Swords! Idols! VRMMORPGs! Food! There's a little bit of everything in this edition of RTO with new and upcoming manga, including SAO: Fairy Dance, Kaze Hikaru, as well as an untranslated title by Aya Nakahara and a digital release Rebecca read so you don't have to!
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 4th 2004
Manga Volume 1
Ginji Kusanagi is the toughest guy at Irie High School and an amateur boxing champ to boot. When a minor motorcycle accident causes him to meet the beautiful Minako Sasebo, Ginji finds himself in love for the first time ever. However, on the night before their first date, a thug with dreadlocks forces Ginji into another motorcycle accident, this time fatal. In the midst of Ginji's out-of-body experience, a mysterious yet irritable angel pops out of the sky and tells him that there is a way to save his life. Ginji's soul must occupy the body of a sentient animal and live out its natural lifespan, at which point he can return to his human body. And so it is that Ginji is reincarnated as a penguin at the local aquarium.
After a quick escape and a series of lucky coincidences, Ginji is adopted by Minako, who turns out to be a big fan of penguins. Now he's closer to her than ever before -- but he's still a flightless waterfowl! Despite being a ridiculously cute real-life Sanrio character, Ginji still has trouble maintaining Minako's affections. It seems that a lot of guys have taken an interest in her, including the dreadlocked thug that caused Ginji's death .
Creating romantic comedy manga is easy: you just follow the formula of X meets Y, X pursues Y, X and Y fall in love. But to create a truly successful manga of that sort requires clever variations and twists on that formula. Tuxedo Gin tries to pull that off by making its protagonist a cute, anthropomorphic animal, but with mixed results.
Those who are familiar with lighthearted manga comedies know that there are plenty of wacky scenarios floating around, and you can get away with almost anything as long as it's imaginative and appeals to readers. "Aha! Let's turn the main guy into a penguin!" is one such scenario. Tuxedo Gin runs with that idea and throws Ginji into lots of amusing scenes, like when the other aquarium penguins try to make him swim (he doesn't know how) and when Minako takes him into the bath with her (the look on his face when he goes "I love being a penguin!" says it all).
Fortunately, Tuxedo Gin isn't pure fluff. The main story arc in this volume is about gangsters from a rival high school kidnapping Minako as a way of getting back at Ginji's best friend Musashi, who is also Minako's cousin. Manga-ka Tokihiko Matsuura illustrates these events with a more serious tone; we see people and penguins getting hurt, and Ginji's gesture at the end of the story arc is quite touching (though predictable). The narrative is pretty clear throughout and -- unlike most fighting manga where the action gets cluttered by speedlines and iffy angles -- readers won't have to decipher what's going on as Ginji battles the gangsters in his attempt to rescue Minako.
Though this manga uses the elements of romantic comedy well, it lacks some fundamentals of storytelling. Ginji is your basic tough-guy manga character, and though he has a sweet side, there isn't much more to him. Minako suffers from the curse of being a female protagonist in shonen manga: she's pretty and kind-hearted, but that's about it. Perhaps it's assumed that young male readers fantasizing about their ideal girlfriend will fill in the rest of her personality. Furthermore, the kidnapping scenario is less than believable: why didn't Minako's father look for her after she'd been missing for several hours? I can buy the idea of a guy turning into a penguin, if it's part of the initial premise, but when a storyline turns serious, it should be in tune with reality too.
The artwork of Tuxedo Gin falls right in the mainstream for romantic comedy manga. The character designs are simple and by the book (and they can't seem to find a consensus on the shape and size of Minako's hair). Also, this manga won't win any awards for biological illustration, but the penguin designs are cute and appealing, and that's what matters. One particular strength of the artwork is that Matsuura can portray exactly what's going on in each scene. The layouts aren't extremely innovative, but they're clean and easy to understand, which is essential in graphic storytelling. You'll never have to guess "What just happened here? Was that a foot? Or a hand? Who just spoke?" The clarity of the story makes the manga flow very easily.
Viz's translation also helps with the flow -- most of the time the dialogue is simple and coversational, without sounding stupid. There's a certain lilt to it that makes it believable as colloquial English, as opposed to the stiff language that would result if the translators had been completely direct. The speech bubble fonts are perfect, although the font for the angel of reincarnation is different and looks rather stilted (like his manner of speaking, perhaps). There's also a glossary of sound effects in the back, but this manga is so heavy with effects that all the flipping back and forth will probably ruin one's enjoyment of the book. It might be better to just learn how to read katakana and hiragana.
In summary, Tuxedo Gin takes the romantic comedy formula and makes it cuter than average, but it suffers from having rather plain artwork and characters. It has a string of delightful moments that aren't so effective as a unified whole. If this is the kind of manga you're into, it's certainly worth checking out, but those who prefer serious action or drama can probably skip it.
Story : C
Art : B
+ clear storytelling, some good laughs, and cute penguins
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