Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 15th 2006
The Recipe for Gertrude
Powerful, 100-year-old demon "patchwork" Gertrude was made of parts that were collected from other demons and then assembled according to a recipe. In search of that recipe, and pursued by a bevy of demons who want their stolen body parts back, Gertrude makes the acquaintance of the ever-popular "normal high school girl" Sahara. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start (Sahara pours salt in the belligerent Gertrude's open wound), but before long the two of them have combined forces to find Gertrude's recipe and battle the demons who want a piece of him.
Nothing is more painful than watching an interesting idea fall prey to poor execution. The Recipe for Gertrude is one such tragedy. OK, tragedy is too strong a word, given that the story is derivative, but in the right hands it could have been good fun (and at times it is), but it is sabotaged at every turn by the sloppy, confusing art.
Stories about high school girls and their demon (or half-demon, or vampire) protectors/lovers are thicker on the ground than dog doo at a public park, but Gertrude has the "recipe" angle and a good pair of leads working for it. The plot stays firmly in "demon antagonist arrives, threatens Sahara's safety, and gets thrashed by Gertrude" mode for the majority of the book, until the location of Gertrude's recipe is revealed, adding an extra layer of complexity and intrigue to the formerly formulaic goings-on that increases anticipation for future volumes. Prior to this there is plenty of action to keep things in high-octane mode, a little back-story (where was it that I saw a demon whose hair turns black on the full moon...?), and plenty of humor. The humor is low-key, even when it stems from the book's obvious comic-relief characters, and, as often as not, is worth at least a smile. Gertrude's greatest strength, however, is the excellent chemistry between the leads. Gertrude and Sahara aren't burning up the sheets with their barely restrained passion; instead the two enjoy a natural, comfortable rapport more akin to good friends, which is only occasionally disturbed by their budding attraction for each other (author Nari Kusakawa admits to drawing the book's one really mushy scene at the behest of her editor).
Figure that this has the makings of some solid entertainment? Then you've figured without the art. Kusakawa's art is angular, inconsistent, sometimes frenzied, lacking in depth and perspective, and almost always confusing. Nothing ruins the flow of a story like having to read pages over and over just to figure out what the hell happened. Characters' facial features change from panel to panel (and already resemble each other to a dangerous degree) such that hairstyles are the only (relatively) reliable method of telling characters apart. This isn't a problem during the shot-reverse-shot of dialogue, but it becomes a first-order headache as soon as the action fires up. The hectic paneling and lack of backgrounds only aggravate the problem. The pacing of the artwork is also all over the place. Sometimes Kusakawa gets it just right, and at others she crams so many actions onto a single page that one can't even be sure where the story is afterward, much less what happened (resulting in the need to reread, reread). The result is a diverting story that is so hobbled by its art that it is impossible to fully enjoy the first time through.
Also included in this volume is "My Grandfather", a short one-off from the same author about a teenager and his grandfather who looks exactly the same age as him. It is in many ways superior to the main story, largely because of the simple story; without the action, there are fewer reasons for Kusakawa to clog the pages with confusion. It's a much smoother, more enjoyable read as a result. The only other extras are a few pages of character and story comments from the author.
Presentation is competent, but unremarkable. The cover is unprepossessing but honestly represents the art quality of the contents. All sound effects are replaced with English effects.
With a glut of very similar stories on the market, Gertrude's only truly distinguishing characteristic is its wasted potential. Without the confusing artwork, it could have been a fun, easy-going antidote to the poisonous angst-miasma that dominates the shoujo market. Instead it's a frustrating mess.
Overall : C+
Story : B
Art : C-
+ Warm chemistry between leads, interesting twist at the end.
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