Thursday, February 17, 2005


One of the perks of having a comics blog, apparently, is that you get sent review copies. I got my first pair of review copies a few days ago: two manga from Digital Manga Publishing. Neither of these are titles I would have picked up on my own: both are seinen (young men's) manga, as far as I can tell, and very little of the seinen manga I've seen has appealed to me. So I may not be the ideal person to review these.

The better of the two is IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park vol. 1, written by Ira Ishida with art by Sena Aritou. The park of the title is a popular teen hangout in Tokyo. The teens who hang out there, though, are somewhat less wholesome than Archie's pals 'n' gals (though there's little more depth to their characterizations, at least so far); they get involved with gangs, have sex, and some of them even engage in "subsidized dating," a euphemism for casual prostitution. At the start of the book, Makoto, the hero, is leading a happy-go-lucky life, with a friend who's a gang leader and a voluptuous girlfriend. But when a girl he knows is murdered, and turns out to have been involved in subsidized dating, he decides to hunt down the killer himself, enlisting his gang buddies to help.

The first two chapters read like a bad teen comedy: if I'd been browsing the book in a bookstore (not that I'd be able to, because it's shrinkwrapped), I'd have stopped reading at this point. But after the murder, things pick up, and the book becomes a mildly entertaining thriller, though hardly original or deep. The art and visual storytelling also improve, with a couple of sequences being genuinely impressive: the gang meeting in chapter five, and a scene where Makoto and some gang members interrogate a suspect (not for the squeamish). The book is shrinkwrapped and gets an 18+ rating for some naked breasts and a few panels depicting heavy petting. In a storyline revolving around sexual violence, this cheesecake strikes a jarring note; and the main female character is primarily there to be protected by the hero (though there is a hint of something deeper going on with her). But I suppose these things come with the territory.

The other book I received is Worst vol. 1, by Hiroshi Takahashi. Worst follows the adventures of a group of boys who have just entered Suzuran High School, the worst and most violent high school in the city. It's so tough that on the first day of school they hold a tournament of the freshmen to see who's the strongest. In particular, the book focuses on Hana Tsukishima, a country boy who is still wet behind the ears but is an amazingly strong fighter, and who announces his determination to someday be boss of the school. Worst is in a genre that has no appeal for me at all: manga in which people fight just for the sake of fighting. And it doesn't bring anything fresh to the genre, either in story or art: it's predictable from start to finish. Not recommended.

Both IWGP and Worst are $12.95. As partial compensation, they're handsomely produced, with larger pages than most English-language manga, and with dustjackets like Japanese-language manga have.


I've added a link to Tom Spurgeon's excellent news site, The Comics Reporter, to my sidebar, something I should have done a long time ago. The reason I didn't, to be honest, was that I didn't visit the site very often myself, because I didn't find most comics-related news to be that interesting. But now Spurgeon is covering manga too, so I have no excuse.

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