Manga Friday: My Karate Is Unstoppable!
There’s something about the comics form that just lends itself to stories about people in outlandish costumes trying to beat the snot out of each other, often in unfeasible ways using silly powers or items. From giant mecha to Asterix to Spider-Man, it’s just not comics unless you get something ridiculously large dropped on your head, have it shatter into pebbles, and then you shake it off and fight on. And the four books this week all are about fighting in one way or another, and, speaking of funny costumes….
Maid War Chronicle, Vol. 1
Del Rey Manga, April 2009, $10.99
Prince Alex II of Arbansool is the usual feudal scion – pig-headed, self-centered, and barely smarter than a block of wood – but he’s the last hope of his kingdom after the forces of fiendish Nowarle (neighbor to the south) invade and overrun the capital. He barely escapes with a few retainers. Seven retainers, to be precise. Actually, seven maids.
(What is it with the Japanese and maids? At least these girls are dressed in the semi-sensible Japanese maid style, with long sleeves, aprons, and full skirts trimmed in lace, rather than the “sexy French maid” mostly-lingerie look I’m sure they would have had if this book was created by an American.)
So Alex is loud and demanding and only rarely in touch with reality (and then mostly by accident). He also would be fondling the girls all day long if he weren’t a good foot shorter than any of them, and if they’d take it – luckily, they mostly don’t. Since he’s also convinced of his own power and righteousness, his first order of business, upon escaping the capital, is to run to an ancient shrine that holds twelve secret old weapons. The weapons can only be wielded by knights, so Alex declares the maids a new – sexy – order of knights devoted to protecting only him, and the girls then pull a variety of unfeasible and silly-looking weaponry out of a table.
And then Alex and his girl knights – untrained, still in maid costumes, and generally unsure how their new super-duper magical weapons actually work – set off to find a garrison of still-loyal soldiers and then retake the kingdom. That’s going to take a lot longer than Alex expects, of course.
Maid War Chronicle is silly and generic and full of panty shots – you’d think it would be tough with skirts that long, but you didn’t count on the fiendish ingenuity of the being that calls itself RAN – but it never fails to be fast-paced and entertaining. And it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect a manga called Maid War Chronicle to be, so I certainly can’t fault it there.
Samurai 7, Vol. 1
Manga by Mizutaka Suhou; Original story by Akira Kurosawa
Del Rey Manga, March 2009, $10.99
You might recall that, back in 1954 (before a lot of us were born, I expect), Akira Kurosawa wrote and directed a historical movie called The Seven Samurai. It was about, yes, seven Samurai who were hired to save a village from bandits who were coming after the harvest to steal their crops.
Samurai 7 is a retelling of that story – to be more precise, it’s a comics adaptation of an animated retelling of that story – set in the indefinite future, in the aftermath of a devastating solar-system wide war which saw the usual giant robots and killer battle platforms. But that war also saw the rise of a group of men – called “samurai,” naturally – who used high-tech super-swords called Taienshatou to take out the various giant machines. After the war ended, the samurai were left with nothing to do, and other soldiers turned bandit with their giant war machines. And so, inevitably, there’s a village threatened by bandits, and it decides to hire seven samurai to save itself.
This first volume is primarily dedicated to assembling the team, which is similar but not identical to Kurosawa’s samurai, and also features a number of manga clichés (the big strong guy who doesn’t talk much, the hotheaded boy hero – who looks, on the cover and other places, like a girl to my eye – with something to prove, and so on).
Suhou’s lines are thin and crisp – a bit too thin too much of the time, I think, but that’s a minor point – and the story certainly has legs. But I’m not sure why anyone would think this was a good or necessary ides – except perhaps the keeper of Kurosawa’s copyrights, who could then collect a large check merely for saying the word “yes.”
Black God, Vol. 6
Story by Dall-Young Lim; Art by Sung-Woo Park
Yen Press, June 2009, $10.99
Our hero Keita – who has becomes less of a jerk as the series has gone on, mostly because he’s becoming more and more shell-shocked by the ultraviolence surrounding him – discovered that there are superhuman “motosumitama” living among humans, each bonded to one human. He learned this by becoming bonded to cute young girl Kuro, and quickly was caught up in motosumitama politics and intrigues, most of which, in best manga form, consists of ever-more-lethal sleek-looking types tracking each other down and then having high-speed massively destructive battles.
The first half of this book is a long flashback narrated by Kuro, who explains how she came to leave the motosumitama world and come to Earth. (In short: one part vengeance and one part “only I can set this right.”) In the second half, we see the guy Kuro is following engage in battle with characters from an earlier volume, as things ramp up towards the big confrontation. (Or, at least a big confrontation.) In other news, Keita’s best friend, the young woman Akane – who’s been stuck with Keita and Kuro despite having no powers or protection – gets her own short flashback story, as well as hints that she’ll become more important before long.
Black God still looks great and moves well; if you (like me) started reading manga with Kudo &
amp; Ikegami’s Mai the Psychic Girl back in the ‘80s, you’ll find this to be good enough to scratch the same itch.
Sumomomo, Momomo, Vol. 1
By Shinobu Ohtaka
Yen Press, May 2009, $10.99
Koushi Inuzuka is my kind of guy. He was born into one of those insane-about-martial-arts families – one of the twelve great martial arts families in Japan, actually – and has been pressured since birth by his demanding father to excel at punching people really hard while yelling things like “Black Dragon Morning Destroyer!” Koushi wanted nothing of this; he quit studying fighting years ago and has devoted himself entirely to becoming a lawyer and a public prosecutor.
(Or, in short: he’s the manga equivalent of Hermie from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)
But his father won’t bend, and he betrothed Koushi at birth to the scion of another great martial-arts family. The girl in question – she’s the one on the cover – is Momoko Kuzuryuu, who the subtitle calls (without exaggerating) “The Strongest Bride on Earth.” She’s the usual cute little sailor-suited thing, and – as happens so often in manga – the cute unthreatening-looking ones are the ones with ultra-powerful abilities. She’s also desperate to marry Koushi and have sex with him – in the also-usual semi-creepy little-girl manga style – so he’s besieged on both sides.
Will Koushi marry Momoko? Will he even be able to live down taking her to his high school, where she announces loudly that she’s going to marry him? Will she help him stand up to the school bullies – or will Koushi manage to maneuver her into fighting them for him? And what will happen when the assassins from the other families start arriving, trying to stop this marriage at all costs?
Sumomomo, Momomo is one of the very funniest manga I’ve ever read, as well as the very most difficult to spell. It’s silly and goofy and hilarious by turns. And I hope it continues for a very long time. (Ask for it by name – if you dare try!)
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 to submit books for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.