DRAWN & QUARTERED
American fiction franchises adopt manga influences
It seems like everything's going for that Japanese look these days.
Three well-known series of American fiction get this treatment with Harlequin Romance's Ginger Blossom manga line; graphic novels drawn in Japanese-manga style that bring to life teen detective Nancy Drew, celebrating 75 years of the 18-year-old's exploits; and a "Star Trek" series by various artists and writers that follows the crew of the original USS Enterprise.
All three translate well into manga form, though not without a few flaws.
Harlequin's sweet romances that cater to women's fantasies were an obvious base on which to create a shoujo (girls) manga line, and it did so with its Ginger Blossom imprint. The manga, which reads from right to left in Japanese style, puts a Harlequin novel into the hands of a Japanese artist.
The Ginger Blossom line was originally separated into two categories depending on the nature of their content: Pink and Violet, the latter meant for readers 16 years and over because of the books' sexual situations. With Harlequin taking back some of the Ginger Blossom operations from its partner Dark Horse Comics, the focus is now on the younger age set with Pink. Pink is printed in so-called "flirty pink ink," and Violet uses "hot violet ink." This gimmick should not have been carried out. While the violet shade is readable, the pink ink -- more of a glaring magenta color -- strains the eyes.
Aside from this, Harlequin's stories gain an extra level of heartbreak and tenderness in their manga form that is certain to touch the heart of any romance or shoujo lover. Sure, the writing might be trite at times, and certain plot elements overused, but that can be forgiven considering these are fantasies -- meaning situations that most of us will never find ourselves in, but are nice to daydream about.
These graphic novels from Papercutz are all-new stories based on the latest book series, "Nancy Drew, Girl Detective," in which the characters' personalities and dialogue are brought into the 21st century while keeping the main aspects of their identities intact. Main girl Nancy is still 18, and her intuition is as sharp as ever but she's now much more mischievous and, unexpectedly, more scatterbrained.
Best friend Bess Marvin is still the beauty and scaredy-cat of the gang, but now she's also a fix-it wiz, tackling everything from household appliances to auto-rickshaws in India. Best friend No. 2 and Bess's cousin George Fayne (her real name is Georgia) is still the athletic tomboy, but now she's the tech and computer geek of the group.
Dad Carson Drew is now absentminded, and police Chief McGinnis, once a staunch Nancy Drew ally, is now more inclined to dismiss the young sleuth's deductions.
Written by Stefan Petrucha and illustrated by Sho Murase (Daniel Vaughn Ross replaces Murase for Volume 5 with barely any change in art design), the series captures all the action of the novels in full color, with hand-drawn art complemented by liberal amounts of computer and 3-D graphics.
Although short in comparison with the text novels, "Girl Detective" crams in enough action, interaction, characters and seeming side plots that eventually come together to unravel the mystery, all without feeling rushed.
The only detraction is the reflection of light off the glossy pages; be sure to read in full sunlight to avoid this. Five books have been released so far, with Volume 6 due this month.
Star Trek: The Manga
Now that that's been said, let's pause for a bit and let that sink in:
"Star Trek: The Manga."
Am I the only one shaking my head?
The first volume, published by Tokyopop, comprises five stories by different writers and artists -- some American, some Japanese, some Korean, but all with the art style that many have come to associate with Japanese manga.
The blurb on the back of Volume 1 touts the manga as capturing "the spirit of the original series in a completely new way." Unfortunately, that "new way" means merely giving the Enterprise's crew vaguely Japanese facial features.
There isn't anything that a manga adaptation could add to the "Star Trek" universe that isn't already present.
Want wacky, anime-style plot lines? "Star Trek" is already science fiction, so plenty of that is available in its own universe without having to drag in obviously anime elements. Looking for the gratuitous scenes that have come to be synonymous with manga? You've got good ol' Capt. Kirk with his penchant for attracting a bevy of busty babes.
The Enterprise still gets into intergalactic trouble, lots of expendable unknown crew members still get offed and Chekov still stumbles comically in positions of authority.
It's nothing that American stylings couldn't have accomplished, aside from possibly the classic facial expressions and sweat drops that are among the artistic tools of the manga trade, and touting its Japanese-styled artwork doesn't make for a groundbreaking experience.
That's not to say the stories aren't good. They still offer the questions of morals and humanity that have been a hallmark of "Star Trek" from the beginning. But they also boldly go where the TV series and novels have gone before.
"Star Trek: The Manga" is enjoyable -- anime fans will probably get a good laugh out of the last story, and Trekkies might get into heated discussions over the first story -- but don't expect to explore any new frontiers in this series.