The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
What's It About?
Gabriel White had all the potential to be Heaven's best angel, performing miracles and bettering the lives of Earth's inhabitants. Unfortunately for Heaven and everyone on Earth, Gabriel discovered MMORPGs and mobage games. She quickly devolved from a holy idol into a borderline hikkomori if not for the supervision of her not-so-devilish demon friend Vignette. Together with the sadistic angel Raphael and the inept demon Satanichia, this group of misfits regularly get into more trouble than they bargained for. Gabriel Dropout is an original manga by Ukami. Yen Press released the first volume on October 31 for US$13. A television anime adaptation is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Is It Worth Reading?
Rating: 3Last winter's supernatural comedy about a good for nothing angel and her equally mismatched friends is finally available in manga format, but there isn't much to recommend here for those that tuned in nine months ago. This is the same cast regurgitating the same jokes in close to the exact same order as its screen adaptation. It probably doesn't seem fair, given that the manga came first and the jokes are funny, they're just delivered better with on screen and I've already heard them all.
It speaks to the anime's cast's stellar delivery and scriptwriter Takashi Aoshima's smooth adaptive screenplay that I found it difficult to separate the anime's voice actresses from their manga counterparts, another hindrance to fully enjoying the manga. Pages begin to feel like callbacks to the performances that were so funny in January, but as a stilted, less dynamic substitute. There's nothing wrong with the manga, although I could gripe that it spends more time emphasizing Gabriel's pantlessness than I remember, but if you were going to pick either the manga or the anime, I'd pick the anime. It's more chuckle for my buck and Naomi Ōzora's turn as Satanichia is nigh unable to be matched.
Despite my personal preference for the anime adaptation, the cast of Gabriel Dropout is where it stands out and I'm always up to spend more time with this dysfunctional crew. Gabriel is perfectly loathsome in her disdain for humanity and the very basic of tasks but never to the point where you grow to loathe her. She'll wax about how the sheer enormity of humanity is off-putting, which, I don't know if you've ever been stuck at crowded house party for more than an hour maybe you can relate. Satania is a hoot, both for her chuuni levels of ego and her naive idea of what constitutes evil. Her level of scheming is likely to only get her a light scolding by Mr. Rogers, not win her a throne in hell. Vignette is the group's straight man and Raphael rounds things out as a Do-S with her eyes on Satania's gullibility.
The quartet's misadventures are the book's primary pull. There are no emotional stakes here or commentary on avarice or video game addiction. It's all lighthearted fun and a decent enough introduction for anyone that didn't watch the anime adaptation earlier this year.
It's said that Lucifer was separated from God's infinite beauty and grace after daring to think he could supplant him, that his fall was the stuff of primal myth; turns out all it takes these days to lure God's most faithful messengers from his eternal light are the everyday temptations of the modern world. At least, such is the case for Gabriel Dropout's titular heroine, an angel who came to Earth in order to guide humans only to discover “the real me is a lazy degenerate” after exposure to the wonders of videogames, fast food and air conditioning. Now she's so hopelessly venal that demons like the bumbling Satani can only admire her and fiends like scrupulous Vigne appear positively saintly by comparison.
Ukami's gag manga has a cute enough core concept to earn a few chuckles here and there, no doubt: there's something inherently lovable about an angel who's slowly coming to think “we don't really need so many humans, do we?” It's telling that she's not even grand in her corruption like the fallen angels of religious myth; she's just another low-rent nihilist turned sour and apathetic by the easy luxuries of consumer culture the likes of which you might find lurking on twitter or any message board. Becoming a fallen angel is more an aesthetic matter for her than any grand moral stance, and even barely that.
It's a wry bit of social commentary that never shades far so far into preaching that it turns sanctimonious, but at times you might wish it would. Gabriel Dropout is amusing, but it's only just that: it could afford to have a little more bite, or at least flash a little more fang. Too often the humor strays so far from its central premise that Ukami could easily remove all references to angels and demons and be left with yet another gag series about cute girls doing cute things. And that's just not enough.
Because as cute as it is, Ukami's sense of humor is also incredibly one dimensional. His sense of timing isn't the sharpest, nor his sense of delivery. Like so many other authors, he relies too often on an overly shocked expression and loud declamation from one character to make a point that more efficient pacing would do much better. The dynamic between Vigne and Gabriel too often plays out like every old manzai routine, with punchlines sometimes thrown in so haphazardly and unremarkably that your eyes scan over the panel that held them as if it was just another linking panel and not the climax of the joke. His strengths as a comedian are his sly observational sensibilities and a droll kind of wit; without those all he's got to offer is another run-of-the-mill gag strip without the sense of identity every good work needs. While that may separate Gabriel Dropout from the pack initially, it doesn't do enough to keep up that impression.
