Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 14th 2007
Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution
After an accident at the game arcade, Akira Hatsushiba has developed an unusual condition: he switches gender every time he sneezes! Now Akira leads a double life, using his female form Akira-chan to get closer to the girl he likes, Yurika Sakuraba. Romantic opportunities abound for Akira and Yurika, whether it's Christmas Eve, a hot springs trip, Valentine's Day, or cherry blossom viewing. Unfortunately, his secret is in constant danger of being revealed, and it'll take some careful trickery when Yurika invites both Akira and Akira-chan to hang out with her friends. Could she be on to him? Worse yet, Akira's friend Kikuchi has fallen in love with Akira-chan. What's a teenage boy (who turns into a girl) to do?
Wintertime is every manga-ka's free pass. Why worry about plotlines when you can let seasonal holidays write them for you? Christmas, Valentine's, the first sakura of spring—the only thing Gacha Gacha misses in this volume is New Year's, and that's probably just because pre-empting it with a hot springs trip allows for more fanservice. Otherwise, it follows every possible formula in the December-to-April stretch, making it more of a themed cheesecake illustration book than any sort of story comic. If you know anything about the first series, and bothered enough to pick up this loosely-based continuation, then you already know what to expect: maximum boobs, maximum pantyshots, and zero intelligence.
But let's not even worry about the cerebral aspect for now. This is a series that ought to be tested on a much simpler level: does it entertain? The answer is a frustrating "almost"—it's almost romantic, at least when Sakuraba drops the slightest hint of liking Akira (as a guy); it's almost funny, when Akira gets into one of his/her gender-switching scrapes. The only truly clever moment is when Akira is trying to sell Christmas cakes and discovers that being a cute young girl beats any sales pitch any day—so funny because it's so true. The rest of the time, however, "almost" just isn't good enough, and what we're left with is a parade of stale half-jokes and generic hot girl drawings. Let's face it, the main reason this series is running is because young males will buy it for a quick hormone fix, and if there happens to be some semi-interesting story about a guy who likes a girl except he also happens to turn into a girl, that's just bonus material.
If this were simply a story that reached occasional heights of mediocrity, that would be fine. But every now and then it shows flashes of what it could have been, and that's when it gets really disappointing. For example, there could be so many chances for Akira to discover the peculiarities of what it's like being a girl—the Christmas chapter does that with the cake scene. Instead of expanding on the idea, however, the next two chapters involve Akira leering at naked girls, getting naked in female form, and getting caught up in an unrequited love polygon ... boring, brainless stuff that never gets anywhere. Even the comedy potential is wasted: whenever Akira is pretending to be both people at once, rushing back and forth to switch, the feeling of panic and hilarity never materializes. Somehow, he always makes a cheap escape, mumbling some excuse just as Sakuraba is about to figure it out. That's not funny, or exciting, or interesting. That's boring.
Curvy bishoujo artwork is about the only thing this series does decently, and even then, there's plenty of better material in the same genre. Again, this is the quick hormone fix we're talking about, with essential parts of the female anatomy strategically placed for visual consumption. (Perhaps the layout deserves some credit as well, then.) As to the quality of the draftsmanship—it's passable, but not outstanding; the impossibly round breasts, swimsuit-model waists and pouty baby faces are only drawn "good enough." The bold, thick lines outlining the characters add a bit of stylistic flair, but everything else is straight out of the romantic comedy how-to book, from the mostly rectangular paneling to the suburban backgrounds to the nondescript male characters. It's the artistic equivalent of mushy, tasteless comfort food, liked only for its familiarity and not because it's doing anything special.
Del Rey's oversize printing for Mature titles (this one shows some frontal nudity) happens to be a good strategy for enjoying the cheesecake art; 8.25 inches x 5.5 inches adds that extra level of turn-on when it comes to panty and swimsuit drawings. Even a lackluster series like this one gets the quality treatment, with clear, straightforward dialogue, and a glossary of cultural notes that explains Japan's unique customs for celebrating Western holidays. Sound effects are left in the original Japanese, with small, plain-font translations next to them, and the print quality is sharp throughout.
Two volumes in, and the new Gacha Gacha storyline isn't much of a revolution. If anything, it's a de-evolution, appealing to the basest instincts and providing only enough tease to keep its target audience coming back for more. But why bother coming back when all it's got to offer is a half-hearted comedy that can't even make good use of an instant-win premise? There's got to be more to Akira's life than getting horny every time he sees Sakuraba undress, or throwing himself into a panic when he has to switch between Akira-chan and his usual self. Unfortunately, that potential is never explored, and hope is fading fast. Springtime may be in the air for the next volume, but the only thing that'll be good for is girls wearing fewer layers of clothing. Strange as it may be to say it, that's a terrible waste.
Overall : D
Story : D
Art : C-
+ Titillating, strategically placed bishoujo artwork.
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