Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
It's been a year since Earth saw the arrival of the DearS—beautiful aliens who were stranded after their spaceship crashed. For one reason or other, they profess to be slaves, working tirelessly for masters and satisfying their every demand. Takeya hates them (who can trust aliens not to brainwash everyone and take over the world!), but his life is changed when he runs into Ren, a stray Dears who lands into his life, buck-naked. As she wriggles into his life, they have to deal with plenty of problems, like how to make Ren blend into high school life, and how to make her realize that wearing clothes is a definite must in society!
Like most shounen romance shows, DearS can be simplified down to two things: cute girls and sexual tension. The first one was nailed down perfectly, but the second… well, it's a little more awkward than tension should be allowed. It's a little unclear in the first volume just what readers are supposed to get out of the series. Should men be pining after the perfect woman, who is not only smart, beautiful, and good with housework, but will do anything in her power to be grant her "master's" wishes?
The story is easy enough to understand: Ren is a hapless DearS who accidentally got released into the world. She's picked up by a real jerk of a guy who thinks she's a colossal burden and treats her like a lost, flea-ridden mutt. Despite how poorly he treats her, she dotes on him and does everything she can to please him—only she does everything wrong because she's a bit clueless. The fact that she isn't completely neglected is thanks to Takeya's tomboy neighbor, Neneko, the “childhood friend” character who has a predilection for him, and for fondling breasts. Together, the two take Ren to school and pass her off as the DearS homestay student who was supposed to take classes there. And, as a prize for not giving up on the story, readers are treated to plenty of Ren antics, most of which involve a minimal amount of clothing.
Sure, the premise of the story is typical fanboy fodder, but it's the concept of the DearS that's mildly off-putting. One of the characters comments, “DearS are so nice and cute and polite. I'm tellin' ya, they're every man's dream come true!” Part of what makes them so appealing is their insistence on being slaves, taking care of everything from cooking to cleaning to even appealing their masters' sex drives. Sexy slave girls (and boys) may satisfy plenty of fanboy fantasies, but the heavy layer of male chauvinism behind it is rather sickening. Sexy women aren't enough? They have to be slaves too?
Even without the master/slave angle, DearS could have accomplished its goal of emptying tissue boxes just fine. Peach-Pit has managed to bring cuteness to a whole new level. From the characters' faces to their pristine bodies and their killer sense of FRUiTS fashion, the girls couldn't be prettier. With syrupy red eyes, long doe lashes, and a mane of swirling aquamarine hair, Ren is heart-meltingly cute. Throw her in a plaid skirt and a ruffled top and you've got a character that will make you want to hug the book.
It certainly helps that her facial expressions are just as cute as she is. Whether it's a bleary-eyed look of hunger or an innocent look of sheer stupidity, her emotions are continually brought to life. It's not just her—Peach-Pit does a terrific job of drawing faces. Takeya's frequent looks of frustration and aggravation are super realistic, and even the slutty teacher's moans of ecstasy ooze off the page. If ever there was a woman who could display how naked and lovin' it she was just from her face, it's the teacher. If she serves a purpose, it hasn't been found yet.
It's baffling why there are so many incompetent teacher figures in manga and anime, like the floozy from Mahoromatic, or the nutjob from Azumanga Daioh. Either Japan is full of teachers so dominated by stress that they've become basket cases, or the entry country is filled with men who dream of dry humping their high school instructors. One or the other, the teacher from DearS may be the most abhorrent character ever created. Her personality is irritating beyond belief, constantly oozing sex and hormones from every word and action. Every panel she wears clothes is a triumphant victory for the reader. Unlike Ren, her naked body holds no appeal, perhaps because she's such a flaming tramp.
In the original manga, she's supposed to be an English teacher. But, in a stroke of asinine translating, Tokyopop has made her a Spanish teacher. On some tiny level, it makes sense—English readers already know English… so why would a foreign language teacher be teaching it again? Unfortunately, the way it's executed is absolutely terrible. For starters, there are several passages where the teacher asks students to read passages in Spanish, which Tokyopop doesn't bother translating for non-Spanish speakers. In the original text, these passages are sleazy trashy romance lines, attesting to the teacher's infinite libido and inappropriate classroom behavior. Readers who can't make heads or tails of Spanish are left in the dust.
To make matters worse, Tokyopop didn't exactly think the entire plan through. If the characters are all supposed to be native English speakers, why is every mention of the language outside of the Spanish fiasco Japanese? Takeya and Neneko are surprised that Ren doesn't know Japanese, they spend time teaching her Japanese, and their schoolbooks are all written in Japanese. Why, oh why, would they go through the trouble of mistranslating the text so that the English teacher taught Spanish? There are better ways to show that the characters have switched languages, such as putting brackets around the text, or changing the font, without having to go through with such a half-baked idea.
Not exactly racking up the brownie points, Tokyopop also disappoints by not translating sound effects. A few of the panels have written onomatopoeias in the background, but the vast majority of the sound effects are untouched. While it's nice that Tokyopop chose to keep the art unaltered, it's not very useful if English readers can't understand the sound effects.
Overall, DearS is somewhat of a lukewarm read. The characters are lively, adorable, and come with fun personalities. Even the story, simpleminded as it is, is tolerable, but the master/slave bit is a bit overboard and hard to swallow. It's not enough to kill appreciation for the series, but it certainly doesn't score any feel-good points. Readers would probably get the most mileage out of DearS by just shutting off their minds and glancing at the artwork. Peach-Pit certainly knows how to please aesthetically, so if it's eye-candy you're looking for, DearS is a good place to start.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : A
+ Cute characters and gorgeous artwork
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