As spring hits Manga Island, light hearted books have been the order of the day. Across the landscape of the Island come the enjoyably unexpected "Chikyu Misaki" and the familiar but still charming "KageTora."
I have been hearing a lot about Iwahara Yuji's "Chikyu Misaki," and after reading it, I definitely regret not picking it up sooner. On the surface (and by the cover), the book seems cute and fairly typical. It's got high school antics, doe eyed children, and a monster that seems to be culled from the battling Pocket variety. Once I was through with book one, I realized how wrong those first impression were. "Chikyu Misaki" has its share of manga clichés, but never settles into them, taking the reader on quite a twisting, turning ride.
At first the story centers around the title character and her father who have moved into her late grandfather's old mansion. Misaki's grandfather was a famous scientist who lived around the Hohoro Lake. Her grandfather's archeological finds, such as a pterodactyl skeleton have given even more credence to the legend that the Hohopo monster (much like the creature that supposedly inhabits Loch Ness) exits in the very lake next to Misaki's new home. Misaki is unhappy with the fact that she has had to leave her friends behind and is even more unhappy when she learns that the estate lawyer over representing her family is her father's new girlfriend. Her unhappiness soon melts away when she meets a new friend at school, Okouchi Sanae. Sanae and Misaki hit it off right a way, and on the way home from school, they discover a secret that thrusts them into an unexpected world of adventure.
It seems as if the Hohopo monster story is true, and even more unexpectedly, it can change its form a cute "Nessie" type monster to that of a young child, just by kissing a human. The Hohopo monster is able to change back by submerging in water. Manga fans familiar with "Ranma ½" may find this transformation style somewhat familiar, however, the way the transformation I handled in this particular book quickly sets the two books apart. Things soon get complicated when Misaki and Sanae decide to keep the newly dubbed "Neo" (after the Matrix character of the same name, since Misaki had just recently watched the Matrix) at Misaki's house. Misaki and Sane must keep Neo from being discovered as well as attend to acclimating him to adapt to everyday life. Things like potty training the monster-turned-little-boy, introducing to him to human lunch and dinner, and other daily activities that the girls have taken for granted must be shown to the every inquisitive Neo, often with hilarious and endearing results.
The plot thickens even more as Misaki's father discovers Neo's secret and realizes that the poor boy/monster must not be discovered by scientists, and must be protected from the press. This gets increasingly harder to do when a plane carrying criminals and their recently acquired ransom money crashes in the Hohoro Lake. One of the three criminals is saved by Neo and found by a local lumberyard owner with a mysterious past, and another is sent to hospital, bringing a media frenzy to the small town and making it harder for Neo to remain hidden. Volume One does an excellent job of setting up the plot for future volumes, with the criminal Ai on the loose with the Logan/Wolverine look-alike Bando, a set up with a mysterious past for the kidnapping/ransom victim, and hints at why Neo is drawn to Misaki. All of these elements work nicely to thrust the story forward and add to the mystery elements of the plot that caught me off guard and have me hooked to read the rest of the trilogy.
CMX handles the production of "Chikyu Misaki" very well. It is unedited including some partial nudity and a rather odd scene with Misaki's father's girlfriend giving a rather thorough inspection of Neo to check out how human he is. Things like this give "Chikyu Misaki" a decidedly teen rating but it might in its translated form, despite its deceptively cutesy cover. CMX includes the first few full color pages at the beginning of the volume and a cute tour of the local area by Sanae and Misaki at the end of the book. The printing is top notch and really shows off Iwahara Yuji's solid artwork. Iwahara's style often reminds me of "FLCL" and ranges from ultra cute to edgy and angular. The art is detailed when need be and refreshingly simple and innocent at the appropriate moments. The plot, artwork and production values really gel well on this book and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. It is just innocent enough to draw readers in, with plot twists and intrigue that provide the hook to keep the pages turning.
