Manga Friday: Lawless, Winged, and Unconfined
Poking through the stack of manga to be reviewed, earlier this week, I noticed several books featuring characters with wings of one kind or another. Quick to sense a theme, I dragged them together, and here they are:
Koi Cupid, Vol. 1
By Mia Ikumi
Broccoli, April 2008, $9.99
Koi Cupid is an all-ages series about cherubs-in-training – yes, cute little girls in white outfits, running around making people fall in love. It’s not quite as kawaii (cute, often cloyingly so) as it could be, though, so I came to think of Koi Cupid as actually fairly restrained.
(Of course, that’s by manga standards – recalibrate your cuteness detectors from American settings, or you’ll be instantly deafened by the alarm.)
Anyway, the story focuses on three cupids-in-training: Ai, the cheerful one; Koi, the shy one; and Ren, the way-ahead-of-the-others one. They’re taught by a full cupid named Rin, who is deferring her own promotion to Guardian Angel to continue to mentor them. Kou actually is a guardian angel who pops in for added firepower now and then; Sister Yuuri is a winged, talking cat who supervises the cupid training program, and Lizette is a sneaky demon who tries to foil their work, but whom Ai wants to be friends with.
Koi Cupid is deeply, deeply cute, and divided roughly evenly between scenes of the cupids in their heavenly home and scenes on Earth, where they’re usually trying to bring together couples. (There an implication that nobody ever falls in love or has kids without the aid of cupids – as usual, the heroes of a story are completely necessary.)
Koi Cupid is generally not for diabetics, persons possessing male genitalia, or those over the age of twenty-five (with exceptions for individual variation), but it stays on the good side of cloying, and the characters have real individual personalities and faces, which I don’t always see in this kind of manga. I’d rather read more Koi Cupid than a lot of other things I’ve seen – that might not be high praise, but I’m about as far from the target audience as can be imagined.
Flock of Angels, Vol. 1
By Shoko Hamada
Aurora, September 2007, $10.95
If someone were to sit down and try to catalog all of the stories for young adults about people who are different – misunderstood, persecuted, tormented, driven away, and so on – that someone would be busy for a very, very long time. It’s a perennial theme, because teens are deeply concerned with themselves and sure that they’re the only ones who have ever felt the way that they’re feeling.
If that someone happens to be reading this column, Flock of Angels would fit very well on that long list. You see, there’s a disease – previously suppressed, with the victims murdered or incarcerated or mutilated – called angelosis, which causes sufferers to grow wings from their backs. (These wings actually allow their owners to fly, which either means the physiological adaptations are much more wide-ranging then we see…or that Hamada really doesn’t care about scientific plausibility.)
Suddenly, angelosis cases are popping up everywhere, and the previously repressive governments are letting it become public. One of the first major known cases is our hero, a young man named Shea. (There’s also the extremely popular boy-band Angelaid, three cute boys who pretend to wear fake wings but who actually have real wings, in a complicated double-fake.) There’s the usual post-X-Men scenes of the general public both adoring and being terrified by the winged people, and Shea using his powers of flight for good, even though he’s conflicted and uncomfortable with the attention.
So Flock of Angels is a great series for anyone who likes the angsty subtext of mutant comics, but would prefer less of the punchy-punchy stuff. (Flock of Angels has its own, very Japanese, subtext, which is all about wanting to be “just like everybody else,” and never to stand out in a bad way.) I suspect that the plot is going to lead to more and more mysteries, and possibly to a supernatural explanation, which may bring Flock of Angels closer to Koi Cupid territory – there’s a mysterious figure with black wings near the end of this book.
The art is clean and easy to follow (though everyone is oh so pretty), Shea is a typical teenager but not too obnoxious about it, and the paper is really hefty and white – all around, Flock of Angels is a solid, nice book.
Two Flowers for the Dragon, Vol. 2
By Nari Kusakawa
CMX/DC Comics, August 2008, $9.99
I came in a bit late on this one, so let me try to figure out what I would have been told in the first book: Shakuya is a teenage girl, and can shape-shift into the form of a dragon, which makes her one of the hereditary overlords of her particular world. She lives at the biggest oasis in the middle of a gigantic desert, and her dragon powers have something to do with bringing water. She’s also been betrothed to two men somehow – probably because one of them disappeared for several years while she was younger – and has tattoos representing the two men on her hands, which magically change size to reflect her love for them, or something similar.
(None of that was actually explained in this book, so I might have gotten it slightly wrong.)
As this book opens, Shakuya has been kidnapped by some ruffians who want to forcibly marry her to their lord, so he would then take over the oasis. Her two fiancées – dashing one-eyed guard captain Kuwan and her boyhood love Lucien – join forces to come save her, though she’s part-way along doing that herself. (And her captors are awfully blasé about their control over a girl who could turn into a dragon and stop them into greasy spots on the sand, if only she can break their snake-controlling flute.)
The overall plot of the series is clearly the battle between the two men over Shakuya’s affections, as depicted in very adolescent fashion, full of immense embarrassment and lots of deep, soulful looks. Again, this is aimed straight at teenage girls, and I expect they’ll find more in it than I did. (To my eye, Lucien looks a hell of a lot like Shakuya, which made some of the scene transitions hard to follow.)
This volume also contains a short story by Kusakawa, “The Cogwheeler,” about one of those mystical folks – part of a secret group that has existed forever behind the scenes, yadda yadda yadda – who control everybody’s lives through a myriad interlocking cogwheels. He decides to step into the real world, and so gets a taste of real human life. We’ve seen this story a dozen times before, but Kusakawa does a decent version of it.
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.