Dramacon Vol 1

Never has there been a more heated debate than the subject of the original English language manga
[often called OEL manga for short] – can a manga still be called such even though its written and drawn by someone not of Japanese origin?does drawing a book in a style “influenced by the Japanese manga art style” qualify it to be a manga?

Back in 2005, when this matter first came up, one of the key books quoted and cited as evidence for and against ELO manga [and the first volume of which will be the subject of this review] was one of the then first of TOKYOPOP’S new ELO manga line – Dramacon.

The first volume of this 3 volume series [which was written by then newcomer Svetlana Chmakova] follows the adventures of Christie, a first time manga writer and long-suffering girlfriend of manga artist, co-creator of their comic and wandering lethario Derek, who, when left to her own devices at her first ever animé convention finds friendship [and possibly romance] in the form of Dramacon’s very own Mr Darcy – Matt.

The one good aspect of this first volume was the fact that much of the events that happen both to her and in the background of the convention are easy to relate to the average western animé convention attendee – from crowded elevators to the archetypal pocky salesman to even the ubiquitous catgirls – something thats not so possible with series like comic party or genshiken.

Another good aspect of this volume was the artwork – Svetlana has resisted the temptation to totally ape Japanese manga style with her noticeable use of scale and knowing when to detail her backgrounds and when to focus entirely upon her characters without making it obvious help the reader to focus on whats important on each page.

Now however we have to go into the downsides of this manga.
After making such an effort to create a believable story and a compelling plot line i cant help but find that Svetlana seems to have done this at the expense of developing her main and supporting characters – the background story got reduced to a quarter of one page, within which four mini pictures were used to explain as to how and why Christie and Derek came to the convention to sell their comic for example.

Also although Matt [fair enough] has to be left relatively vague to allow gradual expansion in later volumes i still felt that his personality was more like from angst ridden anti hero plot no#22 rather than that of a believable person you could meet at a convention.

Additionally there were two characters – a couple /chaperone’s of Christie and Derek who to be honest were wasted as characters – whose appearances it seemed were for no other reason than to either advance plot or to act as shocked bystanders – these characters could have easily been removed and their lack of presence would not have affected the plot line.

In summery i have to say from this volume alone that Dramacon, despite having an interesting premise with definite potential, fell short of the mark as far as a series goes.

Now wheres my Pocky?
all three volumes [ and recently a mega edition, collection all three volumes and an additional chapter which, while not convention based, is still a good read for fans of the series] are all available from Tokyopop.

Tora Dora vol 1

For Takasu Ryuuji life is complex enough – being the single child with a mum who works at a hostess bar [and who he effectively has to look after], add to that the fact that, despite being a well brought up and polite lad, he looks like an extra from a Yakuza film [a legacy of his late father, and a fact that Yuji’s mum regularly reminds him about] and his endless attempts to confess his feelings [or even string together a coherent sentence] to his dream girl, the lightheaded Kushieda Minori, which always seem to lead to naught……
But then, on his first day as a 2nd year student at high school, Ryuuji [literally] bumps into the diminutive but hot tempered Aisaka Taiga – known by all as the legendary “palmtop tiger” –

Sorry, sorry – im just reading from the script!

Anyway, after this…initial meeting ryuuji’s life would never be the same again!
For one thing it turns out that Taiga, despite he endless bad attitude towards him, may turn out to be his only way to get to Minori!

Okay, lets gets some things clear before we begin:
This manga was not the influence for the anime series, nor the other way around – In fact both were directly based off an original 2006 light novel series by Yuyuko Takemiya [although chronologically the manga came first] who was also the head writer for all three iterations.
As such the manga follows the plot of the novels faithfully with a case of mistaken identity resulting in Taiga and Ryuuji agreeing to help fix each other up with their respective crushes – and with Taigas crush being none other than Ryuuji’s longtime friend Kitamura!
Also, despite the difference in art style between this and the anime there’s no mistaking the key cast members – the fiery Taiga, the long-suffering Ryuuji, smart yet clueless Kitamurs and equally oblivious minori – all are faithful to the original light novels images of them thanks to the series artist Zekkyō.

Sorry guys - this is as Yuri as it get!

The one let down though was the preview at the back – despite Amnesia labyrinth supplying a preview chapter of gunslinger girls all we get for “vampire cheerleaders” [ which smells of OEL manga] a short 8 page preview of the cast, and some rudimentary plot synopsis about a schoolgirl whose inducted [along with the other perks] into the titular cheer-leading team after one of the original members goes missing – I wont be holding my breath on this one!

End of the Day? Whether or not you’ve seen the anime version first I’d still recommend that you pick this hilarious take on the traditional romance manga series up when it comes out.

Do it! Or I’ll set the tiger on you.

Toradora volume one will be out in march 2011 from Seven Seas.

Amnesia Labyrinth vol 1

When i first heard that Nagaru Tanigawa [of Haruhi Suzumiya fame] was releasing a new series i jumped at the chance to read the first volume to see what he had to offer….

What he had to offer though wasn’t quite what i was expecting.

First released in japan by Media works in 2009, and licensed by Seven seas, this first volume of an intended ongoing series, introduces us to Souji Kushiki, son of a rich family, whose forced to return home upon the mysterious disappearance of his brother Kazushi, only to find a household changed – for one thing his younger sister Youko, and his two stepsisters Harumi and Saki are not only
keeping secrets from Souji, but they also seem to act…..differently to him, and in ways that sisters shouldn’t normally act to their brother.

Add to that the fact that at his new school he’s suddenly tangled up with school council member and “intelligence committee”[read: propaganda] member Sasai Yukako, whose quest to discover the secret around the suspicious murders of three fellow school members may lead directly back to his own family – And may in turn put Sasai herself at risk of becoming the next victim!

“Murderers, in general, are people who are consistent, people who are obsessed with one idea and nothing else” Ugo Betti

One thing that drew me was the fact that Seven seas are all but shouting from the rooftops that this series is from the creator of Haruhi Suzumiya – from the belly cover, to the back cover it seems to try everything short of having a man with a megaphone attached to it announcing the fact!

The artwork for this volume comes in two clear standards – the main characters always seem well proportioned and detailed, while the backgrounds appear sketch like and less developed – although this does help to make sure we keep focused on the characters it wouldn’t have hurt to have left more art pieces now and again.

“Passion is a positive obsession. Obsession is a negative passion.” Paul Carvel

Finally The volume is then finished off with a preview of seven seas upcoming release of Gunslinger girls omnibus edition, which I hope to soon be reviewing.

All in all, while having hints of an interesting plot, it seemed at times that there were in fact two different novels – one a high school murder mystery, and the other a mystery with a harem [although I at times got hints of lunar legend Tuskihime, minus the magical schtick], that had accidentally been mixed together – in fact I felt that if Nagaru had stuck with one or the other plot, it would have made for a more intense story. But still, there was something niggling me about this story……

And then I saw his authors notes which reads, and I quote –

“Although an overall plot does exist for the story, when everything was said and done, i sort of ran out of things to write, and therefore i admit there are a number of lazy, phantom passages scattered throughout. This work was based on a story that, while it didn’t have enough to become a full-fledged novel, had been kicking around my head for years now”

Anyone else hearing alarm bells right about now?

Okay,okay – now maybe I’m being too negative – it’s still the first volume, and maybe, like many authors, Nagaru just needs time to develop more of the plotlines and characters [fans of Higurashi with no doubt agrees with me on this] and so we just need to wait.

The problem is though, is it going to be worth the wait?

“All persons are puzzles until at last we find in some word or act the key to the man, to the woman; straightway all their past words and actions lie in light before us” Ralph Waldo Emerson