Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 3rd 2007
Nobuhiko has just moved to the countryside to live with his grandfather, a renowned inventor. He's just completed a humanoid robot named Signal, and Nobuhiko looks forward to having a cool, mechanical big brother. However, a lab accident causes Signal to split into two modes—his regular, combat-ready form and the helpless, two-foot-tall chibi-Signal—and the only way to switch between them is when Nobuhiko sneezes! Soon enough, Nobuhiko and Signal are going on all sorts of adventures and meeting new folks, including fellow robots and rival inventors who want to capture Signal. However, none of them are quite as troublesome as when Signal meets his "older brother" Pulse—an early prototype who's bent on revenge.
If Twin Signal has any sort of appeal, it must be from its sheer averageness. An average plot, executed with average jokes and average action, and brought together by an average art style, make it a "safe" title guaranteed to appeal to most young readers. It has all the sophistication of a Saturday morning kids' cartoon (or, keeping in context, a newspaper comic strip), which is both a strength and a weakness. The simplicity makes the stories a breeze to zip through—even if you can't quite pick out the characters, even if the action gets muddled, it's easy to understand that everyone is fighting over Signal while Signal fights against everyone else. At the same time, however, there's absolutely no effort to dig deeper into the issues between a boy and his robot. Instead, it stays stuck firmly on average.
The premise of this story is so common that it needs no explanation or discussion—for details, just go back to Tetsujin 28 and follow its line of descendants—and so the execution is what makes or breaks the series. Most of the time, the episodic adventure format serves well as a guiding principle: Signal rescues a robot-fearing police officer. Chibi-Signal gets kidnapped by wannabe robot engineers. Chibi-Signal gets transported to a fantasy world. Repeat as many times as needed. The only attempt at development is towards the end of this volume, when Pulse first shows up and Signal finally takes on someone equal to his skill level. The Pulse-Signal rivalry helps to introduce some essential back-story involving Nobuhiko, his father and his grandfather, but it doesn't make up for a whole 300 other pages of silly bouncy battle-robot goofiness.
It takes some kind of talent, though, to make that goofiness appealing. The comedy is fast-paced and delivers the gags with classic slapstick timing; the action is fun to watch and refuses to get bogged down in the mechanics of fighting. A simple core of characters allows for comedy to be built on personality types: courageous but trigger-happy Signal, his off-the-wall miniature form, panicky and pragmatic Nobuhiko, and of course the obligatory eccentric genius, Grandpa. The supporting cast is equally colorful and entertaining, although they really start to stretch the limits of suspension of disbelief: cute little robotic policemen, a robot-obsessed school principal and his nutty, mechanically minded daughter, and even an aristocratic vampire. Silliness and exaggeration abound, but maybe too much so, as many of the events and characters in the story fall right off the logic scale.
The angular art style of the series is a true marker of its time period—this is definitely a product of the 90's, with the spiky bouffant hairstyles and sharp, anime-ready linework just crying to be made into an OVA. (Which they actually did.) The simplicity of comedy and gag manga outweighs the action genre here, with character designs basically relying on stylistic shorthand: Signal's long, flowing hair, Grandpa's glasses, and other easy-to-spot traits. It doesn't always work, though; some of the less-frequent characters are easily confused, like a couple of young girls who basically differ only in hair color. Sometimes the slapstick scenes are also confusing—if something hits a guy in the head, it'd be nice to see the object actually hit, and not just a wacky facial expression and the object's trail. Serious action scenes come out better, though, especially in the high-pitched battle between Pulse and Signal. Straightforward, mostly rectangular layouts help to keep the stories moving along at a brisk pace.
AnimeWorks' economy packaging of this series turns out to be a double-edged sword. By following the Japanese re-release from 2005 and bundling two volumes into one, it's an instant bargain for any reader, but the print size also happens to be ridiculously small. Some panels end up being so shrunken that they might be skipped over entirely, while the artwork itself becomes hard to follow, especially in fast-moving action scenes. Of course, the text is affected too, and it doesn't help that it's printed in an ugly, condensed sans serif font. The translated dialogue is competent, but dry and lacking in personality, and sound effects aren't touched or translated at all. On the plus side, the 350-odd pages of this volume are neatly bound and printed cleanly on strong paper stock, so at least the physical aspect of publishing is handled well.
As an entry into the comedy-action genre, Twin Signal doesn't offer much that hasn't already been covered by other series, and better. Where it does excel, however, is in its simplicity and accessibility—with familiar slapstick and a straightforward plot, it could serve well as a gateway series for young readers. As to whether it serves well as anything else, however ... if you seek a thoughtful inquiry into the relationship between humans and machines, or a genuinely funny send-up of robotics gone wrong, well, Signal is clearly not the droid you're looking for.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C
+ Fast-paced comedy and light sci-fi action at a convenient 2-for-1 price.
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