Reviewby John Jakala,
The fourth issue of the weekly manga anthology leads with a new series, REVENGE OF MOUFLON. 'MOUFLON,' we later learn in the Story Introduction text piece, is a French name for a breed of wild sheep, and in this story 'mouflon' symbolizes the "ordinary people who, with strength and pride, fight against terrorism" (I always like it when the work interprets itself for me). In this opening chapter, the main character - Sano Yohei, a popular comedian - gets caught up in a terrorist hijacking of a commercial jet. The story reads very much like a Jackie Chan movie: It features a goofy, everyday character with a strong moral code who gets caught up in an incredible situation and must take charge to save lives. One of the things I liked best about this introductory chapter was the unsympathetic way in which Sano was portrayed. The opening scene makes him look like an arrogant jerk, attacking the poor guy (in glasses, no less!), but we later learn there was more to that scene than first met the eye, and more to Sano as well.
I really enjoyed the first installment of this new series. The character is interesting and the art is very distinctive. I especially like Ono Yoichiro's method of depicting moments of heightened awareness through lighter, sketchier linework. I'm curious to see what comes next, and what the terrorists' future plans are. Was this hijacking simply a diversion for something else, something bigger? Based on the preview info provided in issue #3, I was worried about how the "terrorists hijacking planes" angle would be handled, but Ueno Jiro plays the story relatively straight and adds a twist that keeps it from simply becoming 9-11 revisited. If future chapters avoid becoming maudlin or melodramatic, this could be a very powerful comic.
FIST OF THE BLUE SKY: A slower installment, this chapter is mainly a flashback revealing why Jin Ke-Rong holds a grudge against Yan Wang. The only thing that stood out for me in this chapter was that the protagonist (Yan) seemed less sympathetic to me than the supposed "villain" of the piece: In the flashback, Yan strides in like a thug and demands a confrontation with Jin. I know that things aren't always as they first appear, but I found it interesting that Yan was depicted as the stereotypical bad guy in this issue, with the leather jacket, the cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth, the foot disrespectfully resting on the table... Yan's certainly not the most well-manned assassin in literature.
SLAM DUNK: Ah, Sakuragi, you just can't win can you? Angry over last issue's events, you pick a fight with the captain of the basketball team, who just happens to be Haruko's older brother. And now you're facing off against the captain in front of the whole school, crying because you can't help remembering the last time you were in the gym...with Haruko. Looks like no matter what you do, you'll end up losing. But fans of soap opera entanglements are certainly the winners as this series progresses.
BAKI THE GRAPPLER: So this is where the grappling (AKA, wrestling) comes in. Suwedo and Baki start rolling around on the mat, and things get out of control. Only it's not as gay as I made it sound. Or maybe it is - I still haven't figured that out about this series. Anyway, this chapter features more fighting, but Baki's unusual grappling style seems to have caught the attention of several audience members...
CITY HUNTER: This series, on the other hand, is unapologetically hetero, and if you had any lingering uncertainty, there's a woman flashing herself in panel 23 to remove all doubt. Not to mention a woman running around in her underwear at the end of the story. This series is still hard for me to get a handle on. I generally like the action sequences (such as the one that takes place in the dark at the end) but the humor all feels so forced and sophomoric to me. It doesn't make me laugh so much as cringe. Still, it's miles ahead of anything in BOMBER GIRL, so maybe I should just count my blessings.
THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN: In this chapter, forces align against Sakuragi, and an old childhood friend pays Sakuragi a visit. I enjoyed the flashback to Sakuragi's childhood: The scene of a lifelong friendship forming was a very powerful one, and struck me as inspirational without becoming overly sentimental. Some of the dialogue in other scenes, however, struck me as painfully purple: "Our fellow countrymen crying for help from the depths of hell! Yeah...I can hear them too!" or "Doesn't that decision go against the will of the people?...Can Japanese politics really be like this?" Part of the problem might be the way in which these statements are depicted: They're not just uttered; they're SHOUTED OUT IN LARGE TYPE UPPERCASE, all contained within 'excited' word balloons. I'm sure some of this is done so that the English translation fills the space in the original word balloons, but the effect is like reading an email where someone FORGOT TO TURN OFF THE CAPS LOCK - you feel like you're being shouted at. As for the stilted speech, I know this series is trying to dramatize politics for a popular audience, but I'd also expect that the language would be a little more natural or...official given the subject matter. Still, several forces now face the new President, so I expect plenty of political intrigue in upcoming issues.
GUARDIAN ANGEL GETTEN: A cute story involving Shao Lin and her encounter with Yamanobe Shoko, "the most delinquent girl at [Tasuke's] school." While some might find the moral at the end of the story ("people will often act the way you expect them to") a bit corny, I've had many of my friends tell me this is why they acted "bratty" when they were young kids. And it's frighteningly similar to mottos I've heard espoused at work seminars. So don't dismiss everything you read in comics just because it's "for kids." (Although I am still wondering how this series fits in with Raijin's older target audience.)
BOMBER GIRL: Dear God this is bad. This issue Niwano attempts to engage in a bit of self-parody, introducing a character who makes fun of Emi's "big boobs" and breaks the fourth wall by asking things like, "Is the main character allowed to say that?" Self-aware meta-humor is tricky to pull off, and it's doomed to fail when your satirical character is just as objectionable as the character she's supposed to poke fun at. And on a completely nitpicky note: It's annoying when the "secret weapon" Emi was supposedly carrying all along was *clearly* not visible throughout the story. What a cheat, not to mention it was yet another excuse for a gratuitous shot of Emi's breasts. The plot device offends on so many levels...
Overall: Strong chapters of MOUFLON, SLAM DUNK, and BAKI get this issue off to a good start, but it's all marred in the end by an especially bad chapter of BOMBER GIRL. Like a bad dessert that ruins your memory of a good meal, BOMBER GIRL once again leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Setting that series aside, I'd still recommend this book, but I can't wait until BOMBER GIRL is replaced by something else that matches the quality of the other serials in this anthology.
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Overall : B