Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kanna Tezuka is a published manga artist at age fifteen – not a good one, but a published one. So when she finds out that her high school has decided to introduce a manga major, she's pretty excited...until the entire major turns out to consist of her and three very pretty boys. None of the guys seem to know a thing about creating manga, and when they find out that Kanna is publishing a series, they deem her their sensei and start worshiping at her feet. But with three wacky (and somewhat insane) followers, will Kanna ever be able to meet her deadlines?
If Manga Dogs seems like a bit of a departure for Ema Toyama, that's because it is. Her fourth series to be published in English – TokyoPop published Pixie Pop and Del Rey/Kodansha brought us I Am Here! and Missions of Love – is a much funnier, more cynical story than her cute romances, and the fact that she is writing for the magazine Aria, rather than Nakayoshi, where her previous work was published, gives her the freedom to expand her repertoire. Not all of the jokes are winners, but given her publishing history, it is hard to imagine someone better suited to make fun of the gooey shoujo romance.
The heroine of the story is Kanna Tezuka, a last name that deliberately calls to mind legendary God of Manga Osamu Tezuka. A student at Tokiwa High (a reference to a famous apartment building in Tokyo where many major manga artists lived), Kanna is at first thrilled to hear that the school is opening a manga track for students interested in becoming professionals. This, she thinks, will give her more time to work on her series, “Teach Me ♥ Buddha!” which is in danger of being dropped from the magazine. When the class turns out to consist of her and three hard-core otaku stereotypes, she figures that she's got it made. Unfortunately for her, the other three vanish and three gorgeous boys take their places. It turns out that they met at the shoe lockers before class and were so busy geeking out over manga that they forgot to actually attend. They quickly find out that Kanna is a professional and latch onto her, much to her annoyance. Making it worse? They're all incompetent idiots with vastly wrongheaded ideas about what it means to be a mangaka.
What makes this volume are Toyama's little jabs at otaku culture and history. Kanna's series is running in a Nakayoshi-style magazine and is a reverse harem where the heroine goes to school with living Buddha statues...who all have the same traits as their statues. So Kannon wants to hold you with all thousand of his arms and poor Ashura can't possibly look at you with all three of his faces because two are staring off in opposite directions. Meanwhile Kanna can't quite get a handle on what moe is and has to be told by her editor that detailed, ripped abs don't belong in a shoujo series, no matter how much Kanna likes them. We get glimpses of other series that are equally bizarre (and yet somehow plausible), such as “Cat Soul,” which features the forbidden catnip ninja move, and the shoujo romance series “Totem Pole and Me.” All of the characters are named after famous manga creators – Kodansha does provide good notes in the back for names you may not be familiar with – and the boys' inflated ideas of how much money manga artists make may seem eerily familiar to your younger self. The bizarre pen names they come up with, and the ones Kanna gives them, are very funny lampoons of character typing – couldn't you just see “Specs Delusion” becoming a particular type of megane character?
The chapters in Manga Dogs are quite short – roughly ten pages for each. This makes the volume extremely easy to read and also lends itself to reading whenever you have a moment. The story is consecutive, however, and it reads like a cross between a regular manga and a four-panel one. Toyama's art is still very much in the younger shoujo style, with many sparkles and screentones, but she uses that to her comedic advantage for the most part. Kanna's design follows the classic nerd girl look, and all three of the boys are also fairly stereotypical pretty boys, but again, Toyama uses that to her advantage more often than not.
The major issue with this volume is that it requires a fairly good grasp of otaku culture and manga creating in general to really get all of the humor. For many readers that won't be a problem, but if you are just getting interested in manga, parts of it may go over your head. Kodansha does an admirable job with the notes, but many of the smaller jokes and visual gags will be lost on readers who haven't been reading manga for a while.
Manga Dogs' first volume is, overall, a very funny look at those whose greatest desire/delusion is to be a mangaka. It never takes itself too seriously and pokes fun at a variety of manga culture tropes and stereotypes, and while it does occasionally fall prey to those same tropes and stereotypes, it never takes itself too seriously. Ema Toyama may write good shoujo, but she's proving that she can also write good comedy and that she's not afraid to take a look in the mirror and laugh.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Makes fun of otaku and manga culture and history in an entertaining way, particularly shoujo. Good translation notes, generally funny.
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