By Osamu Tezuka
Vertical, 340 pp.
From the fine folks at Vertical comes another classic courtesy of Osamu Tezuka, Princess Knight! Often credited as the first ever shojuo manga, it tells the tale of Sapphire, a young princess born with two hearts, one male the other female. Forced to hide her true gender in an effort to stave off the attempts of an evil Duke Duralumin from inheriting her fathers throne, Princess Knight shows her trials and tribulations.
I’ve generally enjoyed all of the Tezuka releases I’ve read so far but I was a little hesitant about this going into it. The basic premise of two hearts and how each one instills a different set of gender specific attributes seems problematic to my slightly liberal and open sensibilities and, quite frankly, it is. There are moments in the volume where I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and groan out loud as Sapphire’s story played up the roll of the hearts to reinforce concepts of traditional gender roles and traits. There are moments in the story were certain characters knock the idea of traditional gender roles, including a moment where some people complain about the idea that only a male can rule a kingdom, but these brief moments of lip service are overwhelmed and quashed by such moments as Sapphire losing her male heart and becoming a scared, simpering, helpless “woman”. There is a whole raft of questions that the idea of the hearts brings to mind as well. For example, if a “female” heart is weak and helpless while the “male” heart is brave and strong, then what about the cowardly villains? Which heart do they have? In fairness to Tezuka this was written in the 50s and 60s so you shouldn’t exactly be looking for progressive and challenging ideas that smash the traditional concept of gender roles, but it’s still a bit disheartening at times nonetheless. Thankfully most of the story ignores the concepts of the hearts and simply plays Sapphire as a bit of a tomboy forced to hide her true gender due to the pressures of her kingdoms traditions and society. With that in mind the book reads pretty well and is surprisingly charming, whimsical and fun. Sapphire rolls from one bizarre situation and challenge to another, ranging from Duke Duralumin’s conspiracies to unseat her, to the machinations of a demon intent on gaining her “female” heart for her daughter, to a clash with pirates and more. At times the idea of the two hearts seems to play a minimal part in things while at other times it’s hugely important and crucial. Throughout the book there’s also a second underlying theme of a generational clash. The demons daughter wants nothing to do with the “female” heart and would be quite happy to continue being her tomboyish self and Sapphire’s love interest, a prince from a neighboring kingdom, clashes with his father over his interest in Saphhire’s wig wearing “female” alter ego. It’s something I’d like to see played up in the second volume.
Tezuka’s art is charming in it’s cartoonish ways and is incredibly easy to follow. On occasion he plays with the idea of movement and borders, featuring characters literally smashing through panel borders and more. Still, there’s something about the art that feels a bit more simplistic then what I remember in Black Jack or Dororo but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It just feels a bit more stripped down and streamlined than usual I guess. That said it’s still fun and interesting to look at and it fits the light hearted tone of the story perfectly. In addition the characters are all instantly recognizable from one another through both their looks and mannerisms and while that’s something that’s to expected with Tezuka it’s still something I enjoy and appreciate about the artwork and is something that both American and Japanese contemporary comic artists could stand to use more often.
In the end Princess Knight is surprisingly charming despite some incredibly uncomfortable and questionable moments with regards to traditional gender roles and the traits one usually associates with them. Since it’s so short, only two volumes, I’m pretty interested in getting my hands on the second volume and seeing where Tezuka takes the whole story and how it all resolves itself.
Princess Knight, Vol. 1 is available now from Vertical.
by Nobuaki Tadano
7 Billion Needles, the sci-fi series from Nobuaki Tadano continues with more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at! The battle between Hikaru, now fused with the alien entity known as Horizon, and the alien entity Maelstrom reaches its climax. Following the battle Hikaru returns to the island of her youth as events from her past come back to haunt her in a rather unexpected manner. From there the tale takes some truly insane and unexpected twists in the penultimate volume.
After the solid set up from the first volume, Hikaru’s life just gets progressively weirder and the story becomes far more complex in these volumes. Hikaru’s relationship with her two new friends ends up taking a back seat while the emotional issues that led to her being stand offish and uncomfortable around others are revealed. This was a little disappointing as watching her interact and reconnect with her peers was highly enjoyable and led to some comedically awkward moments as well. Certain twists occur towards the end of the second volume which could lead to some more comedic gems in the third, but instead the third volume spins off into much weirder and more confusing sci-fi territory as evolution runs amok. With this move the series really seems to veer away from the quiet, character driven moments that made the first volume so enjoyable. Nobuaki Tadano does attempt to maintain some of the emotional momentum of the first two volumes, but with all the sci-fi insanity going on in the third volume it just didn’t click for me. It almost feels like he lost interest in Hikaru and her supporting cast and decided to pursue some “big ideas” instead. There were also a few moments where some dialogue seems surprisingly awkward and I was left wondering what Tadano was attempting to say with them.
