Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Nov 20th 2011
Pokémon: Black and White
Young teen Black has had a dream since he was in kindergarten – to win at the Pokemon League. He's spent nine years studying and training his Muna and Braviary and now is ready to embark on his journey, thanks to Professor Juniper's gift of a pokedex and a Tepig! Leaving his childhood friends behind in his excitement, Black begins his journey to become the top Pokemon trainer in the world.
Do you have or know a young child whom you'd like to introduce to manga? Viz's VizKids line has a good series for you. While manga based on gaming franchises do not have an illustrious history, Hidenori Kusaka and Satoshi Yamamoto's kid-friendly romp makes for solid entertainment for the six-to-ten set that requires minimal beforehand knowledge of the Pokemon world.
Based on the Nintendo DS game of the same name, Pokemon: Black and White follows the adventures of two young teens named Black and White. Black is the adventurous boy while White is the brainy girl, stereotypes that are relatively common in children's entertainment for this demographic. Black has dreamed of becoming a top Pokemon trainer since he was old enough to have ambitions, and when his neighbor Professor Juniper offers he and his friends the chance to travel the country researching Pokemon for her pokedex (a digital Pokemon compendium), he jumps at the chance. The professor also supplies the three kids with new Pokemon – Black chooses Tepig, a small pig who snorts fireballs. While adult readers may have difficulty not reading the breed as “teh pig,” little kids are sure to be enthralled by the idea of blowing fire out of their nostrils. White and Gigi, her female tepig, don't make an appearance until volume two, and she is not quite as engaging a character. White runs BW, a Pokemon talent agency, and while neither her business sense nor Black's unbridled enthusiasm are unusual, she comes off as a more difficult character to relate to. This is, however, likely to change as the series progresses, and she is hardly a detraction from overall enjoyment.
Probably this series' greatest strength at this stage is its art. Satoshi Yamamoto's artwork is clean and clear without excess lines or effects. Artistic children will have no trouble tracing the images or copying them in their own drawings. Both people and Pokemon really move – there is a real sense that these are not simply static images on the page, but snapshots of life in motion. Yamamoto also does a particularly nice job of giving the Pokemon visible emotions. They do not speak, but their thoughts are abundantly clear, especially in the case of the two tepigs. Child characters are better drawn than their adult counterparts, and for the most part there is no sexualization of young girls, although White's shorts may raise more sensitive eyebrows. But there are no questionable angles or gratuitous moments when Black falls on top of White. These two slim books are 100% child-friendly, perhaps moreso than some of the toys in the pink aisle of most stores.
While Black and White is aimed more at boys than girls, unless your daughter is deep in the throes of the pony/princess/mermaid phase, it should appeal to Susie as much as Bobby. Black's enthusiasm and determination are catching, and when he uses his wits to solve problems, both genders can take away a positive message. This is actually one of the central conceits of the series – Black is so consumed with his desire to succeed that there is no room for anything but his dream in his head. So when he needs to focus, his dream eater Pokemon Musha gloms onto his head and eats his dream. This allows Black to see the world clearly, albeit in a strict black and white honeycomb. Children may not immediately grasp the message that just because you have to concentrate on something pressing doesn't mean that you have to give up your overall goals and dreams, but it may, if nothing else, give them a new way of looking at the proverbial “thinking cap.”
By the end of volume two, Black and White are up against a situation that really requires thought. Team Plasma, a group of older Pokemon trainers whose costumes call to mind medieval crusaders, is going from town to town preaching that Pokemon should be released back into the wild. They claim that captivity is cruel to the creatures, and that letting them go is the only fair thing to do. Black isn't sure about this, and he draws a parallel (without explicitly stating it) that Pokemon raised in captivity are like pets, and to send them out to fend for themselves is more cruel than kind. More astute children, or kids reading with their parents, will be able to understand this as an issue of pet abandonment, a serious problem in many places. This could generate good discussion about an important issue between adults and children, creating a venue for adults to introduce the subject. On the flip side, adults could also use this series to address the evils of dog or cock fighting, since Pokemon being set against each other in staged battles is, in some ways, at the center of the story. That device is probably the franchise's greatest flaw.
The first two volumes of Pokemon: Black and White are slim, with about 75 pages each. The price reflects this, with each bearing a price tag of $4.99. Not only does that make these books parent-friendly, it also enables children with allowances to buy their own books – a kid power trip if ever there was one. Overall this series is a great introduction to the world of manga for elementary aged kids – with its clean, clear art, engaging story with discussion points for the parent, and low price, Pokemon: Black and White is a good way to indoctrinate your child in the ways of manga.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Child-friendly in art, price, and story with good topical points for discussion-minded parents.
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