Gabriel Dropout volume 1 capitalizes on the trope in manga of glamorizing the life of the NEET or hikkikomori, though it filters the trope through a comedic and supernatural twist. Many manga readers empathize with the character who just wants to consume entertainment all day—in angel Gabriel's case, MMOs primarily—though in Gabriel Dropout, it's not that Gabriel has nothing else to do, it's that she consciously chooses to eschew the harder tasks of life. The fact that she was once a model student of heaven and was so “corrupted” into lethargy by Earth entertainment is the humorous crux of the series, as is her demon friend, Vignette, also being a walking contradiction, a hardworking and kind demon who's supposed to be making trouble for others but goes out of her way to keep Gabriel coasting by at school and in her heavenly assignment to observe life on Earth. Satanya, the overly eager demon who also attends their school, is easily the highlight of the first volume, cackling maniacally over the smallest of transgressions, such as not recycling her empty can, as if she's evil incarnate—only for her to be upstaged in wickedness by Gabriel at every turn without the lazy angel even trying. Raphael, the other angel at the school with a predilection for schadenfreude, is another paradox , one who's yet to do much this volume, but she balances out the cast well enough. The fact that Gabriel still has friends who manage to get her to school more often than not mixes up the setting enough to keep the storylines fresh. Whatever the angel and demon schools are teaching their students, they've clearly mixed up their curriculum.
The best way to describe UKAMI's art is “sweet.” The character designs are adorable without being overly moe, and the cheery, lighthearted tone of the manga makes Gabriel's slovenly appearance all the more stark a contrast to her surroundings. The backgrounds blend in nicely and the tone work is near perfect when it comes to conveying mood, especially when Satanya goes into one of her dark rants.
There isn't a joke that doesn't elicit a chuckle in the first volume of Gabriel Dropout. Much of the comedy relies on contradiction of expectations, and in that respect, it hits the ball out of the park. Like the entertainment Gabriel herself so enjoys, Gabriel Dropout volume 1 is an amusing escape from the grind of life. Despite its supernatural elements, it's very much slice of life with a fun added twist.
Although Gabriel Dropout amused me, there was only one point where I actually laughed out loud – the opening chapter where the eponymous angel tries to teleport herself to school but is so far gone as far as angel-power goes that she instead just sends her underwear. That was unexpected enough to merit a burst of laughter, but the rest of the book is basically fairly standard humor: girls who can't cook, people who act contrary to our expectations, and a run-in with a dog. All of that is fine and definitely entertaining, but it lacks the sort of surprise that the underwear joke had.
That's basically the best way to sum up this volume: amusing without being surprising. The basic premise, that honor student angel Gabriel comes to Earth to do good and complete her heavenly education but ends up giving in to sloth and the allure of MMOs, is relatively standard in terms of comedy: it simply features someone acting opposite to how she's supposed to. Throw in Vignette the sweet and helpful demon, Raphael the sadistic angel, and Satanya the incompetent demon, and you've got all of the bases covered as far as characters go. Creator Ukami handles the situations the characters find themselves in with aplomb, and you can really feel that there's effort going into the story. Gabriel's demeanor practically screams “I don't give a damn” while Vignette's earnestness jumps off the page. But the story doesn't offer much beyond that, simply rehashing jokes and situations without doing much to make them new.
Strictly speaking, there's nothing wrong with that. There's always going to be a place for a comedy of errors and expectations in fiction, and this one is nicely done. The chapter where Gabriel gets work in a café in order to pay for her in-game purchases but then can barely be bothered to actually work is a lot of fun, especially when she convinces her new boss that she's a foreigner who speaks minimal Japanese. The way the poor man wholeheartedly buys into her half-assed deception (possibly so that he doesn't have to fire his new employee) is pretty entertaining, especially when juxtaposed with Gabriel's bare-minimum of effort to both work and convince him of her foreigner status. Ukami's art balances nicely between being cute and a little sexy, with the latter mostly coming across in the characters' poses rather than what they're wearing, which I think is a very nice change from the norm. Yes, the girls wear short skirts, but there's not a lot of attention called to that fact unless the author wants to use it for a specific moment.
All in all, Gabriel Dropout doesn't offer a whole lot that's new or exciting, but it is a decently fun introduction to the series. I'm a little peeved that the translation notes are randomly stuck in the middle of the book, as it makes them hard to find, but on the whole this is very middle-of-the-road with a couple of moments of something more.
discuss this in the forum (49 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history
back to The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
Feature homepage / archives