Next on Manga Island is the tale of a ninja in modern day Japan and his mission to teach the clumsy heir of a renowned family of martial artists how to step and live up to her expected potential. "KageTora" is not an especially original manga, but it is lively and humorous, with enough fun elements to make it a breezy manga worth reading for fans of action comedy and high school hi-jinks.
The protagonist, Kagetora and his monkey sidekick, Kosuke are sent on a mission that they must not fail. Kagetora's reputation for being an excellent martial artist has brought him to the attention of the Toudou family, and they instruct him that he has been tasked with the instructing the super cute and extremely clumsy Yuki on how to step into her martial arts heritage. This is no easy task, as Yuki is clumsier than she is naïve and charming. Her lack of interest in martial arts and her utter clumsiness make Kagetora's mission a hard one indeed. Even harder for the young ninja turned teacher, is the fact that he cannot help but feel attracted to her, a clear betrayal of his duty. Continually thrust into situations where he must be close to her to train and to rescue Yuki, Kagetora's mission is not nearly as easy at it might sound, he must straddle the line between his mission and his growing feelings for Yuki.
To add to the humor and insanity (and make it even harder on Kazama Kagetora), Yuki's long time friend, the super tough and attractive Kiritani Akino shows up to protect Yuki from what she perceives as Kagetora's untrustworthy advances. Akino doesn't trust Kagetora in the slightest and vows to try to thwart his mission if possible, especially if he has his sights on Yuki. Her skill with swords and sword-like weapons is also a real threat to Kagetora, and he must be on constant watch to avoid being attacked by Akino. To add insult to injury, Kagetora must also deal with a rival from his village, his older brother Shiroumaru and his wolf companion, Nachi. Shiroumaru would love nothing more than to take over Kagetora's mission and usurp his position as Yuki's instructor.
"KageTora" reminds me a lot of the fun and wackiness that I enjoyed while reading "Ranma 1/2," although this book is a little lighter in a lot of ways. Perhaps I've read too many similar manga, as I started to notice a lot of the characters and gags that are a little cliché now in manga such as this one. Bath scenes, unrequited love, animals that speak by holding up signs, and other hallmarks of the genre are pretty by-the-book here, but "KageTora" is still a very enjoyable read. Akira Segami has a knack for combining shonen action with glassy-eyed shojo girls and high school settings, often switching from cute characters to effect filled martial arts action at blink of an eye. While I found that Yuki's character often grated on me, towards the end of the book, I really enjoyed Kagetora's challenge of trying to stay professional, but still realizing he is falling for his pupil.
Del Rey once again does a top notch job on the book, with notes from the artist, full translation notes on the book and all honorifics, and they have even included some short three panel comic strips at the end of the book. The type is nice and flows well, and they even leave Yuki addressed as "Hime" rather than switch to calling her "Princess" throughout the book. Del Rey's handling of honorifics, sidebar notes, and sound effect translations is impeccable, and their consistent level of quality has me picking up more and more Del Rey manga all the time. My only nitpick with this volume is that much of the note text is very small (mainly so that it doesn't occlude anything in the panels) and that a lot of text in this volume seemed to run into the middle of book, making me have to almost split the book to read it at times. I think this is probably a function of the original art bleeding out over the entire page, rather than having consistent borders, but it did make it harder to read some of the smaller notes and bits of dialog at times.
So if you are looking for charm and light hearted fun, look no further than these books. I recommend "Chikyu Misaki" for fans of cute manga who want to branch out and read something with a little more edge. "KageTora" is there for fans of ninjas, romance, and comedy who just can't get enough of any of those genres. Both of these books are lively and perfect for shaking off the winter gloom and heading into spring. A welcome change here on Manga Island.
Volumes: 1 (of 3 - all 3 volumes have been released)
Rating: Teen (for Violence, Partial Nudity, and some adult innuendo)
Publisher: Del Rey
Volumes: 1 (of 9+ volumes)
Rating: Teen 13+ for martial arts violence and partial nudity
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, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. 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.