Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 23rd 2010
Panic X Panic
When demons run amok, Mitsuki uses her skills in Onmyou-dou to vanquish evil spirits. Her powers are magnified, however, if she combines her abilities with her classmate Kakeru, who specializes in Christian exorcism. Unfortunately, the two of them don't get along too well—Kakeru loses his patience too easily, and Mitsuki isn't the most delicate person either. However, they've got no choice but to rely on each other when a time-traveling spirit traps them in the past! The stakes are raised even higher when a high-ranking demon disguises herself as a student and suddenly becomes Kakeru's new best friend. Can Mitsuki save him in time, or will Kakeru's soul be lost forever to the underworld? Only the strength of Mitsuki's heart will tell...
They say that simpler is better, that you can accomplish more by doing less. But to what extent does that hold true? On one hand, there is the kind of "simple" where someone like Mozart takes the tune known as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and spins it into a sublime theme-and-variation piece. Then there is the kind of "simple" where a five-year-old studying music for the first time takes that same tune, slaughters it a thousand times over, and never gets anything else out of it. Sadly, Panic X Panic leans more toward the latter form of simplicity, laying out the most basic elements of supernatural action-adventure and then blindly pounding through them. True, it avoids convoluted plot mechanics and incomprehensible systems of magic, and the entire series is finished within two volumes—but this lack of complexity also ends up being its own downfall.
The first chapter in Volume 2 provides at least a glimmer of hope—the story takes the form of a time-travel plot, which usually lead to some kind of intriguing paradox. In the end, though, there are no clever twists or loops to be found; instead the thrust of the story becomes "protect your younger self so that you can still exist in the present." This is very basic, grade-school stuff, and is almost impossible to take seriously considering that the villain is an anthropomorphic evil slipper. (Then again, cursed footwear is fairly low on the cliché scale, so that idea deserves some credit.) But if that story feels weak, the next one is even worse, being the obligatory beach scenario (who wants to check out Kakeru in his swim trunks?!) and culminating with an "evil spirit" that isn't even really a spirit. Look, saving dolphins in distress is nice and all—especially ones that apparently have astral projection abilities—but stumbling into an artificially happy ending like this one destroys any drama that may have existed in the first place.
When the time comes for the actual series finale, it all but copies the most familiar examples in the genre, except watered down as much as possible. A fairly typical shape-shifting demon shows up, deceives Kakeru and takes over his soul; as a result, Mitsuki must put herself on the line if she wants to save him (and, by proxy, the entire planet). Yet there is never any sense of danger, no dark twist where the two are sent tumbling into the underworld, no demons miraculously coming back to life after a killing blow. Basically, Mitsuki admits her feelings for Kakeru (which was completely telegraphed in the previous chapters) and successfully saves the world on her second try. Wow, schoolkids really do have it too easy these days. And as for the intriguing cross-cultural aspect of Onmyou mysticism colliding with Christian prayer? Come on, this is a shoujo manga! Confessing your true feelings for the sake of an idealized romance is far more important!
Speaking of idealized romances, the bonus one-shot in the back is barely worth a mention. This showbiz wish-fulfilment scenario goes through the usual motions, with nary a twist or inversion that might have actually made it interesting. In short, the protagonist has the good fortune of "accidentally" dating a celebrity while being a complete goofball in the process. Why on earth would anyone waste thirty pages on this?
In many ways, the artwork fares just as poorly as the story in this series. Cute, eye-pleasing illustrations occur from time to time, but the act of visual storytelling simply falls apart. This is evidenced by the fact that, oftentimes, the characters have to narrate what just happened because the imagery doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If cluttered screentone effects, unconvincing action poses, and characters standing around awkwardly are your idea of great artwork, then this is the series for you! Just look at the face-slapping scenes, for example, where it's hard to tell if any slapping actually took place. To be fair, this series does have it moments—each chapter has at least one dramatic full-page spread with Mitsuki and Kakeru spellcasting in tandem, and the character designs are distinctive enough to tell apart—but individual moments cannot tell a story unless they are properly strung together.
There is at least one area where simplicity succeeds, though, and that's in the writing. With absolutely no twists or ambiguities in the plot, no mysterious secrets to foreshadow, and no magical jargon to explain, the characters always say exactly what they mean in the dialogue. In a way, this makes the painfully shallow storytelling a little easier to bear, because at least the pain goes by quickly. In fact, all that's left to fill up the glossary in the back are some cultural points about everyday life in Japan. The artwork is also fairly busy with sound effects, but somehow the English translations do find their way into the already crowded pages.
The best thing that can be said about Panic X Panic is that it is mercifully short: the suffering ends after just two volumes and there's no need to even read the one-shot that fills up the rest of this one. The last couple of chapters try to raise the stakes by having a demon actually possess one of the main characters and threaten to unleash the powers of the underworld, but the threat never feels convincing for a moment. Then again, it was clear from the start that this series had no intention of committing to a true life-or-death scenario—there's always some kind of safety net built into the plot, like villains being too dumb to use time-travel to their full advantage, or evil spirits turning out to be psychic dolphins. The rest is filled in with typical boy-meets-girl fluff, with a bit of mysticism thrown in. Good thing Mitsuki and Kakeru live in such a sheltered world, because if they had to fight any real demons, they'd be toast.
Overall : D
Story : F
Art : C-
+ It's over in two volumes and there are no ridiculous twists to worry about.
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