Reviewby John Jakala, Jan 7th 2003
The second issue of the weekly manga anthology RAIJIN COMICS shrinks a bit in page count (216 pages this issue, down from 244 last), but increases the number of series featured (six individual titles serialized in this issue, up from four last issue). Once again, the titles represented are very diverse, ranging from fictionalized political theory to sports-themed romance. I doubt that any reader will enjoy every title equally, but there's still enough strong material in this anthology book to make it a great value for the price.
BAKI THE GRAPPLER: In the "Message From The Author" piece that follows this martial-arts manga, series creator Itagaki Keisuke wonders, "Will Americans accept my image of strength?" I'm curious to know the answer to this as well, for Itagaki presents a version of the idealized male form very different from the one the average American comic book reader might be used to. Although the requisite bulging muscles are in place, the facial features of at least two of the characters exhibit traits more frequently associated with the feminine. Baki, the title character, has soft cheeks, thick eyelashes, and a beauty mark above his lip. Suwedo, the apparent villain of the piece, also has noticeable eyelashes, in addition to plucked eyebrows and (what appears to be) bold red lipstick. (In several panels, Suwedo strongly resembles the Joker, and throughout the story I kept picturing him with white skin, shocking green hair, and bright red lips.) I'd be worried that these stereotypical gay caricatures are being used to signify Suwedo as evil, but these traditionally negative representations appear to be offset by the positive counterpart of masculine beauty offered by Baki.
FIST OF THE BLUE SKY: Some interesting character moments in this short chapter: First, it seems that Puyi isn't as passive as he first appeared. When provoked, he can be shockingly violent. Such brutal outbursts, coupled with his political power and personal insecurity, could make him a dangerous and unpredictable opponent. Second, with that cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, Yan Wang looks like little more than a thug. But I guess he is an assassin, after all. (Is this why Marvel no longer allows depictions of their heroes smoking? Smoking = Evil??)
THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN: An unusual introduction to this series, as the title character does not appear in this chapter. Oh, we see pictures of him in old photographs and on television monitors, but we never actually meet Sakuragi Kenichiro, the man who becomes the first popularly-elected President (or Prime Minister) of Japan. Instead, we witness the unfolding of international events that will undoubtedly occupy much of Sakuragi's attention while in office. We also learn a bit about Sakuragi from other players who know him. It's a daring move, to have the series' main character off-camera the entire time, but it pays off: I found myself anxious to meet Sakuragi, and curious to see how he will deal with all of the political crises erupting around him.
SLAM DUNK: The red spot color disappeared! Once I got over the shock of losing this distinctive visual aspect from last issue (and adjusted to the realization that I wouldn't be able to pick out Sakuragi so easily), I quickly settled back into the romantic comedy antics of this series. I was amused by how Haruko's comfort with Sakuragi led her to reveal information that caused such emotional anguish for him. And the transitions back and forth between pathos and humor as Sakuragi's pals (and the series' creator, Inoue himself) pop in - first to rib him over his latest rejection, then to tear up when they realize just how crushed Sakuragi truly is over this heartache - were done extremely well.
CITY HUNTER: More schizophrenic storytelling, as the tone alternates wildly between "Three's Company"-style sexual humor and gritty P.I. action. About the only thing that especially stood out in this episode for me was the way in which Ryo torments his adversary at the end. And on a side note, I still have trouble believing that Ryo's trick from last issue wouldn't have resulted in more damage.
BOMBER GIRL: I wouldn't have though it was possible, but this installment was even worse than last issue's chapter. The art is even cruder and more amateurish than before. Look at the perspective (or lack thereof) on the car in panel 51: It looks like a drawing a grade-schooler with no formal art training would make in the margins of his math notebook while bored. I'm sure Niwano Makoto, the creator of BOMBER GIRL, is earnest in his affection for this series, but I don't want to pay for material of such unprofessional quality. According to the letter column in the first issue, the ongoing line-up of RAIJIN COMICS will be determined by reader votes, with unpopular titles dropped from the magazine. There's a questionnaire on the last page that directs readers to the Raijin Comics website to register their opinions, but so far the survey is still directed at the preview zero issue. I'll keep checking back to cast my vote against BOMBER GIRL.
Overall: Despite my increasing dislike for BOMBER GIRL, issue number two of RAIJIN COMICS actually manages to improve a notch over last issue by offering two promising new titles to the mix - BAKI THE GRAPPLER and THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN. With the upcoming debuts of GUARDIAN ANGEL GETTEN and REVENGE OF MOUFLON (in issues three and four, respectively), I'm optimistic that the diversity, quality, and value of this anthology will continue to grow.
NOTE: Gutsoon also publishes a companion magazine to RAIJIN COMICS. Titled RAIJIN GAME & ANIME, it covers "the top three forms of entertainment in the land of the rising sun" - manga, anime, and games - with an obvious focus on the latter two. RAIJIN GAME & ANIME is free to RAIJIN COMICS subscribers, or an additional $0.99 on newsstands, and contains 16 color pages of articles.
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