Happy Third Anniversary! Yessir, three years of manga goodness! We’ve looked at a lot of manga here. Good manga! Bad manga! Mediocre manga! Now we’ll look at a mediocre manga!
Last year I reviewed the worst manga I’ve ever read. The year before that, I reviewed two manga. For the 100th review, I went for Azumanga Daioh. So what’s this review? It’s an interbred series.
See, the author is Nina Matsumoto. She’s half-Japanese, half-Canadian. Her manga has Japanese themes, but a Western style. It’s generally confused about what it is, but it’s by no means bad.
Plot: Hamachi lives in feudal Japan with his bitter grandmother. Hamachi loves yokai, but the villagers hate them. When Hamachi comes across a kappa, it changes his life forever… by killing his grandmother. So it’s up to Hamachi to rescue his grandmother’s soul from the clutches of a kappa by travelling to the world of yokai.
The manga starts out with him trying to summon a yokai, since he’s never met one before. When he meets the kappa (which he calls Madkap), he’s strangely calm about it, albeit one scene where his eyes sparkle. Then he starts meeting yokai left and right, and he’s even more calm. You know, for someone who’s never met a yokai, he sure has no reaction when meeting them.
I feel uncomfortable with the art style. Nina Matsumoto is extremely talented. Here’s her deviantART gallery: http://spacecoyote.deviantart.com/gallery/ And it is VERY good. She even drew a Treehouse of Horror story (for the comic). So why does this art feel so wrong?
If anyone is deserving of an Western manga, Ms. Matsumoto is definitely the one. I just don’t think this should have been the one to go on. Here’s why:
1) The humor, while funny, is very American (or Canadian, in this case). And there’s nothing wrong with that, except the very subject matter. Yokai are a part of Japanese culture, so it’s confusing to see the bean-washer in one scene, and a reference to Kelsey Grammer in the next. This kind of makes it shallow, but not unreadable.
2) Yokai aren’t portrayed as sympathetic, nor are most of the humans. Rather than embrace Japanese monsters and Japanese people, it feels like the author is saying “Japanese people are nosy, yokai are jerks.” I’m sure that’s not what she was going for, since, you know, she’s Japanese. But the yokai are usually too goofy or just twisted, which makes them unrelatable. Meanwhile, the grandmother has no redeeming qualities, being obnoxious to Hamachi for no reason. So it’s not sad when she dies. Even the boys who get their feet-skin sliced off aren’t sympathetic, since they’re just flat bullies.
3) Hamachi never really seems to suffer. Okay, he gets scared, sad, or angry. But even when that happens, he perks up almost immediately. He isn’t anymore relatable than Madkap or Lumi the talking lantern. In fact, they’re more relatable because they have to put up with Hamachi’s undying ignorance.
Finally, 4) The manga is too meta. I did say that this is funny, but mostly because of the characters pointing out things that are cliches. When an umbrella tries to join Hamachi, he says “I can’t let everyone I meet join me. That would be silly!” You know, as opposed to series like Dragonball, where everyone who hates Goku becomes an ally. But even with these jokes, it never feels like the series has a voice of its own. In this way, this manga is very unfortunate.
Again, this is not a bad manga. I know, you’d probably prefer me to review something to top Qwasar of Stigmata, but I feel this manga was a good choice. It’s got its flaws, but if you look deep, you can find something that you didn’t see before.
Frankly, I say to check it out just for the meta-humor. While I did say that it was a flaw, it still works in a lot of areas. It’s funny, and it does take a look at some cliches common in adventure manga. Give it a look-see.