Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 21st 2005
Oh My Goddess!
Ever since the goddess trio Belldandy, Urd and Skuld entered Keiichi Morisato's life, things have been anything but enchanted. To make matters worse, the fourth goddess Peorth—now in teeny-tiny child size—has just shown up at Keiichi's doorstep. Peorth was one of the casualties from the goddesses' battle with the demon Velsper, and to return her to normal size would require undoing a spell that combines both godly and demonic magic. Urd and Skuld try their best, but they can't break the sorcery. Velsper could do it, but he's since been turned into a powerless cat. That only leaves the CEO of the demon world, Hild, but Urd doesn't seem too enthusiastic about the idea.
The comics, they are a-changin'. With Vol. 21 of Oh My Goddess!, Dark Horse finally switches the series to unflipped orientation, chapter divisions that match the Japanese tankoubons, and an $11 price point. Serious purists will sing and dance, but does anyone really care anymore? In the years since the series' 1988 debut in Japan, the romantic comedy genre has mutated beyond anything Keiichi and Belldandy would recognize, and so has North American manga publishing. With entire bookstore aisles now dedicated to manga, it's a far cry from the days when people were reading OMG! because it was the only game in town. After a while, you start to miss the ultrawhite pages, the oversized volumes of self-contained story arcs, and the left-to-right art. The first-ever unflipped Goddess volume is both the beginning of a new era and the end of an old one.
The trouble with getting to Volume 21 of a series is that you wonder how much of the previous 20 you need to know. This one relies mostly the Velsper story arc (plus the basic premise), but that was four volumes ago—easy enough for hardcore fans to keep up with, but maddening for casual readers. Despite the increasing complexity of the Goddess world, however, the story itself is simple: Peorth needs to return back to her full size, so everyone runs around like chickens trying to reverse the spell, and when all else fails, they call up the underworld. It's got everything that makes the series likeable: lighthearted comedy, a smattering of Keiichi and Belldandy's improbable relationship, and Kosuke Fujishima's quirky mix of mythology and computer science.
Unfortunately, that's about as far as it goes, failing to reach the high accomplishments of other Goddess volumes. Even though it adds closure to one of the most epic story arcs in the series, all this post-Velsper madness is weak compared to the time they actually battled for the fate of the universe. The geeky silliness, too, seems to have been diluted into gentle goddess-to-goddess banter. Where are the crazy machines and obsession with racing? Where are the assorted references to physics and engineering that not only make sense, but also provide the goddesses with their abilities? Most of all, where are the comedy relief characters like Tamiya and Ootaki? The eventual arrival of Hild adds some spice, but by then it's too late to save a story that's been on autopilot for the last five chapters.
Although the storytelling doesn't always entertain, the artwork remains as solid as ever. Kosuke Fujishima, whose draftsmanship could rival any engineer or architect (and probably win, because they all use computers anyway), renders Keiichi's world with precise, elegant lines. His skill shows up best in the chapter where Keiichi, Belldandy and Peorth go for a seashore bike ride, demonstrating a mastery of characters, machines and landscapes. The character designs still look fresh despite having been around for years, and the cleanly lined panels make it a breeze to follow the story. Fujishima's only weakness is his sparse approach to backgrounds; several dialogue scenes look just plain lazy because of all the blank space behind the characters.
The dialogue in Dark Horse's translation is never an issue: it's the best in the business, end of story. Studio Proteus veteran Dana Lewis and comic artist Lea Hernandez take over the translation duties once held by manga pioneer Toren Smith. The result is a script that flows as smoothly as if it were originally written in English, although Peorth's frequent outbursts of French can be distracting (and require some language skill to decipher). The Japanese sound effects are completely replaced by English effects, but Dark Horse has been doing this for so long that they do it right; it's one of the few policies that remains unaffected by the change in format. As for the other changes, the switching to unflipped art was a good idea, but some of the premiums of the old $15 volumes—larger, whiter pages and books divided cleanly into story arcs—will be sadly missed. That was the kind of quality that set Dark Horse apart; now we can look forward to irritating cliffhangers and paper stock that's no better than Viz or Tokyopop's offerings.
Newcomers to Oh My Goddess! could do a lot better than jumping in on Volume 21 just because it's cheaper. With the whole series being re-released in the new format, it's smarter to go for Volume 1 and work your way forward. Meanwhile, longtime fans will have to tough it out, knowing that this is Fujishima on autopilot, and he's done better work. The precise artwork is there, the cute laughs are there, but without something to really drive the story, it's just a lot of people running around like chickens trying to un-magick Peorth. Well, at least it's cheaper now.
Overall : C+
Story : C-
Art : A
+ Clean, precise artwork and light comedy make this a fun read.
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