DRAWN & QUARTERED
English-language manga has adopted the Japanese art form with mixed results.
Gospel according to manga
In the beginning, God created the heavens, Earth and a whole bunch of living things. An account of all of this, as Christians believe, was written in the Bible. And it was good.
Several thousand (or billion, depending on whether you embrace the religious or scientific method of how old the universe and its denizens are) years later, the Japanese created something called "manga." And the masses in Japan, and then in the rest of the world, embraced it as their own. And it was good.
And lo, it came to pass that when manga was embraced by other cultures, particularly the Americans and the British, they adapted the form and called it "original English-language manga." Several people even took the Bible and converted it into this new form. And it was ... well, we shall see.
'The Manga Bible'
Concept and art by Siku, script by Akin Akinsiku (Doubleday, $12.95)
This book's full title is "The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation." That's probably for a good reason: What ought to have been the book's true title probably wouldn't have fit on the cover. Just try typesetting "The Manga-esque Highlights of Most of the Bible's Action Scenes: From Genesis to Revelation, Minus a Bunch of Books in the Middle" sometime.
That a good chunk of the Bible is either glazed over or omitted completely from "The Manga Bible" is to be expected. The book's primary stated purpose, after all, is to introduce the average manga fan (and likely non-Christian) to the Bible.
Thus, events like David's battle with Goliath, Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, and the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are in. (Strangely enough, the tale of Daniel in the lions' den is not.) The most notable omission: the rich poetry and wisdom of Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and 149 out of 150 Psalms. The one Psalm that is included is not the more famous "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" Psalm 23, but excerpts from Psalm 18, a psalm of protection used in conjunction with the story of King David.
All of this is presented in a contemporary manner, and with a few embellishments along the way. For instance, while Noah certainly could have said, "That's 11,344 animals? Arggh! I'm going to have start (sic) from scratch!" when he was loading up the ark, I can't remember seeing that in any of the translations I used growing up.
But while "The Manga Bible" has a modern-day sheen and hits most of the high action points, the presentation comes off as being a little plain, perhaps even dull. One of the signature qualities of manga art is in how it depicts energy and motion; while there are a few energetic scenes in "The Manga Bible," most of what is depicted are talking heads stacked on more talking heads.
With source material as impressive as the Bible, the result ends up being a bit of a disappointment.
Created by Buzz Dixon, art by Min Kwon (Barbour Publishing/Realbuzz Studios, $10.95, six volumes)
If some trend develops in popular culture, whether in books, movies, video games or music, the chances are good that sooner or later there will be a religious counterpart with a "blessed" message to counteract the "evils" of the original work.
So it is with the original English color manga "Serenity" from Realbuzz Studios, purveyor of what's billed on the cover as "America's premier inspirational manga." The title character is a girl who needs to find salvation from her sin ... even if she doesn't realize it at the outset. She's been kicked out of several schools, swears a lot, listens to rock music, runs with the wrong crowd and doesn't care what other people think about it.
But while she does her worst in angering the school administration and alienating people, several members of the prayer club take an interest in her. They must REALLY know she needs help somehow because they're offering their assistance by the fourth page of the first volume, after she basically steps off a bus and talks to the principal in her office.
This sets up what could be considered the fundamental flaw of this series: It can be far too predictable and convenient with its situations. It's a religious manga, after all; as such, there are certain expectations from its intended audience on how events will play out. There's really little doubt, for instance, that Serenity will learn valuable life lessons and eventually find salvation in God, and that contemporary secular society will get its nose tweaked multiple times.
Yet for the right audience, "Serenity" does hold a certain appeal. The members of the prayer club, while they do nudge Serenity toward the inevitable conclusion, have their own flaws to deal with as well. Derek already is recovering from an addiction to alcohol, while Kimberly, by all accounts Derek's girlfriend, gets jealous when Serenity starts cozying up to him. Christians aren't always the "good" guys, after all -- they have the potential to sin just as much as the sinners -- and it's refreshing to see that darker side represented here.
Art by Kozumi Shinozawa and Atsuko Ogawa, script by Hidenori Kumai (Tyndale House Publishers, $12.99)
Of the works reviewed, "Manga Messiah" is the one that rings truest in artistic presentation and the content. The concept is simple: Take the story of Jesus Christ, have a Japanese staff render it in manga form, and add color for maximum visual effect. That's it ... not much more than that.
Yet, of the pieces reviewed here, the simplest approach is the most effective. The life of Jesus needs little embellishment -- this is a man who, according to the accounts in the biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was born to a virgin, performed countless miracles, shared words of wisdom, died on a cross and came back to life three days later, thus defeating death and cleansing people of their sins.
This is the story "Manga Messiah" follows, hitting most of the high points while abridging a few portions here and there. The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is more of a recap of illustrated highlights rather than the full text of the sermon itself.
Put aside for a moment the fact that EVERYONE speaks in exclamations -- one wonders whether the letterer on this project was paid by the exclamation point. Aside from reading the Bible itself, this is one of the best ways to learn the story of Jesus Christ.