This week brings pitches for dungeon treks, alien bug raids, and a nightmare long thought over. Plus Silent Hills, BlazBlue, and the results of an anime-editing contest!
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 9th 2004
Three short stories from Basara creator Yumi Tamura present different facets of modern life with a supernatural tone in this one-shot volume. In "Psychic Squad Wild Com," a teenage girl named Ozeki comes to terms with her telekinetic ability to control fire. A team of psychics known as Wild Com tries to recruit her into their organization, their purpose being to rescue people from accidents and disasters, but Ozeki is afraid that her ability will only hurt others. In the next story, "The Beasts of June," hired killer Aki falls in love with teen prostitute Akane and the tragic couple struggles to escape the crime syndicate that controls them. The final tale, "The Eye of the Needle," tells of the young, up-and-coming male model Shiki and his disastrous breakup with high school girlfriend Uiko. As her emotional distress turns into stalking and outright malice, Shiki pushes Uiko further and further away--not realizing that he is setting himself up for something far more dire than anything on the celebrity gossip pages.
In an art form where series longevity is regarded as a sign of success, the short story is a commonly overlooked format. Viz has published some short story manga anthologies before, such as Short Program and the cult volume Secret Comics Japan, but most of these have gone into the dusty back corners of their catalog. Wild Com, however, makes a strong case for short story awareness among manga readers, with its masterful storytelling and artwork. Viz may have filed this one under the shoujo category, but the quality is something that everyone can appreciate.
The themes in Wild Com are somewhat conventional--the first story sounds like something out of X-Men, for example, and the other two delve into fated love and celebrity downfall--but the way in which they're presented is what makes them outstanding. Breaking away from the serial nature of monster-of-the-week (or month) manga, Tamura packs a whole volume's worth of drama into each short story and gets things rolling from the very first page. Even more impressive is that each story is in a different genre. "Psychic Squad," "Beasts" and "Needle" fall roughly into the categories of coming-of-age, romance, and horror respectively, while there are other manga-ka who can't even do more than one genre in an entire career!
Knowing that there's no space for many complexities and side characters, Tamura takes the small core of characters in each story and gives them strong, distinctive personalities. Ozeki in the first story, for example, isn't just a generic insecure schoolgirl--she's hopelessly antisocial but with a desire to make something of herself. Shiki in the third story is a detestable bastard from the very first scene, which makes his comeuppance all the more satisfying. Tamura also avoids secondary plotlines by focusing on a linear story that charges purposefully towards its inevitable (but always subtle) conclusion. "The Eye of the Needle" is incredibly good at this, becoming a page-turning thriller as Shiki's stalker becomes more and more extreme--she clogs up his fax machine, sends him threatening mail, and even leaves a box of roaches at his door. Story elements like these affect both the character and the reader with their dramatic impact.
The only real weakness in Wild Com is "The Beasts of June," which gets lost in a confusing metaphor about dragonflies and contains two main characters that aren't as emotionally forceful as the ones in the other stories. The impact at the end, however, is still stronger than most other manga can muster in an entire story arc. Other artists may excel in artwork or dialog, but Yumi Tamura has the one talent that can make up for everything else: storytelling.
This doesn't mean that the other aspects of Wild Com are sub-par, however: Tamura's expressive artwork is definitely strong enough to back up her gripping stories. The visual style of this book is probably what prompted Viz to label it as shoujo, but it just happens to be the outward dressing for stories that go well beyond teen-angst clichés or preening fantasyland pretty boys. The character designs are most notable for the large, melancholy eyes that are more creepy than cute and provide a lot of the emotional depth in close-up panels. The backgrounds, like any typical shoujo work, tend to be a sparsely rendered afterthought, although there is the occasional dynamic angle. What really helps the storytelling is the mostly rectangular panel layout, which frames the loose-lined artwork and makes it easy to follow the narrative rather than getting lost in sakura petals and screentones.
Although the dialogue in Wild Com doesn't rise far above typical conversation, there's a poetic rhythm in the way the phrases are spaced out. This becomes even more evident in the interior monologues, which are genuine glances into a character's personality rather than the self-indulgent angstfests that they usually are. The translation and adaptation make things clear without being too dry--there are points where things get confusing, like the meandering dragonfly metaphor in "The Beasts of June"--but overall, the writing in this manga serves the story without hindering or overshadowing it.
The "Tam-Tam Disjointed Theatre" omake in the back of the manga is a lighthearted relief from the emotionally draining main stories, and lets things finish on a positive note (especially since "The Eye of the Needle" is the most chilling tale in the manga). The cartoony explorations of psychic powers prove that Tamura is just as comfortable with offbeat comedy as with the intense drama of the previous 170+ pages, and finally there are some personal notes that present her perspective on each of the three stories.
It takes a particularly good manga to give me goosebumps of awe, and Wild Com is the first title in a long while to accomplish that. Yumi Tamura proves that quality manga doesn't have to ride on gimmicky ideas or long-running plotlines--a dramatic, well-polished short story with equally dramatic visuals can be just as satisfying. For those who find themselves invested in too many series already, or afraid of starting one that will run forever, Wild Com provides relief by not connecting to any subsequent volumes. Short stories may continue to play second fiddle to multi-volume series in manga, but they're far from being a lost art.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Heart-rending stories and the artwork to match it
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