Reviewby John Jakala,
Color me surprised. Largely as a show of support for the anthology format, I signed up for subscriptions for both RAIJIN COMICS and SHONEN JUMP, but I was sure that I would enjoy the former much more than the latter since RC was promoted as being targeted for an older audience, and since SJ featured series that I associated with young children's cartoons. Instead, having read both first issues, I find that (so far) I much prefer SHONEN JUMP, both in terms of actual story content as well as in terms of the magazine's production values. Of the five series featured in this debut issue, only one left me less than enthused.
YU-GI-OH!: Surprisingly, the disappointing series wasn't YU-GI-OH! I'd seen commercials for the American version of the cartoon on the WB, and it looked completely uninteresting. The manga, however, is unexpectedly dark and moody. At one point YU-GI-OH reminded me of Neil Gaiman's work: Yugi finds himself drawn into a magical world of ancient forces where there are definite rules that must be obeyed. Having this series based on games opens up a lot of story possibilities, but I also worry that it could simply devolve into a tie-in for the popular card game.
DRAGON BALL Z: The only series in the book that didn't do much for me so far. To be fair, much of this may be due to the fact that - unlike the other series - DBZ doesn't start from chapter one. Apparently Viz has already published a number of volumes covering the earlier chapters of the DB saga. The story in SJ jumps in at volume 28 (!). I'm also a bit put off by the art, which is very scratchy and open: There is very little in the way of shading or tone to give figures depth. The art is actually more appealing in the 'quieter' moments (such as on page 84 where several characters are standing around looking up) - here Toriyama's line reminds me of Sergio Aragonés or European cartoonists. But during the action sequences, the art often ends up looking dirty or smudged to me.
Still, I understand that this manga series is immensely popular not only in Japan, but all over the world, so I'm hoping that my appreciation of the series will grow as I settle into the story already in progress.
SANDLAND: Another manga series by Akira Toriyama, creator of DRAGON BALL Z. When I first noticed that the same creator did both series, my initial thought was that SANDLAND must be the later work. And according to the timeline in SJ, Toriyama did begin SANDLAND five years after he completed DBZ. It's definitely interesting to see such progression in an artist's style, but now I'm curious to go back and examine Toriyama's earlier work to see if his rougher style in DBZ was a conscious choice, or simply a matter of his skill level at the time. (In the "Spotlight" page on Toriyama, it mentions that none of his previous work has been translated into English yet, so I may have to wait awhile to experience his earlier style.)
In addition to finding the art in SANDLAND much stronger than that of DBZ, I was also much more impressed with the story of SANDLAND. It's a tale of a post-apocalyptic world where demons co-mingle with humans and both species struggle to survive despite a near-complete lack of water. In this chapter, a lone human (Sheriff Rao) approaches the demon city in the hopes of forging an alliance to search for the rumored "Phantom Lake." Agreeing to accompany Rao on his quest are Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons, and Thief. With our cast established, they set out on their journey but quickly run into problems.
A big part of this series' charm is obviously going to be the characters. Toriyama does a masterful job of establishing the look and personality of each character in this first chapter. He also manages to work in a great deal of humorous moments in the short chapter, including: Lucifer, sitting on his grand throne reading "Faust", still having to worry about parenting details, such as limiting the amount of time son Beelzebub can play video games; a little ghost-like demon, floating in the air holding a parasol to block the sun; seeing demons drinking bottled water; demons learning how to drive... I'm really looking forward to future installments of this delightful comic.
YUYU HAKUSHO: A teenaged troublemaker unexpectedly does a good deed for someone and ends up dying in the process. But his death was unscheduled in the underworld, so a spirit guide appears to tell him that he can take a test to come back to life.
An engaging premise. I'm curious to see what the 'test' is that Yusuke has to take. I'm guessing it somehow involves helping living people out, which could provide a good structure for telling a number of different stories within the series. And it could lead to some engrossing conflict if Yusuke has to help those he didn't get along with while he was alive.
ONE PIECE: An over-the-top pirate comedy that reads like Plastic Man meets Errol Flynn. There are some great comic moments in this manga (such as when Captain Shanks tricks Luffy into drinking a very un-pirate beverage), and the artwork is wonderfully fluid and confident. Now that Luffy has grown up and is embarking on his own voyage, I wonder if/when we'll see Captain Shanks and his crew again.
Overall: A very impressive debut issue. In addition to the stories themselves, the magazine is also stuffed with other features: Interviews with creators; helpful series overview pages; creator bibliographies; a "Manga Explorer" article focusing on other popular manga that have yet to be published in English; anime, toy, video game, and card game summaries; letters and fan art; and much, much more. I really think this manga anthology has a chance of becoming a hit here in America, as it offers so much value for the price and the content can appeal to both children and adults. I highly recommend that everyone check out this magazine.
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Overall : A-