Manga Friday: High School Girls With Superpowers, Mark Two
Manga-format comics have a tropism
for high school even stronger than that of sunflowers for the sun – it is possible to find manga without a hint of high-schoolery in
them, but serious digging is required. But you couldn’t loose an arrow in a
manga warehouse without hitting at least one book about girls in sailor outfits.
(Hm. Did I just inadvertently explain the appeal?) So we reviewers have to
specialize even further. This week I have three a) second volumes in series b)
set in high schools c) with female lead characters who d) have amazing and
Even there, I’m sure a devoted
reader could name a dozen or more series that fit qualifications b) through d)!
Sumomomo, Momomo, Vol. 2
By Shinobu Ohtaka
Yen Plus, October 2009, $10.99
Ohtaka’s comedic piss-take on the
“martial arts high school” genre here veers more towards the overwrought drama
and fighting technique minutia of its targets than the tight, original satire
of the first volume, which is disappointing – there’s a center of gravity of
standard manga traditions that has the force of a black hole in Japanese
comics, dragging every outlier to be closer to the generic standard. And so the
supposed main character of Sumomomo, Momomo – Koushi Inuzuka, scion to a great family of karate
champions, who only wants to be left alone to study and become a great
prosecutor – is either pushed aside entirely or relegated to running and
cowering, like any other weak young man in a manga. (If this is opaque to you,
perhaps you need to drop back to my review of the first volume.)
Oh, it’s still funny – very funny
at points, particularly when it’s picking on the ex-Olympic gymnast gym
teacher, Daigoro, who is a fine self-satisfied gym rat caricature and gets shown
up repeatedly by a cute little girl. And the new enemies this volume are fun as
well: teenage Yakuza hit-girl Iroha Miyamoto and her overly emotional sidekick
Hanzou. But Iroha falls in love with Koushi nearly the moment she shows up, and
is under the impression that Koushi is in love with her. And so Sumomomo, Momomo comes one step closer to being yet another harem manga.
I hope I’m wrong, and that
the next volume sees more of Koushi being a budding lawyer and talking his way
out of problems, and less karate and pretty girls throwing themselves at him.
But I know which way to bet when it comes to manga!
Jack Frost, Vol. 2
By JinHo Ko
Yen Plus, November 2009, $10.99
Jack Frost was already well over the top in its first volume, but it
finds new ladders to stick up on top of the wall this time out as it soars to
new heights of lunacy and ultraviolence. (Though our heroine, Noh-A Joo,
doesn’t get decapitated nearly as many times in this one, which is nice for her
– and for we the readers, too, I suppose, since there’s something very macabre
about watching a series character get repeatedly separated from her body,
particularly when it’s combined with panty shots in the creepy JinHo Ko manner.)
(Again, new readers might want to
peruse my review of the first volume to understand the intricacies of the otherworldly city
of Amityville and its four warring districts.)
There’s a lot of people yelling things
at each other in this volume, plus (of course) the aforementioned
ultraviolence. (Even the chapters in Jack Frost are named “violence,” which serves the admirable aim of
making the reader aware immediately of just what kind of book this is.) The details
are still a bit fuzzy, but all that’s really important is that they’re in a
kind of afterlife, there’s a lot of people fighting (mostly organized into
those four geographic districts) and wicked-cool superpowers, like giant
organic knives that spring out from the title character’s wrists, are de
rigeur. Oh, and there are some maguffin-y
things that the characters can chase and fight over, which leads to this books
expedition to the Pillar of Solomon in the middle of Lost Lake.
Ko’s drawing is clear, crisp,
and stylized just enough to make things exciting (and not enough to make them
hard to follow); he’s an exceptional artist for this kind of story. His writing
chops, though, aren’t quite as strong, making Jack Frost murky and derivative. But, hey, it looks great, and there’s lots of action, so I don’t
think any of the teenage boys will mind…or notice.
Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 2
By Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Plus, October 2009, $10.99
Chmakova has the best
world-building chops of this bunch; she clearly has strong ideas of how all of
her disparate elements work together, and isn’t just throwing in things because
they’re standard (like Ohtaka) or because she’d like to draw them (like Ko).
This is also the only one of these three series being created originally for
the North American market, so it may also be that editors on the other side of
the Pacific have a much heavier hand.
Nightschool – once again, I must direct you to my review of the first volume – focuses on Alex Treveney, a teenage witch searching
for her older sister Sarah, who disappeared mysteriously in the first book, and
whom only Alex remembers now. Alex, who has been homeschooled and apparently kept
entirely away from the wider society of supernatural creatures due to a
condition that Chmakova hints at but has not yet revealed, skulks around and
then enrolls at the Nightschool where Sarah was Night Keeper until just a few
hours ago, bumping into other members of the large cast as she goes.
But Chmakova keeps Alex at the
center of the story; the other characters clearly all have their own agendas
and lives, but this is her story. And I
definitely get the impression that her story will not be infinitely extended,
nor will her mysteries be kept mysterious forever. Nightschool might well run for a long time – I hope it does, actually;
Chmakova clearly has a detailed, intricate world to write about here, and it
would be a shame for her not to have the time and space to explore it – but “The
Weirn Books” should, if Yen Press and the book-buying audience allow it, be
followed by other books about other aspects of this fascinating, engrossing world.
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.