Manga Friday: Done in One
One of the differences – I won’t say “advantages,” since opinion differs on that subject – of manga from Western-style superhero comics is that manga stories all have endings, eventually. Oh, “eventually” can be a long, long time coming – two decades, in some cases – but manga are created by one person or set of people, and all eventually come to an end, unlike corporate-owned characters, who live as long as their revenue stream does.
Some manga, though, end more quickly than others. Some even end in a couple of hundred pages – a story short enough to fit into one volume. And, by luck, I have two stories just like that in front of me this week.
Haridama: Magic Cram School
By Atasushi Suzumi
Del Rey Manga, May 2008, $10.95
Kokuyo and Harika are childhood friends who both ended up at the Sekiei Magic Cram School – named after its founder and apparently only teacher – studying to be magicians (who, once they’ve climbed the magic ladder as far as they can, we’re told are qualified to open cram schools of their own, which makes the whole thing seem like a pointless pyramid scheme). They’re “Obsidians,” people with only Yin or Yang power – instead of both, like proper magicians – and so they need swords with stones in the hilt to channel their lesser powers.
The other two main characters of this story are Sekiei, their young teacher – there don’t seem to be any other students in the school, in fact – and Nekome, a third-level sorcerer who recently graduated from the rival Torame school. Sekiei pushes Kokuyo and Harika to work harder and achieve more, while Nekome mildly torments them and puts down their abilities.
Haridama reads much like a longer manga series on fast-forward; the expected sub-plots and supporting characters are missing, so the focus stays on the central plot the whole time. Which means it jumps straight from training to the dangerous excursion out of the school and then into the climactic exams.
(Given how many manga series for teens are obsessed with exams of all kinds, I am intensely happy that I grew up not only in the US, but also in a less test-obsessed age.)
Do they pass their exams? Do they discover that they – through some previously unknown skills and abilities – are much more powerful than anyone had thought? Do they prove that they are wonderfully special people?
Is the pope Catholic?
It would be cruel and unfair to call Haridama a generic boys’ manga, but it could be a great single-volume introduction to the standard tropes of the type. Kokuyo doesn’t have to train any creatures or trade cards, but otherwise it covers all the bases. The art is distinctively manga, but with the more square panels of boys’ stories, which makes it easy for a Westerner to follow.
Story By Christopher Hart; Art by Anzu
Del Rey Manga, June 2008, $10.95
The Reformed, on the other hand, is manga only by courtesy – it’s written by an American, illustrated by a Singaporean, and reads left-to-right. But the art is heavily influenced by manga, though I find it a little stiffer and less disciplined than most manga, with lots of lines doing what should have been the job of one well-placed line.
The story, like Haridama, is one we’ve seen before: Giancarlo is rich, refined, ancient, slim, devastatingly well-dressed, and lives in a gorgeous, gated manor-house. (Yes, he’s a vampire – didn’t I just say that?) He meets the young, gorgeous prostitute Jenny (out on the streets after her fledgling singing career died), falls for her, and spirits her off to his home, over the objections of his usually silent driver/majordomo Blue.
You see, Giancarlo is a vampire with a conscience – and he can never know love, only (as the cover letter said) “an eternity of loneliness, filled with the blood of innocent victims.” Woe, woe is him. Cue up a megadose of emo or goth music, depending on your tastes.
There’s also a driven, lone-wolf police detective, Frost – whose cheekbones are as high, whose dress is as dapper, and whose frame is as slim as Giancarlo’s – who is the only one who realizes Giancarlo is a vampire, and who is determined to prove him the culprit behind a series of murders of prostitutes in this nameless town.
(Of course, there is also Urso, an older, nastier, meaner vampire – we know this because he appears in a more bestial form, with horns and wings and a third eye – who taunts Giancarlo and tries to turn him back to the dark side.)
Haridama may be mildly generic, but The Reformed has been steeping in vampire stories for weeks on end and come out as the latest lump in a long-cooking pot of stew. If you enjoy tales of gorgeous, tormented vampires, you’re in luck. If you’re looking for something a bit more individual, you’ll have to look a bit harder and farther.
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.