DRAWN & QUARTERED
Makeover battles might help manga series stick
When last we covered manga in this space on Jan. 14, we discussed how important it is for any series to get off on the right foot with readers. Do it well, and publishers sell thousands of copies, like with "Fruits Basket" and "Naruto"; do it poorly, and you're lucky if you can find subsequent volumes on store shelves between, well, "Fruits Basket" and "Naruto."
This time, we'll look at five efforts from various publishers, one of which has already disappeared before completing its run in America. Perhaps after seeing that particular review, you'll know why.
Synopsis: The "Scissors Project," three high school boys who aspire to be makeover kings, have captivated the girls in their school by picking a girl and transforming her into a veritable princess. That is, until someone shows up and upstages them, threatening their status as the coolest dudes in school and sole granters of makeover dreams. Could it possibly be Kiri Koshiba, the plain-looking girl who just so happens to be the daughter of a professional hairstylist yet has no desire to take up the profession herself? What do you think?
Jason's take: It's like a mini-"Initial D," with makeover battles taking the place of mountain races. There's the indifferent phenom (Kiri), the phenom's stoically smoking father, a dorky friend (Taro), the technical wizard on the "opposition" team who takes an interest in the phenom (Ochiai) and the guy who challenges the phenom believing he's clearly the better person (Narumi). Sure, it's clichéd, but at least there are compelling clichés.
Rating: (out of five stars)
Synopsis: When high-schooler Naoto Saki sleeps, he dreams of the world of Orgos, where a race called the Elphis rule and all other races -- referred to collectively as Sand Dusts -- are forced to live in the lowest region, the Abyss. Then a Sand Dust named Lusia, in an attempt to one-up her showy rival Camu, actually summons Naoto into Orgos. Although he still slips back and forth between worlds, Naoto is now technically bound to serve Lusia and her group, Desert Coral.
Wilma's take: This is a series that is energetic to the point of being chaotic. The rivalry between Camu and Lusia, the group's motley personalities and the fact that Desert Coral seems to have no real mission all make for a mess of a manga. Here, character stereotypes are annoying rather than charming, and there's no chemistry whatsoever between them.
I lost track of -- and interest in -- the story about a quarter of the way through the book. A second read finally made the characters' names stick but didn't pique my interest any more than the first time. For once, I applaud publisher ADV for not finishing this series' domestic run.
"Hayate the Combat Butler"
Synopsis: Young Hayate, in a pinch because his parents racked up a massive debt and sold him to the yakuza, tries to kidnap a young rich girl, Nagi, for ransom. Unfortunately, he's too nervous, and his kidnapping threat is taken by Nagi as a confession of love. After he rescues her from another set of kidnappers -- because he wants to keep her for himself -- she hires him as her butler. Hilarity ensues.
Jason's take: It's a typical comedy manga, with over-the-top wackiness, miscommunication taken to extreme levels and a main character who would have died several million times in real life what with all the abuse he takes. Where it really suffers is in the lack of a section explaining all the cultural references. Del Rey does it all the time with their manga, "Viz"; why can't you?
"The Recipe for Gertrude"
Synopsis: There once lived a human who collected demons' body parts and, after experimentation, managed to make those parts into an entirely new demon: Gertrude, who looks and acts just like a teenage boy. But demons are never happy about giving up parts, so Gertrude is constantly forced to fight those attempting to take back what's theirs.
A century later, the man-made demon is in Japan, searching for the book containing the spell that created him so he can destroy it. He's trying to escape another pair of demons when he literally bumps into high school girl Sahara Susugi. She seems innocent enough, but there could be something more sinister about her that either of them have yet to find out.
Wilma's take: Sahara's amazingly easy acceptance of Gertrude's nature is almost too unbelievable to swallow, but that's quickly forgotten as we're soon swept up in a story that questions the concept of identity -- as a patchwork of other demons, Gertrude can't really say his body truly is his own.
It becomes a battle between love and trust, with Sahara and her growing feelings for Gertrude caught in the middle.
Sahara's importance is disclosed at almost the very end of Volume 1, and the revelation -- along with the possible consequences -- was enough to keep me hooked. (Jason notes that Book 1 is due this month, with the final volume expected in April.)
Synopsis: Reiichi Sakakusa is an average, nondescript, glasses-wearing student who's off to board the School Train, the usual step taken in life toward getting a regular job and owning a regular home. But when he's accidentally shackled to the brash, headstrong Arena Pendleton, a rogue of sorts who's bent on defying her grandfather and boarding the Special Train, his life takes a much more adventurous detour.
That detour is filled with juicy secrets, police chases and -- since this is manga, after all -- a mutant nun.
Jason's take: Writer Hideyuki Kurata has already worked wonders with a kick-butt bibliophile in his series "R.O.D.," so the pedigree is already there for a good series. And he doesn't disappoint, crafting a story that has enough mystery to keep readers looking for answers -- what'll happen to Reiichi's female friend left behind, for instance, and what's the deal with Arena's past? Plus, there's a mutant nun! I'm on board for Volume 2.