by John Jakala,

Raijin Comics

Issue 1

Raijin Comics #1
RAIJIN COMICS is an interesting experiment: A thick manga anthology reprinting some of Japan's most popular series "as they were meant to be published" - i.e., right-to-left, and weekly. I don't know how popular a weekly anthology that requires readers to retrain themselves to read in a different order will be with American readers, but the value of the book (244 pages for $4.95) may well convince readers to overlook such inconveniences.

(One thing that bugged me was that in the comics, all the word balloons are laid out right-to-left; but in the text pieces that follow each series, the columns read left-to-right. Maybe printing the text pieces right-to-left would have been too disorienting for American readers, but I also found it hard to switch from right-to-left to left-to-right and back again between stories.)

SLAM DUNK: A fun story about a high school freshman who puts aside his hatred of sports in order to impress a girl he's just become smitten with. But things may not work out as easily as he would hope...

I really enjoyed this series: The characters are fun and the situations are primal and easy to identify with. There are a lot of "stepping out of reality" humor bits (such as when Sakuragi suddenly becomes a carpenter to demonstrate what he thinks a 'dunk' is) that reminded me of the fantasy elements of shows such as "Scrubs" or "Andy Richter Controls The Universe". These gags work because of creator Inoue Takehiko's wonderful cartooning abilities. I also liked the splashes of red that punctuate the art - it reminded me of Japanese prints done in grey washes with only a tiny splash of a single color. The red highlights certainly give SLAM DUNK a distinctive look.

In the text piece following the comic, it's revealed that Sakuragi will not easily win Haruko's affections. Apparently, she's infatuated with Rukawa, who in turn loves only the sport of basketball. Sounds like an interesting "love quadrangle," as the piece puts it. I look forward to reading further installments of this sports-slash-romance manga.

FIST OF THE BLUE SKY: A muscular hero puts on glasses, wears his hair differently, and no one recognizes him in his secret identity. No, it's not Superman - it's Yan Wang, a.k.a Kasumi Kenshiro And aside from the similarity in secret identity stylings, Kenshiro isn't much like the stranger from an alien world. For one thing, while perhaps he could have, to my knowledge Superman never caused an opponent to explode by puncturing the villain's neck with his finger. And while probably stronger, Superman is nowhere near as massive and muscled as Kenshiro. And Superman decided to moonlight as a reporter, then got hung up on Lois Lane; whereas Kenshiro wisely works as a professor at a women's college where the dating pool is much larger.

Aside from the Superman motif, the other thing that most struck me about this series was the art: It's very distinctive, with a lot of dark lines and detailed inks. I'm not sure what the point of the series is yet, but at least it's interesting to look at.

CITY HUNTER: A strange series - in both chapters, the story starts out depicting a horrific event, then turns into a slapstick comedy with a horny guy trying to look down women's blouses, then ends as a grim "Dirty Harry" piece. Perhaps it's a difference in cultural attitudes - are the Japanese more accustomed to such drastic shifts in tone? Personally, I found the change in sensibilities jarring, but I'd be curious to see if this pattern continues in further episodes, and if the two halves seem to fit together better over time. I'd also like to know if the trick Ryo pulls at the end of the second chapter could really work.

BOMBER GIRL: The weakest of the four stories, both in terms of story and art. Storywise, it's little more than a flimsy vehicle for the gratuitous depictions of sex (or at least T&A) and violence. In a sense, then, the creator can be complimented for utilizing his story and art to serve each other so seamlessly.

Overall: A nice package. While not all the stories in this first issue appealed to me, I liked two of them enough that I'll continue to check out the title for awhile. Plus, I'm curious about some of the upcoming titles, such as "First President of Japan." And how could anyone resist the polite pleas of the series' creators to sample their wares?

NOTE: Gutsoon also publishes a companion magazine to RAIJIN COMICS. Titled RAIJIN GAME & ANIME, it covers "the top three forms of entertainment in the land of the rising sun" - manga, anime, and games - with an obvious focus on the latter two. RAIJIN GAME & ANIME is free to RAIJIN COMICS subscribers, or an additional $0.99 on newsstands, and contains 16 color pages of articles.

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Overall : C+
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