by Carlo Santos,

Oh My Goddess!

GN 26

Oh My Goddess! GN 26
Keiichi Morisato's enchanted life with four Norse goddesses has just taken a turn for the worst, with the "Eater of Angels" threatening to take their powers away! Now it's up to a fifth goddess, Lind, to battle the beast and restore order to Keiichi's life—as well as Belldandy, Urd, Skuld, and Peorth's. In the aftermath, however, some magical glitches remain: Belldandy's newly-acquired demon familiar is causing her powers to go haywire, and when the familiar transfers itself into Keiichi's body, he finds his every wish (even the half-hearted ones) coming true. Can the other goddesses get him back to normal?

Time was, back in the early days of the Goddess series, you could always count on the laws of the heavens being well-grounded in modern science. Sure, it was loopy, edges-of-reality modern science, replete with quantum babble and string theory, but there was always something cute about ancient mythology melded with the back half of a college physics textbook. However, as the world of the goddesses has grown ever more complex, this solid grounding has given way to Making Stuff Up: magic-boosting angels, safety seals, and in the latest storyline, Keiichi obtaining powers of his own. Whatever this is, it certainly isn't science anymore. In fact, it's more about combatants endlessly powering up to defeat each other ... which is exactly what the series shouldn't be.

Granted, a little magical fighting action isn't a bad thing. Long-time Goddess fans still look back fondly on sagas like the Lord of Terror and the Welsper arcs, which raised the series to an epic level beyond its light romantic-comedy roots. However, the Eater of Angels arc shows what happens when epic goes too far: the storyline took up all of Volume 25, which was already a pretty big dose of action, and then drags about 3 chapters too long into Volume 26 and continues to make its presence felt after the battle is over. Why, it's enough to make people wish for a one-shot chapter.

The resolution of the Eater of Angels battle is the biggest mistake in this volume: it ends up as a pure power match, with no cleverness or subtlety involved. Everyone's trying to come up with the biggest, strongest, fastest magical technique, slamming each other into the ground and making proclamations straight out of Shonen Jump: "So long as I wielded [that axe] ... your safety was assured." Stylish spellcasting gives way to brute force, and it's a disappointing climax to a story arc that could have done so much better.

Fortunately, it does get better after the smoke clears, and the second half of this volume brings back some of that classic light-comedy flavor. It's just good old Keiichi and Belldandy together again, working their way through magical mishaps, and trying to keep Belldandy's divine nature hidden from Keiichi's pals. This is as close to down-to-earth as it's going to get while still having that demon-angel-familiar subplot running in the background. Unfortunately, the last few pages suggest another return to high-level sorcery, so take a deep breath and prepare for more endless battle in the next volume.

If it wasn't bad enough that the story is stuck in a rut, even the eye-catching artwork has lost some of its luster. In these latest battle scenes, Kosuke Fujishima seems to be slouching his way through each panel, just waiting for the next two-page spread so he can go all out. When he does go all out, it's still genuinely impressive—flawless inking and special effects and dynamic angles galore—but there's a lot of laziness in between, with non-existent backgrounds and way too much white space. Sharp linework and mechanical details are nice, but really, would it kill to have a little more tone and shade? At least the layouts are as clean and lined-up as ever, with a smart sense of comic timing in the later chapters—just look at Keiichi inadvertently transporting himself to the bath, or Chihiro getting tangled up in string after a failed sleight-of-hand. That's true slapstick right there.

This volume doesn't see a whole lot of dialogue—the battle scenes are mostly grunts and interjections and exclamations of power—but what dialogue there is, is translated flawlessly. This is still one of the best manga series to read in English, thanks to an experienced staff that understands the niceties of comic scripting. Sound effects are completely replaced with English equivalents, a practice that editor Carl Horn admits is mostly due to tradition—see the letters in the back, which is once again an entertaining trip through the editor's mind as he opines on the publishing format and other details of the story.

If this were just some boys' fighting series with a hapless guy and gorgeous goddesses, it might be okay for the story to take the direction that it's gone in this volume. But we know that Oh My Goddess! is capable of more than that, so it's a disappointment to see a talented manga-ka rest on his laurels and churn out page after page of magic and power and magic and comedy and maybe some more magic. It's not even the cute sci-fi-tinged magic of earlier volumes anymore; now it's just inscrutable angel-demon systems and power levels that even a quantum physicist couldn't understand. Keiichi's comedic mishaps help to balance the mood a little, but eventually he must still come face to face with the sorcery churning within him. Meanwhile, fans of the series must come face to face with a simple, deflating fact: this story arc just isn't all that good.

Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B

+ Some visually stunning moments and a much-awaited return to light comedy.
A bloated storyline that takes forever to resolve and continues to have repercussions after the big battle.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Kosuke Fujishima

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