While the story shifts gears quite dramatically, thankfully the artwork doesn’t. It’s still as nicely detailed and wonderful to look at as it was in the first volume. With the quieter moments becoming scarce in the later portions of these books, the action sequences begin to take center stage and they don’t disappoint. Nobuaki Tadano’s artwork also does a great job at conveying the characters emotional state through their facial expressions, even during fast paced conflict. The freakish creatures that pop up within both of the volumes are fairly interesting and a few are quite weird and horrific to behold as well. If that wasn’t enough there continues to be nicely detailed backgrounds throughout, giving the entire thing a strong sense of place and adding a little something to the weight of it’s fictional reality. Not to mention some nice depictions of massive property damage too.
While 7 Billion Needles takes some truly unexpected turns over the span of these two volumes, I’m not entirely sure they’re for the best. There are interesting and unexpected developments, that’s for sure, I really felt like they cam at the cost of emotional core of the story and Hikaru’s growth. Still, it’s undeniably interesting and certainly carries a strong sense of anything could happen and it did leave me wishing I had the fourth and final volume already just so I could find out how it all ends.
7 Billion Needles, Vol. 2 + 3 are available now from Vertical, Inc.
by Nobuaki Tadano
Vertical, 180 pp.
Created by Nobuaki Tadana and based upon the Hal Clement sci-fi novel Needle,
7 Billion Needles finds school girl Hikaru Takabe trapped in a struggle between alien life forms that may decide the fate of humanity.
Not having read the novel this is based upon I don’t really have much to say with regards to how it holds up or handles the themes from the original novel. But coming at it with a newcomers perspective I can safely say that it’s an incredibly enjoyable read. The basic set up will be familiar to fans of Parasyte. An alien life form known as Horizon falls from the sky and bonds with a teen, the two must then co-exist while attempting to out maneuver and defeat another hostile alien critter known only as Maelstrom. Along the way we get some ruminations on the nature of mankind, humanity, society and more. The story is flipped however, as Takabe is reluctant to get involved with the situation and has to be poked and prodded into taking action by her alien companion. In fact the first volume is as much about Takabe overcoming her strong antisocial and introverted ways and learning to reconnect with humanity, as it is about the chess game between the two super powered aliens. It’s a very well done bit of growth too and I definitely found myself warming up to her as the story progressed.
Tadano’s artwork is fantastic. It’s crisp, clean and incredibly easy to follow and a treat to look at. There’s a nice amount of detail given to the backgrounds, which helps to give the book a nice of time and place, unlike many manga which seem to occur in a void of toning and white. Tadano also handles the quiet moments just as well as the more explosive action scenes and has a knack for conveying personality and emotion through body language without going overboard. His creature designs are a bit hit or miss though. The initial visual form of Maelstrom is almost comedic, but his second “Feeding” form is fairly horrific with some wonderfully disturbing details.
If the first volume is anything to go by, then 7 Billion Needles is going to be a fantastic read. The similarities to Parasyte are undeniable and any fans of that series should absolutely give this a look. With an engaging story, interesting characters and strong artwork this looks to be fine addition to anyones reading list.
7 Billion Needles, Vol. 1 is available now from Vertical, Inc.
By Felipe Smith
Vertical, 256 pp
Rating: 18 +
Young Milton suffers from a malady that almost everyone experiences at one point in their life. He absolutely and utterly fails to fit in to the world around him. He goes out, forcing himself to be something he isn’t, but as soon as the opportunity arises his true self comes out. Namely, that of a huge anime geek. As fate would have it he’s about to get the opportunity of a life time, to visit the anime/manga mecca of his dreams, Tokyo, Japan and soon he’ll find out just how wrong his preconceptions of the country were. From Felipe Smith and Morning 2, comes Peepo Choo.
Peepo Choo is a brutal skewering and satire of geek culture, international cultural misconceptions and more. Nothing is sacred within this book. Milton and his hardcore “otaku” pals are generally the brunt of the jokes, but American comic fans, Japanese society, their perceptions of America, and more are all ridiculed and mocked in over the top and vaguely offensive fashion. Amid all the caricatures and skewering of social groups lies a plot line involving yakuza and an insanely violent hitman. This is clearly the connecting strand, pulling together the urban American culture obsessed yakuza member, the awkward fujoshi Japanese teenaged girl, Milton and the various other characters; but for the most part it feels like it was tacked on as an after thought to try and make the series something other than a group of skits mocking anyone it can.
Felipe Smith’s artwork is definitely dynamic and it’s heavily exaggerated for comedic effect. Unfortunately the result is that it’s also fairly ugly most of the time. The muscled characters are absolute mountains to the point of deformity, while the women are some sort of adolescent wet dream where they’re all ridiculously curvy and voluptuous, with breasts that must surely be exerting their own gravitational pull.
I’m not really sure what to think of Peepo Choo. I’m not particularly fond of it. The artwork is pretty far from my thing, and it doesn’t really feel like it’s saying anything new either. It generally feels like it was attempting to shock and offend for the sake of shocking and offending, and that’s just not something that appeals to me. But at the same time, given it’s huge popularity among the more respected commentators on the scene, I feel like I should like it. For me, I think Peepo Choo is my manga Preacher. Something that’ll be hailed by critics, but I just don’t get or enjoy at all. I have no doubt that it will find it’s audience though. Lord knows there’s enough people trotting out the stereotypical image of a “weeaboo” for laughs on the internet every day for it to sell well, but I’m definitely not among them.
Peepo Choo, vol. 1 is available now.