Manga Friday: Zombies and Gods and Sexy Teens
This is another one of those weeks when we’re heading back over territory we’ve seen before – I’ve got three follow-up volumes today, all from Yen Press, of somewhat different manga series. So let’s take the zombies first, shall we?
Zombie-Loan, Vol. 3
Yen Press, June 2008, $10.99
This volume starts off very confusingly, with the attractive blonde and brunette guys running somewhere at top speed while the mousy girl with glasses and the other, not-so-mousy girl are having dinner with a group of people who are creepier and creepier the more we see them.
If one has just read the first two volumes, one presumably remembers who all of these people are. For me, it had been two months since I saw Vol. 2, and I’ve read a lot of other things in between. So it took me quite a while to figure out who any of these people were, and I’m not entirely sure I did work out precisely what was going on.
But, to recap from the last time: three teenagers are “zombies” and have to work for “Ferryman,” the head of the Z Loan office, to work off their so-you’re-not-quite-dead loans. More explanation is given for the supernatural workings of this world later on in this volume, but I could only understand part of it, and even that didn’t make much sense.
Zombie-Loan has a whole lot of generic manga elements in it – this issue even sees our gang go to a resort hotel at a hot spring that turns out to be… dilapidated, empty, run down and haunted. I think that if I knew enough about manga, I’d be able to trace every element of Zombie-Loan to an earlier story.
The stories in this volume were meant, I think, to primarily provide some character development and background – but, since it took me nearly half of the book to remember who everyone was and what it all meant, that was somewhat lost on me. Zombie-Loan is a book better read several volumes at a time, or perhaps it’s primarily for people who are already fans of the anime series.
Black God, Vol. 3
Story by PeachDall-Young Lim; Art by Sung-Woo Park
Yen Press, June 2008, $10.99
And Black God has a somewhat similar set-up, with a young man (Keita) saved from death by the love (or something) of a mototsumitama (Kuro) – though it’s still not entirely clear what a moto-whatzis is. But even though this volume begins with two new characters talking about their job while apparently having sex – it takes all kinds to make a world – it’s much more engaging and easier to follow than Zombie-Loan was.
Part of that may be the art style; Park is generally good at differentiating his characters – though I sometimes had trouble telling how tall some of these people were – and his panel layouts move the story along quickly and efficiently.
In this volume, Keita settles down into being not quite as much of an ass as before; this is a very entertaining series when he’s tolerable to be with. He and Kuro are starting to figure out how to use whatever powers they have…which is good, because another human-motowhatchmacallit pair shows up and cleans the floor with them before turning out to be not entirely hostile.
For this other pair, the human is female – she looks very young, but says that she’s old, and implies that a pairing can retard aging (though we saw a very old human in a pair in the last book). She’s Excel, he’s Steiner – they’re German, and have been sent by a shadowy organization, or set of “families,” of other pairings, to do various things that we start to find out about during this book. And they’re massive powerhouses; the implication is that most pairings are more like them than like the weak and floundering Keita and Kuro.
Add to that some more information on what motothingumabobs are actually supposed to do, and the growing mystery of all of the supernatural interest in Keita’s female best friend, Akane, and a curve-ball revelation about Keita’s mom, and you’ve got a couple of hundred pages of good manga.
Black God is a perfectly serviceable adventure story, and it seems to be getting better and more interesting as it goes – that’s a good sign, and it’s hard to ask for much more than that.
Sundome, Vol. 2
By Kazuto Okada
Yen Press, May 2008, $12.99
Sundome is a comedy about sexual frustration in high school; I enjoyed the first volume a bit more than I was comfortable with.
Our main character is Hideo Aiba, freshman and new president of his school’s “roman club,” which is both connected to a vast network of hugely powerful and influential alumni and a tiny, despised, outcast group of losers obsessed with sex and the supernatural. (Oh, and those alumni make sure no members of the club graduate in good standing, through various dirty tricks, since otherwise they – the alumni – would have to make good on their promises to give good jobs and other preferential treatments to club members who graduate as virgins. One may suspect that the elements here were chosen for their usefulness to the plot, rather than because they make sense together.)
Hideo is deeply in love – or at least in lust – with Kurumi Sahana, a recent transfer student (sex objects are always transfer students in manga; if it wasn’t for moving house, no one would ever get any) who knows about his lust completely and teases him unmercifully. (And I don’t mean the “making fun of him” kind of teasing, no – this is teasing born in Japan, land of torture game shows, so she’s handcuffing him to take him to the movies, forbidding him to masturbate without her permission, and other similar S&M-esque games.)
There’s another female member of the club, Kyouko, who seems mostly to be there to (more mildly) torment the three other boys in the club (all of whom seem to be freshmen, as well). She also regularly fines them 1000 yen for doing things she doesn’t like, and they pay without complaint – so that might be enough reason to explain why she’s there.
In this volume, Kurumi seems crueler than she did in the first set of stories – before, there was a sense that she was trying to get Hideo to grow up a bit, but now she seems to just be tormenting him because he lets her. And he’s not showing much growth or ability to stand up for himself – or even any sense that he likes Kurumi’s torments; he lets her do it because he’s considers himself a pathetic loser, and this is what he deserves. (Or because this is the only way he can be near her, perhaps.) That’s slightly depressing, which tends to detract from the comedy.
Also, Okada draws Kurumi as an authentic teenager, which means I’m feeling more and more skeevy about looking at page after page of her panties (among other things). There are still things I like about Sundome, but this second volume is a bit creepier and less fun than the first one was.
Sundome also illustrates the typical American attitude about sex: this is a book about teenagers and entirely concerned with a teenager’s view of sex, so it’s target audience should, obviously, be teenagers. But, since it is about sex, and has some nudity in it (and what the movie-ratings would call “copious sexual situations”), it’s rated M-for-mature, and restricted, supposedly, only to people who won’t appreciate it as much.
So Sundome is a book for teenagers: for boys so they’ll see what idiots they can be (and, maybe learn to avoid), and for girls so they can realize what idiots boys are, and how they have the power to make them that way. It seems that, as it goes on, Sundome is less and less for those of us who can only remember high school.
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.