Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 28th 2007
Coyote Ragtime Show
In the distant reaches of space, an outlaw named Mister has just broken out of jail. His goal: to retrieve a stash of money hidden on the planet Graceland, which is due to be demolished in seven days. However, he's got some babysitting to do as well—the deceased space pirate Blues, who hid the money in Graceland in the first place, also left his daughter Franca in Mister's care. Now Mister, Franca, and a couple of outlaw buddies must retrieve the treasure before Graceland is blown up, while on the run from both the space police and a criminal mastermind that's sent 12 beautiful-but-deadly assassins after them. But even if Mister makes it to Graceland alive, does he have enough clues and evidence to figure out exactly where Blues hid the money?
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Coyote Ragtime Show is its fearless innovation in stringing incongruous English words together. The funky, Wild-West-flavored title (what does ragtime have to do with coyotes, anyway?) is merely a precursor to other curiously named people, places and things—a pirate named Blues, a planet named Graceland, and a criminal guild that's actually called the Criminal Guild. Behold, endless linguistic amusement! As for the actual content, well, it doesn't quite reach those heights. This volume is quick to introduce a world of high-stakes action, with perils at every turn and a cast of wild, colorful characters, but it doesn't get much deeper than that. Explosions, fighting, and shooting are all part of the series' modus operandi, but thought-provoking material is definitely not.
It's true that the Show starts out with simple goals—introduce the main characters, show off their butt-kicking attitude, and send them on a galactic treasure hunt—and seen from that point of view, the manga's first volume is a resounding success. Mister's jailbreak is finished in a matter of pages, setting the series' quick pace right from the start, and the 12 Sisters are already on to him by the end of the first chapter. In addition to the fast tempo comes a barrage of action-adventure delights: a gunfight, a fistfight, a dogfight (between aircraft, that is), and plenty of scenes where Mister can be seen shielding Franca in his arms as they run, jump, and roll away from various attacks. Even the characters, stereotypical as they are, have a certain appeal to them: Mister and his buddies are confident without being obnoxious, Franca is sweet without being irritating, and the longtime acquaintance they meet in the last chapter is instant comedy guaranteed.
Look past the action heroics, however, and that's where the quality starts to drop. Many of the villains and side characters are woefully underdeveloped—the 12 Sisters, despite their obvious appeal as killer android maids, are completely glossed over and add little substance to the story except as target practice for Mister. Even the criminal mastermind Madame Marciano is reduced to little more than an evil, cackling presence, and the Criminal Guild is about as imaginative as its name sounds. And what of the police officers, who appear in about two scenes where they obviously have no hope of catching up to Mister? Aren't they supposed to be ... doing something? With lackluster villains and a minimum of backstory (just one flashback explaining Mister's past connection to Blues), this volume basically comes down to an epic chase between one lawless party and another lawless party, except we're supposed to be rooting for one of them. It's good fun, but it's shallow fun.
Fortunately, the artwork adds a bit of polish and excitement to this by-the-numbers story. Character designs are distinctive and well-suited to each personality, from Mister's muscular, bearded appearance (a refreshing break from all the usual scrawny, teen-to-young-adult protagonists out there) to the 12 Sisters' flashy, frilly outfits. Sharp, clean linework, along with a "glossy" style of toning and shading, show a clear attempt to emulate the series' anime origins. According to the credits in the back, this appears to be a comic-by-committee, but luckily the artistic team has arrived at a unified style. At times, the artwork does break away from the anime mold with bold, sketchy lines and heavy hatching—a successful technique to make key scenes look more powerful and dynamic. However, some sequences still trip up over their own frenetic pace. The rectangular panels and clean art make the action scenes flow quickly, but when everything's a close-up on a hand or a face, it's hard to figure out what's going on in a fight.
With Mister's fists and bullets doing most of the talking, this volume doesn't offer much high-level dialogue. In fact, it even resorts to quips straight out of Stallone or Schwarzenegger: "Don't you smell something bad?" "What smell?" "The smell of trouble." The narrations at the beginning of each chapter are also hopelessly clunky, but aside from that, the translated dialogue is adequate, bringing across the feel of a typical action-adventure piece. Japanese sound effects are left in place, with translations next to them that match the font but stay small enough to keep out of the artwork's way. A brief notes section in the back proves to be nearly useless (does anyone really need an explanation of what a Criminal Guild is?) but the glossy color page in the front adds some attractive bonus art.
There may not be any ragtime in the Coyote Ragtime Show, and the only appearance of coyotes is in metaphorical terms, but what the series does have is plenty of fist-swinging, bullet-dodging, spacecraft-piloting action. The first volume accomplishes exactly what it sets out to achieve: an introduction to a wild, dangerous world where a noble tough guy sets out to live life on his own terms—which somehow involves a lot of running and explosions. Anything beyond that is beyond the series' scope: no fancy moral dilemmas on life and death, no conspiracy plots to untangle or deep mysteries to solve, no dramatic upheaval or emotionally troubled characters. For some folks, it'll be satisfying enough just to see a grizzled hero on the run, seeking out treasure and protecting the girl. For those more familiar with the genre, however, this is going to feel like something's lacking.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ A fast pace and sharp, dynamic artwork make this the ideal action blockbuster.
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