Manga Friday: Four from Yen+
Like its older competitors Shonen Jump and (the sadly just-deceased) Shojo Beat, Yen Press’s Yen+ magazine has launched a number of series into actual paperback books – and, this week, I read four of ‘em. (All of which stories I also covered, several months back, as they appeared in the first few issues of Yen+.)
Jack Frost, Vol. 1
By JinHo Ko
Yen+, May 2009, $10.99
Ko is the artist on Yen’s Croquis Pop, but here he’s taking over the whole shebang. And, as often happens when artists start writing their own stories, he works to his strengths – sailor-suited girls with wide eyes and panties in view far more than you’d expect, detailed backgrounds of buildings and rooms, and, of course and mostly, lots and lots of ultra-violence. (I should probably also note that this comes from Korea, so it reads left-to-right.)
Noh-A is a teenage girl who finds herself in a new high school without remembering how she got there. But that’s the least of her worries, since her head is almost immediately severed from her body during a hyper-kinetic fight between a guy who proclaims his name is “Hansen, Head Guidance Counselor!” and the title character, whom Noh-A dubs Nasty Smile. Luckily, Noh-A is now in a world between life and death – called Amityville, probably because Koreans watch old American horror movies like some Americans watch old Asian monster movies – and so her decapitation is reversible.
To make a long story short – though that long story is mostly made up of scenes of Jack cutting up various people with the implausibly long and pointy blades that pop out from his wrists – Noh-A is heartbroken to learn that she can never leave this world, that there are just a handful of people living there (and that they all are completely insane in their own ways), and that her powers extend only to not being able to die and having health-restoring blood. (Setting up many scenes of Noh-A’s blood being tapped for its healing powers later in the series, I’m sure.)
Jack Frost looks sleek and moves quickly, and it has some very stylish violence. It’s also not nearly as far over the top as Fist of the North Star (for example). But I’m hard-pressed to say many more nice things about it than that; it’s very obviously pandering to a specific and very sophomoric audience.
Pig Bride, Vol. 1
Story by KookHwa Huh; Art by SuJin Kim
Yen+, April 2009, $10.99
In an echo of an old Korean folktale, an eight-year-old boy, Si-Joon, is manipulated into marrying a girl of the same age who always wears a pig mask. Fast-forward eight years later, and he’s a popular, rich high school student (the son of a powerful senator), but he’s still dreaming about the pig girl.
And then, one day, she returns suddenly, appearing in his dorm room and saying that it’s time for the two of them to consummate the marriage. (The pig girl also comes with a tough, silent sister who’s very handy with a sword, which causes its own problems.) But Si-Joon doesn’t want to be married to a strange girl in a pig mask; he’s being pursued by the queen bee of the school, Doe-Doe, and he’s definitely encouraging her. There’s also some sort of curse on Si-Joon and the pig girl, which their marriage will circumvent – it may also save the whole world, somehow, though that’s even murkier.
So Pig Bride is a high school love triangle book with a very particular and odd premise, and some supernatural stuff that, by the end of this book, is still unformed and not overly specified. Kim draws in a relatively tame version of the Korean comics-for-girls look – the characters all have immense eyes and sylph-like necks, but they never become as china-doll-like as some artists’ characters. (Their hands do have the disconcerting habit of turning into flippers in times of emotion, though – especially when they’re drawn small.) At this point, Huh is still setting up pieces on the board; we don’t know the details of the curse, and we’re still getting hints about the secondary love triangles. Pig Bride is pretty good for its sub-genre, but you have to want to read a story about curses and forced marriages to get into it.
Nightschool, Vol. 1
By Svetlana Chmakova
Yen+, April 2009, $10.99
Chmakova is Russian-born and Canadian-bred, which might be why – in its roundabout, citizen-of-the-world way – she’s one of the best Western creators at adapting manga conventions into her own, original work. Nightschool has a very old premise: that supernatural creatures really exist, living among but apart from us, and that some of them are good and others cause a lot of trouble. But she tells that story with intriguing characters – ones that we’re not entirely sure if we’re supposed to be rooting for – and shows that those characters are embedded in a big, complex world by showing us just the bits and pieces of that world that she needs at the moment.
At the core of this book are sisters Alex and Sarah Treveney, who are part of that supernatural world, though Chmakova doesn’t give names or details to all of the people, or kinds of people, in that world. Sarah is the Night Keeper at a high school – normal kids by day, and the supernaturals at night – and Alex is studying at home and keeping away from everyone else in the world, after some event three years before that they don’t talk about.
This first volume covers about half of one day (with the caveat that the “day” for nightschool starts at 6 PM), with Sarah doing her day-to-day work at school – and then getting caught up in something more dangerous. Alex, by comparison, is dangerous – though Chmakova teases that danger rather than explaining it, and sets up some possible antagonists for Alex while also making them sympathetic characters.
Again, this first volume is still solidly set-up; Chmakova throws out a lot more questions than she answers here, but she does it with confid
ence and grace, a juggler tossing balls up into the air as she prepares her other hand, out of sight, to catch them all in turn.
Maximum Ride, Vol. 1
Adapted and illustrated by NaRae Lee from the novel by James Patterson
Yen+, January 2009, $10.99
A careful reader, who does some Internet research, will figure out that this book adapts the first half or third of Patterson’s novel The Angel Experiment, first of six (to date) books in the “Maximum Ride” series, but the book itself doesn’t make that very clear. But the series is popular, so presumably the audience is expected to be entirely Ride-heads. (Riders? Maxies? What are fans of this series called?)
Maximum Ride is the name of the main character, one of six bioengineered winged kids who escaped from the obligatory nasty laboratory (inventively named The School) a few years back, with the aid of the One Nice Scientist, Jeb Batchelder. (Experienced readers will realize quickly that there’s no such thing as Good Science in a thriller like this – only raw emotions and feeling are good, and anything logical or measured is pure evil – and wonder at Dr. Batchelder’s true plans. Those will be revealed in the fullness of time, he said, stroking a white Persian cat.)
The School also created a nasty group of enforcers called Erasers – basically werewolves, who look feral to begin with and transform into even more vicious wolf-headed humanoids. (Don’t even try to make any scientific sense of the creatures in this book – remember: science is evil!) And, as the book opens, the Erasers have caught back up to our winged heroes – who have been living in a house somewhere remote in the American West without money or farming or any other obvious source of support, but that’s just me being all logical and science-y again – to capture the cutest and youngest of the winged kids for diabolical experiments.
A rescue party is mounted, and, in best fantasy-novel fashion, the group is broken up by circumstances to have separate adventures. And, in the end…everything is much worse than it was at the beginning, with the grinning, fiendish scientists declaring that cute l’il Max must Save the World!
Lee does an excellent job with this very pulpish, obvious, melodramatic story, giving each character a distinctive face and rendering the flying people in ways that minimize the silliness. There’s only so much she can do with a story this dim-witted, but she brings it a long way towards readability, and I’ll salute her for that.
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.