VAN VON HUNTER
This week on Manga Island, I took a trip to a section of the Island devoted to Tokyopop’s Original Graphic Novels. While the manga world still contemplates what to call this genre of manga influenced comics coming from top manga publishers, and the lines are drawn on whether or not this qualifies as “Manga,” here on Manga Island there’s certainly a place for these books. After taking a look at “Van Von Hunter,” I am certainly proud to be in the same company of manga and anime fans who are trying to take their influences and turn them into creative works that they want to share with other fans. In this installment of Manga Island I am going to leave the American Manga debate for another week and dive straight into the hilarious parody “Van Von Hunter.”
“Van Von Hunter” started with two creators’ love for anime and their drive to create their own anime experience, Mike Schwark & Ron Kaulfersch. They started with a 3D animation project, “II: Prologue” and then succeeded in creating two almost broadcast length episodes of a program they called “The Show.” During this time, they founded Pseudome’ Studios to house these projects and others. After their initial foray into animation, Mike and Ron were a little under whelmed with the results of their anime venture and switched to online comics. Things began to take a turn for the better when the Pseudome’ team submitted their work to Tokyopop’s “Rising Stars of Manga” contest. The “Van Von Hunter” team was able to complete one of their own quests by securing a spot among the winners of the “Risings Stars” contest, turning web comics into published comics. Not a small feat, given the talent in these competitions. Having read “Van Von Hunter” from cover to cover, I can see why Tokyopop chose this team’s wit and art style to represent their original line.
“Van Von Hunter” begins with the tale of its own title character and how he defeated Evil Stuff thousands (or was it only three) years ago. Unfortunately for the populace, defeating the Evil also caused mass amnesia for them, resulting in Dikay’s annexation by the neighboring land and its ruler, King Utmos. However, as usual, evil cannot be contained for long (even by brunch buffets or archmages) and the Evil Stuff returns to the land of Dikay with a vengeance. Van Von Hunter wanders the land of looking for evil to smite, and instead finds an unlikely partner in an amnesiac bar maid and a mysterious mage with an even more mysterious cloak.
The story of “Van Von Hunter” is full of all the fantasy elements that readers have come to expect, maidens in distress, monsters, undead hordes, and evil princes. Added to the mix, are undead jesters, mad maids, ancient sandwiches of power, and the black sphere of power, the Mysterious Black Marble or “Blarble.” The book also contains some of the best magical items in fantasy, such athe Manual of Exposition, Gauntlets of Lifting, and Earrings of Hurling. While these objects may not be standard in “D&D” or a typical “Lodoss” tale, they are put to great comedic use in the book. Their take on teleportation and other standards of the genre is original and very entertaining.
Puns fly fast and furious throughout the comic, and these areas are where I think the writing is most successful. The creators’ aim was to take the word play and gags that make that traditional manga humor work in its native language, and make those elements work in the context of American comedic sensibilities. Touches such as the renaming of the Vaughn mansion to the Van Von Hunter mansion, the puns of the insane maid of the household, and the unfortunate moniker that the “Flaming Prince” has earned, are really where the books shines. The chapter subtitles are also a great running gag, making me wonder if they are one of the more clever parts of the book, or the slow spiral of a creative team pushed to their creative brink under deadlines. I imagine it is a little of both, and it works to hilarious effect.
“Van Von Hunter” is one of the most successful fantasy parodies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The Pseudome’ team’s send up of the anime and manga fantasy genre hit on all cylinders for me and I can see fans of the genre easily enjoying Van Von Hunter’s adventures. While I didn’t find as many belly laughs as some issues of “Groo” or the biting wit of authors such as Terry Pratchett, I think that Pseudome’ studio has established a great look and feel for their comic. Their sense of comedic timing and jabs at standard fantasy quests makes “Van Von Hunter” a really strong contender in the original graphic novel field. Whether people accept it as “manga” or not, it has all the hallmarks of great comedy anime and manga. It’s apparent that the creators know their subject matter and play to their strengths. By their own admission, they are constantly striving to make their artwork more in line with traditional manga artwork, a point which I think they are successful with on many levels. With so many great gags and an art style that is familiar but original at the same time. I would recommend “Van Von Hunter” to fantasy fans who enjoy send ups like “Groo,” “Knights of the Dinner Table” and the Discworld novels, and for anime and manga fans looking to see what creators on this side of the globe might do with tales such as “Slayers” and “Those Who Hunt Elves.” I look forward to seeing more of this the fantasy parody genre as well as the original graphic novels from various publishers. Volume 2 promises one of my favorite anime fantasy elements, the hot evil magician. I can’t wait to read the further adventures of the “Van Von Hunter” crew and what the Pseudome’ team does with those adventures as they traverse Manga Island.
Rating: T (Teen) 16+
Number of Volumes available: 1 (of 3)
Links of interest:
Van Von Hunter (at Pseudome”)
Pseudome’ Studio (With a cool forum where many Tokyopop creators hang out)
Tokyopop’s “Van Von Hunter” site
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.