by Rebecca Silverman,


GN 1

D-Frag! GN 1
Kenji Kazama is pretty sure he's the baddest ass out there. So how is it that he's lost the other two members of his thug gang and been tricked into joining the weirdos in the Game Development Club? Now that he's there, though, he's finding it kind of hard to get away...what with their special “affinities” for various elements, the fact that the club advisor is as insane as the members, and Roka's somewhat confusing charm. But is he really going to stand by his club when the members of the original Game Development Club come charging in, spoiling for a fight? And would Roka and Co. let him get away even if he made the attempt?

When we talk about “de-fragging” a computer, it is generally understood that we are clearing away the clutter of fragmented files in order to make the machine run more efficiently. That is not the case for this manga. D-Frag! is the bizarre, tumultuous tale of Kenji Kazama, a spiky- haired thug who really isn't quite as bad an ass as he thinks he is. Sure, he can throw a mean punch, and yes, he does have two lackeys, but if he's such a menace to society, how did he end up being press-ganged into his high school's Game Development Club? All he and his cohorts had wanted to do was to maybe steal, er, borrow some computer games, but once they opened the clubroom door, all hell was unleashed as the four female members of the GDC descended upon them with their special attacks.

One of the highlights of this manga is that the Game Development Club is, prior to Kenji's unwilling inclusion, entirely female. Granted, it does come from the pages of Monthly Comic Alive, a magazine with a high concentration of moe titles (Zero's Familiar and Kanokon are among their other series, although neither is currently running), and so by default it would have to be a primarily female cast. But the fact remains that it is a place where we rarely see female characters, and certainly not competent ones, like Takao, who comes in about halfway through the volume.

That established, D-Frag! is absolutely a comedy, and one that works most of the time. One of the funniest jokes in the book is the GDC members' unshakable belief that they all have elemental affinities, like in a role-playing game. Sakura's “affinity” is water, so she carries around a water bottle and splashes people. Minami has a taser, so obviously she has an “electricity affinity.” The best joke, however, is Roka's “fire” powers – a play on the words “moe” and “moeru” (the verb “burn”). So whenever she uses her affinity...she gets all cute and cuddly. That could make you burn in a different way...

While gags are reused throughout the volume, they are generally spaced out, so that they do not grow stale with overuse. For example, super-masochist Ataru, vice-president of the student council to Chitose's president, makes several appearances throughout the book, but never too close together. This saves him from becoming a grating character and instead allows him to be a mildly annoying and fairly amusing one instead. This also allows Tomoya Haruno to reuse material multiple times almost without our noticing it; certainly if this were being read in single chapter increments rather than all together in book form, it would feel like recurring themes rather than the same gags repeated in a well-timed manner.

Once the story gets its feet under it, we find that there is, in fact, an over-arching plot. The GDC that Kenji was forced to join, it turns out, is actually the second one at school. There was a schism between president Takao and the members of the insane club (Roka was largely involved in this and the bad feelings linger, more or less), and the result was that Chitose, Sakura, and Roka split from the original group and formed their own club. (We do not yet know how Minami came to be their faculty adviser.) Takao has never stopped resenting this new, clearly inferior club, and half way through the volume she begins to challenge the new club to various challenges. The major one has to do with getting bodies in the door during the requisite cultural festival storyline, but it's pretty obvious that even when that plot ends, her vendetta will not.

D-Frag!'s art is fairly basic as far as characters go, with more panache shown in designing random older men than any of the main girls. Everyone is distinctive, however, and Haruno makes good use of black space and doesn't overwhelm with the tones. Interestingly enough, most characters are drawn in close up or at least in such a way as to avoid showing them from head to toe. It doesn't detract from the art, but it is a bit odd once you notice it.

Ultimately, D-Frag!'s first volume is an awful lot of fun. Though reused, the jokes are funny, and the characters are all weird enough to make reading about them amusing. It could get old if it goes on too long, but in it's opening book, D-Frag! is a good humor break when you just need a laugh.

Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B

+ Pretty funny, even laugh-out-loud in a few places. Gaming girls is a nice touch, well-paced.
Jokes do get reused throughout the volume, side characters look more interesting physically than main characters. Plot feels like it stutters at points.

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Story & Art: Tomoya Haruno

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