be comprehensible to new readers — I know I forget entirely who all of the other feuding warlords are between books, so much of it was confusing to me as well — but this is a series it’s really best to start at the beginning with. I’ll also note, in case it matters, that this series is sticked with a "parental advisory" and comes shrink-wrapped: not because of the violence (which isn’t even as bloody as Lone Wolf and Cub), but due to some female nudity and tasteful sex scenes, along the lines of an R-rated movie.
Kojima’s art is lovingly detailed and deeply textured as always, with a wide variety of expressive faces that all look like real people and not like manga caricatures. Path of the Assassin is published in the smaller "bunkoban" trim size, which size reproduces Kojima’s work well but may feel small in the hand to many American readers.
I can’t recommend that anyone jump in here with volume 10, but Path of the Assassin is an engrossing historical epic, full of both blood and tits to keep the young male target audience happy. I’d suggest starting Koike & Kojima with Lone Wolf and Cub, but, if you’e read that and want more, Path of the Assassin should satisfy.
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.