Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 17th 2009
Chihiro Enomoto has the worst luck in the world—until the fateful day when he's admitted to Rikkyoin High School, an exclusive academy where everything is decided by lottery. In an even more astonishing stroke of luck, Chihiro has been selected to be next year's student council president. But the current student council has some tasks for Chihiro before he and his staff can take office, like hunting down a spy lurking among the student body. In the meantime, Chihiro also learns that the current president has a tender side, and discovers the curse of unwanted romantic attention when a love potion goes wrong. Then comes the final test of Chihiro's leadership skills, when a mad ninja kidnaps two of his classmates. Does he have the courage—and luck—to pull through this one?
Kujibiki Unbalance's journey from concept to comic is almost as convoluted as one of Chihiro Enomoto's aleatory adventures: serialized concurrently with the anime, which was derived from the OAV, which in turn was the realization of a fictional series in the slice-of-otaku-life comedy Genshiken. Yes, when it's been filtered through that many levels of adaptation, one can only expect mediocre things from this nonsensical schoolyard romp. Oh, there's plenty of action, and the girls are cute, but ... cute girls and action can be found in just about any other series. And most of them are more satisfying than this cheap cash-in which spans a mind-boggling two volumes yet still manages to hit almost every major cliché known to fandom. Of course, that's probably the point, but in that case it should have stayed in the pages of Genshiken where it belongs.
The first two chapters waste no time in committing various errors of storytelling: too many characters, hard-to-follow story logic, and even harder-to-follow battle scenes. Funnily enough, these are the exact things that often make hardcore fans fall in love with manga and anime—but when distilled to a form as concentrated as this, it stops being fun and starts becoming nonsense. Fortunately, the following chapters are a little easier on the brain, if only because they switch to other modes of failure: forced melodrama and pointless, predictable comedy. The Chihiro/Ritsuko/Tokino childhood-love-triangle chapter almost squeezes out some poignancy ... but only on a shallow level, as there's nowhere near enough story background or development to make it meaningful. Then comes the customary "lots of girls chasing one boy!" chapter, which actually turns out to the most entertaining thing in this volume—it may not be terribly creative, but the lack of plotline obligations allows a lot more room for freewheeling energy.
A different kind of energy is at play in the final arc, which is perhaps the only time the series starts getting decent. Instead of scattering clichés randomly, the last few chapters attain a laserlike focus in bringing together old chestnuts like "Actually, the villain is secretly the long lost brother!" and "Your father wasn't your real father," along with the revelation that the weakest girl is the one with the greatest hidden power. Despite these predictable (and sometimes arbitrary) plot points, the buildup of tension and the cathartic climax work well, and by the time the characters say their parting words, one almost starts to feel a genuine empathy ... until realizing that this entire series is two volumes long and will probably be forgotten in 24-48 hours.
Perhaps the one thing that saves Kujibiki Unbalance from being downright bad is the eye-catching art—not particularly inventive (the most recognizable characters are the ones with design elements already established in Genshiken), but still lively and cute enough to please the modern otaku eye. Impossibly baby-faced girls with impossibly well-endowed bodies, strategic angles for panty viewing, and a confident sense of line—it may not be to everyone's taste, but at least Koume Keito can put pen on paper without looking like an amateur. In fact, Keito's action scenes are the real hidden gem of this series: they may not be the most logical, but the varied and dramatic layouts capture a sense of motion that other works in the genre would be hard pressed to match. And once he gets over his addiction to filling in everything with gray tones, Keito could emerge as a great action-adventure manga-ka in his own right.
With the story as weak and formulaic as it is, it should come as no surprise that the dialogue is at its best when the characters just shut up and let the action flow. Otherwise, it's a morass of incomprehensible expository dialogue (often squeezed into too-tight speech bubbles, making it even harder to read) or the characters spouting stock phrases at each other. When the time comes for battle, though, the images truly speak for themselves; even sound effects remain infrequent, and the small translations placed next to the original characters stay neatly out of the way. A short cultural glossary and some author's notes (basically comparing how the manga was adapted from the TV series) make for fairly typical extras, but a bonus Genshiken short is probably going to garner the biggest laugh in this volume.
As an illustration of Dumb Things Anime Fans Love About Anime, Kujibiki Unbalance is pretty much spot on, whether it's on screen or on the page or as a fictional series-within-a-series. But as actual entertainment, this manga version falls well short. With no room to build an epic storyline and let the characters grow, there's just no way to develop the undying devotion that the Genshiken characters have for this series, and what little space remains is given to weak storytelling that's too straight-up to enjoy as parody and too clichéd to enjoy straight-up. You want high school hijinks? You want explosive adventures? You might as well walk over to a bookshelf of manga and pick out something by lottery, because chances are it'll fall into one of those genres anyway. Just try not to have the misfortune of choosing this one.
Overall : C
Story : D
Art : B-
+ Dynamic action scenes and cute character designs are the saving graces of this series.
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