House of 1000 Manga
by Jason Thompson,
10 a.m., Wednesday. House of 1000 Manga is due in four hours, and I've read everything in the house. Drinking coffee is just making me more nervous and jittery, and making me think, when will someone translate a coffee-themed manga? Is Rei Hanagata and Kumi Muronaga's untranslated manga Barista any good? Why is it that when I think of “coffee in manga” the first image that comes to mind is a maid cafe?
Kinokuniya is too far away to drive. Internet manga sites are a filthy cesspool of ads for seedy-looking MMORPGs that I wouldn't dare take my computer near. I run to the library and see what manga are on the shelves that I haven't read. Tegami Bachi…Black Bird…Kekkaishi. Agggh, all these manga are 18 volumes or more, there's no time to read them! If only I had spent my time earlier this week reading manga instead of drawing zombies and preparing for my D&D campaign! My nerd priorities are all messed up!
There's only one solution: to call my friend who reads as much manga as I do. (Actually, that's my awesome colleague Shaenon Garrity. I'm talking about another person who reads as much manga as we do.) I call her up and ask her “Quick! I'm late for this week's column, what's a good short manga I can read?” She recommends Meteor Prince, so I buy it from the Viz site.That's just how it happens sometimes in the living-on-the-edge world of manga reviewing.
Meca Tanaka, the author of Meteor Prince, is a shojo mangaka. I'd read her translated manga Omukae Desu, a story about shinigami helping the recently dead, but I'd missed Pearl Pink, about a girl who's the daughter of a popular idol singer. Her long-running story Faster than a Kiss, about a high school girl's secret relationship with her English teacher, hasn't been translated, probably for the obvious reasons (a chaste teacher-student romance might be OK for a side character like in Marmalade Boy, but as the main pairing, forget about getting that manga in the Scholastic Book Club). All these manga are very different from one another, and honestly I've forgotten a lot about Omukae Desu, so I had no idea what to expect from Meteor Prince. I was as surprised as anyone when it opens with the heroine in the arms of a totally naked guy.
Time to backtrack. Hako Natsuno, the heroine, is known in her school as the “queen of bad luck.” Things are always falling on her head, she's always tripping over stuff, her ex-boyfriend even dumped her because he was afraid she would get him in an accident. She's not mopey about it, but in the hopes it will cure her bad fortune, she's convinced to join the school's Occult Research Club, where she hangs out with her friends Erina, Morino and the club president. The president draws a circle on the floor and tries to summon a demon (this seems like an extreme solution), and BAM!!! In a cloud of smoke appears a teleporting alien who looks like a really hot naked guy! And he's there for Hako. “I bring happy news, female of Earth! Mate with me and bear my child! You have been chosen to become my queen!”
He's Io, prince of the planet Yupita. His teleport messed up thanks to the summoning (demons, aliens, what's the difference?). But Hako is the only being in the universe with the same ‘wavelength’ as him, and so he knows she's his destined mate so they can have lots of human-alien hybrid babies. Io just wants to get down to business right away, but Hako freaks out: “I can't have your child! Not without love!” Curious about this thing called love, Io agrees to learn about Earthling mating methods so he can do things properly. He starts by reading old shojo manga, bothering her at school wearing a tux and showering her with red roses before flinging all his clothes off (“I want your heart and your body to burn with my fiery love for you! Je t'aime…! Let's mate!”) Her friend Morino tells him to get lost, but Hako endures him at first, then she's mad at him, and then there's that moment when…something happens and she realizes that this is a guy she could love. The ability to sprout wings from his back and fly around with her probably helps too (angels, aliens, what's the difference?).
Io vows to stay with Hako and to help her deal with the woes of her bad luck, and this wacky romance manga series gets going. Going to school with Hako, Io approaches the world with childlike innocence, full of eagerness as he tries out Earth things for the first time (cue the beach-vacation-with-swimsuits story! And the summer-festival-with-yukata story!). There's a bit of “foreigner visiting Japan” in all this; Hako appears to be blonde (though as always in manga, you never know if the blue/green/violet/pink/blonde hair is ‘real’ within the story's context or is just to keep the colorist from getting bored), and “he looks like an ordinary boy from a foreign country”, as one character says. However, he's not always human-looking; he can use his alien power to absorb the DNA of other creatures by touch, which is a great excuse for kissing scenes, and the obligatory beach chapter becomes worth it when he swims deep down in the water and becomes a dolphin and talks to a whale.
Meteor Prince is only two volumes long, so it doesn't spend too much time on any one idea; each chapter brings new wackiness. Just when things seem to be going well, Io starts to attract lightning when he's excited, so they have to avoid physical contact! No wait, a female alien shows up and hits on Io! No wait, it's time for Hako to take Io home and introduce him to her parents! But by far the biggest switch is when Io's aide, Argo, appears from Yupita to tell him that it's all a mistake and Hako isn't really his destined mate. (“It'd be a pity to waste his seed. I'm glad I got here in time.”) Will Io still be interested in Hako, even when he isn’t obliged by the Law of the Universe to mate with her?? Will he dump her for his true breeding partner? What are the odds?
This is part arranged-marriage story (although technically they never get married, and only the Law of the Universe is doing the arranging), and part Magical Pixie Dream Guy story. If you've ever dreamed of the perfect person dropping out of the sky, this is that fantasy (and thankfully he's not too pushy: Io immediately realizes “I need her consent to become her partner, right?”) Io even develops a bit as the story goes on: back on his home planet, Io was a warrior (possibly a Dragon Ball Z Saiyans reference, or maybe a Superman reference?) and in the first few chapters he does scary stuff like turn his limbs into drills and threaten bad guys. But luckily the manga doesn't go far in this direction, and once Hako freaks out and says “I cannot bear the child of anyone who would resort to violence!” he stops with the glowering and becomes one of the gentlest, most peaceful romantic leads anyone could imagine. Super peaceful, in fact. It's cool to be courted by a handsome prince who has to marry you, but maybe it's cooler if he doesn't have to marry you and he just wants you out of sincere love, and maybe it's even cooler if he's not a prince anymore and he's willing to trade all his princehood and his powers to be with you (spoiler spoiler). It all manages to come together for an ending in which the characters have actually changed a bit, there's a little mix of bitter and sweet, and it doesn't overstay its welcome and drag on so long that it has to show the protagonists raising babies and pair up every imaginable side character and everyone in the universe in a mass wedding (I'm looking at you, Fruits Basket).
In my experience, a person's tastes in romance can change at different times for various, or inexplicable reasons; “guess what, now you're getting married to this person you've never met” fantasies don't appeal to me now that I'm a married adult, but I remember when I was 10-11 years old and couldn't imagine the concept that I might someday get married, I was fascinated thinking about these things. Meteor Prince doesn't have many surprises, but it has more humor and better art than Omukae Desu, and like many manga, the pleasures are in the craft and the little sidetracks the artist takes along the way. This is one of the things I like about longer-running manga: they have more time to go on side-quests and go in weird different directions. 400 pages isn't a lot of room to move around in by manga standards, you have to get in quick, tell the story and get out, but give a mangaka a couple thousand pages, and who knows what's goin’ on in there? It's time to get all my gear and jump back in the manga jungle. Two weeks from now, I'll be reviewing a super long manga again.
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