Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Rookie Narcotics Control Division (NCD) investigators Kai Eto and Hal Kurabayashi's action-packed undercover operations continue. Volume two picks up where the previous left off with the tragic conclusion of the multi-chapter story arc featuring Dragon Speed-addicted heartthrob actor Shirai. The manga then strikes a lighter note when the duo goes on assignment with Expert Substance Analyst Ms. Kuzui, an imposing woman with an unbecoming crush on Kai. The final two chapters begin a new plot which takes Kai and Hal back to school as student and student-teacher, respectively. Once there, they must unravel a drug-laced conspiracy involving a suicidal student and an uber-violent gang called the “MP.”
What does Naruto have in common with Code Geass? Not all that much, one might be well-justified in thinking, but it so happens that the two women who go by the creative handle “naked ape” (all small caps), artist Tomomi Nakamura and writer Otoh Saki, have produced numerous parody doujinshi of both series. And while Switch's exact thematic debt is entirely open to interpretation, its artistic debt to these two fandoms is indisputable. The characters all seem to boast Naruto-style heads spliced onto Code Geass-style bodies—which, safe to say, is definitely not the greatest character design innovation to have made the big time in 21st century Japanese manga.
Moreover, Nakamura's artwork unfortunately lacks both the fluid elegance of CLAMP and the whimsical warmth of Masashi Kishimoto. She likewise fails at anything resembling Takeshi Obata's tough-mined, film noir style (a la Death Note). Switch, quite frankly, just looks like the secondhand product of profound misanthropy. Panel angles are poorly-chosen, transitions between panels are counter-intuitive and sloppy, and action sequences in particular are clumsily choreographed. Though there is marginal improvement upon the exceedingly confusing montages proliferating in the first volume, the visuals still border on a disaster entirely out of proportion with the (lack of) complexity of the consistently mediocre line work.
And the story per se does not compensate for the art's many narrative failures. Though reasonably well-paced and hewing to a tried and true buddy action formula, it does absolutely nothing that hasn't been done before and better elsewhere. For a nail-biting tale of organized crime conspiracies, law enforcement, designer drugs, and truckloads of homoerotic tension, Akimi Yoshida's Banana Fish, widely considered the greatest shoujo manga of all time, has not yet been beaten. Given that unfavorable comparison between the two series, which are both named after a series-specific, fictional illegal drug, is virtually inevitable, it is shocking that Saki even bothered to try. At her very best, she compares well to the Kazuya Minekura of the non-supernatural thriller Bus Gamer…not a compliment by any means, as far as I'm concerned.
The stories as such are reasonably well-paced, perfect for a bit of lightweight, mindless entertainment. No surprises—the actor dies in the crossfire, the besotted female shocks everyone by apprehending the criminal herself, student and teacher are caught up in an “inappropriate” relationship—but then intellectual challenge should not be the objective when picking up a manga like this one. And well, okay…on a shallower note, there are lots of bishounen in Switch. Kai is alternately cute or deadly, and he has a mysterious, traumatic past that has yet to be revealed. Hal is invariably poised and icy cold, and in the final story arc of the volume especially he projects a raw, aggressive (homo)sexuality. None of the male characters thus far have any female love interests, which leaves plenty of room for overactive, dirty imaginations. Cue to fangirls swooning away. Unfortunately, none of them seem particularly complex; they're more one-dimensional eye candy than three-dimensional representations of humanity.
I simply cannot understand why VIZ Media bothered to go the extra mile to license this mediocre title. It was originally published by Square Enix, not by either of VIZ's parent companies Shueisha or Shogakukan, and there is nothing—nothing—about Switch which makes it worth the red carpet treatment from North America's largest manga publisher. At least, not yet. Maybe something that revolutionizes the manga medium will occur in volume sixteen…but somehow I rather doubt it, and at this rate few readers are likely to remain loyal long enough to find out. In the first volume, Saki and Nakamura comment wryly in the afterword that, together, they do the work of one person. After two volumes, many discriminating manga fans will surely find themselves wondering why “naked ape” didn't just do the work of no people.
Overall : C
Story : C+
Art : D+
+ Liberal inclusion of hot bishounen and homoerotic tension is sure to make hordes of fujoshi drool.
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