You had me at "A slapstick adolescence idol success story."
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Dec 15th 2005
Dinah is a very sick girl; cursed with delusions of ghouls and ghosts after the loss of her parents, Dinah is trapped under the concerned and watchful eye of her aunt in the gloomy town of Bizenghast, Massachusetts. Dinah's only friend is a boy named Vincent, who helps her sneak out of the house. Together, they discover the lost Bizenghast Mausoleum, home a horde of captive souls. Inadvertently entering into a contract with the evil spirits that rule the mausoleum, it's up to Dinah and Vincent to unlock the secrets behind the Mausoleum's many doors and free the tormented souls imprisoned there.
M. Alice LeGrow's Bizenghast, one of Tokyopop's flagship OEL manga titles, has two things going for it. One, it'll probably appeal to tweens and kids in early high school who obsessively shop at Hot Topic. Two, the chapter break pages are very well illustrated.
That's about it.
The rest of this gothed-up scrap heap is basically a string of scenes lifted from popular gothic films; the storyline is a slightly modified generic monster-of-the-week cliché, written specifically so it can run forever. The author is trying way, way too hard, and the result is a very transparent, poorly-written and poorly-illustrated mess. There's very little here that's inspired or even entertaining.
Although it's wildly unoriginal, the storyline for Bizenghast isn't terrible. Basically, Dinah and Vincent (of course, the boy's name is Vincent; he can't be named Mark or Jason, those names aren't gothic enough) have to brave the dangers of the hidden Bizenghast Mausoleum, solve puzzles and find keys to unlock the captured spirits. If they don't, Dinah will die. In the hands of a more capable artist and writer, this could've been a fairly entertaining little gothic romp. Instead, it's a wildly amateurish foray into derivative mediocrity.
The two biggest problems with this story are, hands down, the writing and the art. The author is simply trying too hard. There's a scene early in the book that is obviously directly lifted from Jim Henson's now-popular fantasy film Labyrinth; later, she lifts things from artist and author Brian Froud and director Tim Burton ad nauseum. The characters are one-dimensional bores; Dinah is a hypersensitive drama queen, and Vincent is the “brave kid” type who, for some unexplained reason, would give his life for Dinah. Together they face lame, overcooked gothic puzzles together. There isn't an ounce of originality here. The book hits a new low, however, when the author attempts to add in humor to lighten the mood; there's a “wacky kitty” character at the end of this book that's so tacked-on and so poorly written it's a wonder nobody caught this in editing. It's insulting enough knowing that nearly everything in this book has been lifted from another source; this incredibly lame attempt at being funny is simply insult to injury.
The artwork doesn't help things, either. It ranges from being quite good - at least on the chapter break pages – to being amateurish scribbles. LeGrow can't seem to make her characters look the same from panel to panel, and she can't really draw action sequences, either. Take a look at this frame:
So, what, he's holding the back of the axe while plunging it into the old guy? It might also be worth mentioning that pages earlier it was clear this guy was taller than Vincent. C'mon, folks; this might be all well and good for webcomics or whatever other self-publishing venue you'd like to pursue, but you're asking people to pay $10 for this. A little quality control would be nice.
It's worth mentioning that on the inside back cover there's a little message for M. Alice LeGrow's readers that has now been retracted by Tokyopop. In essence, the author's bio suggests that if you're going to cosplay her characters, then you must do it perfectly or not at all, and that LeGrow does not tolerate sloppiness. It's a good thing Tokyopop issued a retraction (which you can find here), otherwise, the level of ego and hubris on display in this one simple paragraph would be mind-boggling.
Bizenghast is one of the weaker entries in Tokyopop's fledgling OEL manga line, and that's saying a lot, considering the relative quality of most OEL manga. If the author would simply stop trying to write comedy, take a few art classes and maybe not rely on her inspirations as much as she does, Bizenghast could very easily become a fun little manga. As it stands, this reads like a high school art project that costs you $10, and it's nothing you haven't seen before. Skip it.
Story : D-
Art : D
+ Cool chapter break pages. Angsty tweens might love it.
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