Manga Friday: Down the Rabbit Hole with ‘Pandora Hearts’, ‘Karakuri Odette’ and ‘Night Head: Genesis’
Most of us, it’s safe to say, will never be told that our sin is our very being. (Unless we were brought up in the Deep South, in which case we’ve heard it twice a day and five times on Sunday.) We’re also not going to learn that the odd new girl in our high school is actually an android. Nor will we find that we’re trying to stop the extinction of mankind, along with our brother, with only our innate psychic powers to guide and aid us. That’s what manga is for – in a manga, those things are only to be expected, and it would be a bland story without something like that happening by page five.
Pandora Hearts, Vol. 1
By Jun Mochizuki
Yen Plus, December 2009, $10.99
Oz Vessalius, scion of one of the four great dukedoms, has arrived at the mansion that his family uses only for coming-of-age ceremonies to be officially proclaimed heir to his non-present father, along with a large semi-feudal entourage. (Though this book is set, as best I can tell from the floppy, ornate manga clothes and the background details, no earlier than the late Victorian.) It seems like an awfully big place to only use for a few days every generation, but I’ve learned not to let logic get in the way of my enjoyment of a manga story.)
However, all does not go smoothly – there are signs, portents, and other weird events that don’t make a whole lot of sense – and the ceremony is interrupted by a group of knife- and chain-wielding hooded figures, who seem to be about to kill Oz for the sin of existence. But he’s saved, sort-of, by a girl named Alice, who is also a giant black rabbit, and both of them are cast into the Abyss, a punishment dimension from which no one ever escapes.
Pandora Hearts skitters about like a bean on a griddle, so it doesn’t then do anything as predicable as settling down to tell the story of how Alice and Oz travel across the Abyss for a few dozen volumes and come to trust and confide in each other. No, they get out of the inescapable Abyss in time for afternoon tea – with Oz still very suspicious of Alice’s intentions and power (and rightfully so) to meet and confront the hooded folks, who are some manner of secret police.
This is a confusing book, with explanations shouted during battles and other confrontations that don’t actually explain much, and are often written in manga shorthand that substitutes Ominous Capitals for clarity. The Alice in Wonderland parallels so far seem limited to Alice’s name and other form, and there’s no particular significance here to Oz’s name, either. Pandora Hearts is messy and loud and disheveled, like a sorority girl at 3 AM on a Friday, but it – like that sorority girl – remains oddly attractive even then. It’s not a great story, but I have hopes that it will make sense, one day.
Karakuri Odette, Vol. 1
By Julietta Suzuki
Tokyopop, October 2009, $10.99
Karakuri Odette is an entirely simpler and more straightforward story, of the kind you’ve seen a dozen times before in manga, TV, and elsewhere: Professor Yoshizawa has created an android girl, Odette, and he wants her to learn to be human. So he sends her to the local high school, where she is to tell no one that she’s a robot.
What happens next?
If you answered, “she comes back to the Prof. with a series of demands to make her more human, and they are funny,” then you might just have a future writing manga. There’s more than that, of course – there’s also a couple of other android teenagers, Odette’s (human) best friend and the boy she has a crush on, and a lot of Odette longing to be a Real Girl.
It is funny along the way, though, so – if you can stand yet another Pinocchio story, this is a pretty good one.
Night Head: Genesis, Vol. 1
Story by George Iida; Manga by You Higuri
Del Rey Manga, November 2009, $10.99
That is one of the silliest and most random titles I’ve seen in quite a while; it has the look of being just some random English words thrown together because they look nice. Even after reading this volume, I have no idea what (or who) a “Night Head” is, nor why I should care about its (his?) genesis. It’s based on a TV show that, from Iida’s introduction, I gather was created around 1990 – that doesn’t explain “Night Head,” but it may just provide a convenient excuse.
Naoto and Naoya are brothers with psychic powers, locked up in what the back cover calls an “exploitative research center” when they were pre-teens. (We only see that center for a few pages, and those mostly have the boys breaking things, so I have no strong opinion as to its exploitativeness.) As soon as they’re the brooding pretty-boy adults shown on the cover, they break out through the force field in the forest that previously was unbreakable.
The older boy, Naoto, is telekinetic – he can move objects with the power of his mind. His kid brother – the sweet, innocent one, of course – reads people’s minds with a touch and also has precognitive visions. Naoya soon begins having visions of the end of the world, wh
ich puts them into conflict with another psychic, Kamiya, who is using his media fame (and subsequent followers) to try to avert said bacteriological Armageddon through judicious assassinations. Our hero brothers do not agree with his tactics, and attempt to save the attractive female research that Kamiya has set his minions to liquidate.
By the end, it’s clear that there’s another psychic, a mysterious shadowy figure manipulating events behind both the brothers and Kamiya. (Perhaps, in best Lensman manner, he’ll be dispatched in the next volume, as the story reveals another, more powerful shadowy figure above him.) It’s a decent psychic manga, with all of the expected emotional beats and impassioned speeches one expects, but there’s nothing particularly special or unique 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 to submit books for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.