Manga Friday: Who Are You?
This week we’ll be looking at three books with main characters who look like one thing, but are something else.
Nephilim, Vol. 1
By Anna Hanamaki
Aurora, May 2008, $10.95
On a continent with the unlikely name of Elwestland, two political powers – with the is-it-quitting-time-on-Friday-already? names of “The Empire” and “The Federation” – are in a long cold war, having split the land right down the middle. Oh, no, wait! There’s also a nearly impassable jungle right in that middle, conveniently separating the Empire from the Federation. And in that jungle live the mysterious, nomadic Nephilim.
Nephilim appear in one form by day and another by night – this may simply be swapping gender, but the text of the book doesn’t quite say that – and their night-form is the true one. (They’re fertile in that form, among other things.) But if an outsider sees a Nephilim in his/her true form – possibly only if the Nephilim is naked, but that doesn’t seem to be the important bit – The Curse declares that Nephilim must kill that outsider personally, or start to die slowly.
And our plot begins when the dashing Imperial soldier Colonel Sir Guyfeis S. Northenfield, who is also a top bounty hunter, a master of unarmed combat, and probably a deft hand at Parcheesi, too, is charging through that not-nearly-impassable-enough jungle on a mission to retrieve the fair Lady Lia, who has been kidnapped by perfidious Federal agents. He avoids or kills Federals by day, and has a quick run-in with a wandering Nephilim named Abel. (Rolling a fifteen or higher on the Random Encounter table, clearly.) That night, Abel is bathing in a stream, so Guy sneaks up to catch an eyeful – either unaware of the curse, secretly hot for the cute boy he thought Abel was, or just terminally nosy. He discovers Abel is “truly” (by night, at least) female, and she then tries, very badly, to kill him.
Nephilim will be a romance, eventually – there are hints that there’s an escape clause to the curse, though I expect it will be complicated – but this volume is all about what the romance readers call UST. (Unresolved Sexual Tension.) Guy is smooth and suave and other things beginning with “S,” and Abel doesn’t want to be attracted to him…but she is. He also does everything but rape her a couple of times, which also is reminiscent of certain romance novels.
There’s also some swordfights and derring-do for the boys, since Guy, being the hero, is the best at what he does, though he is very pretty while doing it. Nephilim is silly, particularly in its names and generic set-up, but it gets extra points for style and for energy.
Very! Very! Sweet, Vol. 1
By JiSang Shin & Geo
Yen Press, July 2008, $10.99
Tsuyoshi is the scion of a rich Japanese family with a deep, dark secret: they’re actually Korean. (Well, the founder of the family, four hundred years ago, was Korean, though apparently every other ancestor was safely Japanese – there’s some hoo-hah about homeopathy to try to explain their mystical Korean-ness, but I prefer to think that this is just secretly about Japanese racism.) He’s also got all of the worst qualities of rich idle young men from the past 400 years: womanizing, reckless spending and driving, failing to honor his elders, and so forth. The patriarch of the family has had enough: Tusyoshi must be reined in immediately.
Meanwhile, in Korea, Kang Be-Ri is an entrepreneurial girl, exactly the same age as Tsuyoshi – she’s a little more interesting than the standard “cute nice girl” heroine off stories like this, in her budding Scrooge McDuck-ness, but otherwise she’s exactly what you’d expect she’d be.
So Tsuyoshi is packed off to Korea, and, wouldn’t you know it!, he and his uncle/minder end up living right next door to Be-Ri. And they’re in the same class at school, where Korean kids are stuck in groups of two for most activities. (No points for guessing whom either of them is paired with.)
Most of this volume is filled with the plot of getting Tsuyoshi to Korea, despite his objections and fuming. The rest of it is an extended series of puns on the Korean names of Tsuyoshi and his uncle, which I won’t even try to describe here. (You either get puns immediately or you don’t; they’re not the kind of joke that can be described.)
Not a whole lot has happened yet, so it’s hard to judge Very! Very! Sweet at this point. Tsuyoshi doesn’t come across as a complete jerk, which is an accomplishment, and the art is lush without being completely impenetrable. (Though there are an awful lot of chins that could cut glass.)
Suzunari!, Vol. 1
By Anna Hanamaki
Yen Press, July2008, $10.99
Speaking of average, energetic girl heroines, here’s another one of them: Kaede Takamura, who I think is a middle-schooler and who manages the common books-for-teens trick of being vastly smarter than her well-meaning but utterly distracted parents. So when a cat-eared facsimile of her, named Suzu, suddenly appears one morning, Kaede is the only one to protest.
Suzu is happy and interested in everything, with the eternally sunny disposition of the born extrovert and the knowledge of the world of a particularly dim five-year-old, so Kaede has her hands full with her new “little sister.” (Suzu also has an interest in being close to Kaede that occasionally shades towards the sexual, which I think is meant to be just another area to be mined for laughs.)
There are some other broad characters – the otaku class president, Kaede’s best friend Natsumi the bad fortune-teller – and they come together into a four-panel gag format that ends up being a lot like a traditional American newspaper strip done Japanese-style.
I laughed honestly at Suzunari! more than at any other manga I can remember; I’m not sure if that means that it’s funnier than other books, or just that I’ve read enough of this stuff to start getting the jokes instinctively. Either way, it is funny, and not just because of a single Suzu-is-ignorant joke. (My favorite bit is when Kaede’s father is at the breakfast table in a strange costume – she asks him what it is and he immediately replies in bold “This is my true form!” and then explains. It might not explain well, but, trust me, there are a lot of at least chuckle-worthy moments in here.)
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.