Tom Schwartz, over at Digital Manga Publishing, recently took note of my public attempts to get a handle on the whole mangathing, and offered to send me a couple of his company's titles for my perusal. Unable to refuse free stuff, I said, why shore! And here's what I got.
IWGP - IKEBUKURO WEST GATE PARK VOLUME 1, by Ira Ishida (script) and Sena Aritou (art), is apparently taken from a live action TV series, and it features a lot of young pretty people who go around doing things that people in Japan (and just about anywhere else) would like to do. Part Beverly Hills 90210, part The Warriors, part urban crime thriller, most of the action in the first volume revolves around Makoto, who's got a beautiful girlfriend and the protection of the local gang, the G-Boys, led by (what to me, anyway) was the most charismatic character, the fey-but-slyly dangerous Takashi, who's always stuffing some sort of food in his mouth. Turns out Makoto's girl, Rika, had more going on in her life than met the eye- and when she turns up murdered, the latest in a string of call-girl serial killings, Makoto gets the G-Boys involved and they search for the killer. There's also a subplot with Rika's friend, Hikaru, who comes from an apparently very rich family and has her share of secrets as well along with a huge crush on Makoto, who is only focused on finding Rika's murderer. While it was kinda touch and go at first- the young pretty people doing young pretty things left me cold, and as always with manga in my experience so far the translated dialogue more often as not read flat and dull- this book seemed to get its bearings after Rika's death, and the brutal methods of the G-Boys added an appreciated touch of gravity, especially as administered by the almost Joker-like Takashi. Sena Aritou's art was kinda inconsistent at times, mostly in the layout department, although that may have been just my gaijin eyes struggling with reading right-to-left-and-down. Overall, his work reminded me of Adam Warren (or perhaps Warren was inspired by him or this style- I have no idea how old this Aritou person is or how long he's been working) in several places, and one thing for sure- he (?) draws some gorgeous women. There were several excellent good-girl drawings early on in chapters two and three, and a very erotic scene in a "singles club" later on, while Makoto and Hikaru try to identify the call-girl killer. So for the most part, I did enjoy IGWP- it was slow going in spots, but I did keep finding things to like. B+
WORST VOLUME 1 has very little plot and a simplistic idea at its heart: big, likeable smarter-than-he-looks country boy Hana Tsukishima moves into a boarding house, run by a gruff older guy and his transvestite brother, with four other guys who are all planning to attend the same school, one which apparently features fighting for social position as the main curriculum rather than reading, writing, and 'rithmatic. Hana is determined to take on all comers and do the unprecedented: rule the school! Just like the Pink Ladies in Grease. Anyway, Volume 1 ends before we get to see if Hana suceeds in his task. It's all lively and done in good fun, but I found myself skimming through a lot of the fighting which dominates the second half of the book and as a result had a hard time sorting out the plethora of badasses that writer/artist Hiroshi Takahashi introduces along the way. One thing I did notice, and kinda addressed one observation I made in my Planetes post- Takahashi draws his characters with Asian features, unusual in my experience anyway. He also is good with facial expressions and action scenes (fortunately), and his numerous characters at least are drawn (for the most part) distinctively, making it a bit easier to figure out who's who. And, of course, the translated dialogue is even more stilted than IGWP's. While Worst is hardly the, if you'll excuse the expression, worst manga I've ever read, I am not particularly interested in Fight Club-style hijinx and probably won't seek out further issues. B-
Before I'm done with DMP for the time being, I just wanna note one of their titles, spied at their website, which by virtue of its unusual-for-manga-in-MY-experience-anyway artwork stood out to me: BAMBI AND HER PINK GUN, the exploits of "a punk girl with a pink gun as she rampages across the land". The copy informs us that this is a favorite of Puffy AmiYumi, and if the girls like it, then that's OK by me! Anyway, she seems to be a Courier of some sort, which would suggest that she occupies a similar world to Brian Wood's Special and Moustafa. Think I'll have to keep an eye out for this- I like the art samples, reminiscent of people like Brendan McCarthy or Bob Fingerman, I've seen so far!
What will be the next funnybooks from the Land of the Rising Sun in my quest to acquire that most elusive (for me, anyway) of acquired tastes? Stay tuned?