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Q-KO-CHAN VOL.1-2
Written and Drawn by Ueda Hajime
Translated and Adapted by William Flanagan
Published by Del Rey

I had honestly never intended to sit down and review this manga. But circumstances have forced my hand; I’m short on time, in no small part because I just racked up another birthday. So, Q-KO-CHAN it is… sigh.

Remember when your mother used to tell you that, if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all? That old edict gets a workout in dealing with this two-volume series, as the book might be the single biggest mess to meet the page in recent memory.

Let’s back up to the start for a moment; Del Rey Manga is one of the premier publishers when it comes to bringing quality material over from Japan. NODAME CANTABILE, XXXHOLIC, NEGIMA, GHOST HUNT, SUGAR SUGAR RUNE… the percentage of excellent titles to average/bleah titles is extraordinarily high. But when they licensed Q-KO-CHAN they found their first complete whiff.

In reading it, I wasn’t quite sure what they saw in it; the one thing it seemingly had going for it was that it was by the creator of FLCL, an insanely popular series from the early 90s. But none of Hajime’s genius is on display here; the series is set in the near future, on a warring Earth (between nations, as well as against aliens). One day, a schoolboy named Kirio spots something crashing to Earth in front of his house, and it turns out to be a pilotable robot that turns into a cute girl (who begs him to “board” her, throwing in a smutty joke that turns out to be the only one in the two books and is wildly out of place). Eventually, octopus-like aliens attack the area, and he does bond with her, and then more cute girl robots arrive, including Q-Ko’s opposite, which bonds with Kirio’s sister, and since they hate each other, they fight, and their mother is involved, and there’s a conspiracy behind the robots, and even if I kept typing this sentence, it still wouldn’t make the book make even the slightest bit of sense.

In fact, the story runs off the rails so quickly, that by the end, you genuinely are left wondering what the hell happened… and translator Flanagan actually offers a text section called “So What Happened?” where he admits that he doesn’t know, either. The art vacillates between sketchy and nearly photographic in detail. Many of the word balloons have the words printed vertically, making them nearly impossible to read- and volume one’s lettering credit goes to Alan Smithee (!), the pseudonym used by film directors when they want their name taken off of a movie they’ve made and are now disavowing.

So: avoid this one. If you want a cool action title from Del Rey, catch a volume of TSUBASA or ES ETERNAL SABBATH. Every company is going to have a moment where they drop a bomb on the marketplace, and this one is Del Rey’s. Something for them to learn from, I’m sure.

 

Marc Mason

JUNK: RECORD OF THE LAST HERO VOL.1-2
Written and Drawn by Kia Asamiya
Translated by Yoshihiro Watanabe
Published by DrMaster

Hiro seems like your average teenager until you look closely. He’s missed half a year of school and totally withdrawn into himself, the victim of a vicious and humiliating incident involving the local bullies. But when he answers a strange ad on the internet, his life will change forever. “Junk” isn’t an action figure at all; it’s a full-fledged battle suit with extraordinary power. But unlike, say, Peter Parker, responsibility is the farthest thing from Hiro’s mind, as is doing good. Instead, he turns the suit towards nastier pursuits, including punishing the bullies who hurt him. It only gets worse, as his inability or unwillingness to control himself causes the deaths of his parents, too. And all of this draws the attention of a second suit wearer, who has a much better idea of what to do with the power and how to use it to benefit others.

Battle suit mangas and animes are pretty common, but what makes JUNK so interesting is that Hiro is, bluntly, an immature piece of shit. He’s petulant, whiny, and lacks any ability to understand the feelings of others. Hiro cares about Hiro, and that’s it. His would-be girlfriend and her parents take him in when his parents die, and he does nothing but rebuff her and treat her poorly. And after he moves out, he starts secretly boning the girlfriend’s mom. And he’s the protagonist!

In fact, you read JUNK not hoping for Hiro to get a hold of himself, but in the hopes of seeing him get his ass handed to him. I can’t recall a more loathsome lead character in recent memory, and that alone would be more than enough reason to stay interested in this book. But you also get the superior artistry of Kia Asamiya, too, and it’s hard to beat that. I’m not sure where the series will go from here, but I hope it doesn’t slide into an easy redemption for Hiro. He’s as bad as he wants to be, and I want him to stay that way.

 

Marc Mason

BASILISK VOL.3-5
Written and Drawn by Masaki Segawa
Adapted from a novel by Futaro Yamada
Translated by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

After a truce that’s lasted a thousand years, the Kouga and Iga clans are back to warring against each other. Ten ninjas versus ten ninjas, each one gifted with a “power” that makes them greater than your basic, garden-variety ninja, battling until only one side remains. Complicating matters, Oboro, the young woman who leads Iga, and Gennosuke, the young leader of the Kouga, are in love and planning to marry. Now they must decide whether to obey their directive to kill or their desire to love and be together.

The one real blip in the book is the very backward way it treats female sexuality. A member of her own clan who wishes to impregnate her in order to continue the family lineage twice subjects Oboro to sexual assault attempts. Once was bad; twice was very difficult to stomach. On the Kouga side, one of the female ninjas’ power is that her breath becomes poisonous when she becomes aroused. So, if she knocks boots with anyone, their next stop is Boot Hill. Plus, she has it bad for her clan member, Gennosuke, and any time she gets close to him, she starts putting out noxious fumes that try and do the Igas’ work for them. Late in the story, she also becomes the victim of sexual violence, and it raises the “ick” factor in the story. Neither woman gets much of an enlightened story direction for far too much of the book and they deserve a bit better.

Still, taken as a whole, this is still an excellent manga. These volumes complete the series, which allows the storytelling to remain tight and controlled. There’s very little fat that could be trimmed away. Segawa’s art is really terrific, eschewing fancy effects and keeping the look of the pages clean and the backgrounds simple. Nothing distracts from the focus points in the panels. BASILISK also has an ending that is earned, though not the one I was hoping for; it feels like the logical place that the story should go to, even though you may be hoping for something a bit different. I respected that the tale went this direction, and overall, I really respected the book.

Volume 5, the finale, hits shelves tomorrow.

 

Marc Mason

STRAY LITTLE DEVIL VOL.3-4
Written and Drawn by Kotaro Mori
Translated by Misato Sakamoto
Published by DrMaster

When last we left Pam, a human who fell into the spirit world and was transformed into a devil, she was making solid progress into becoming a full-fledged devil, which would allow her to return to Earth. But progress was not without bumps in the road, as these two volumes demonstrate. There are pecking orders amongst the devil interns, and jealousies reign. There are also external agencies at work, altering the face of the spirit world and the politics behind it. And Linfa, the angel who resembles Pam’s best friend back on Earth, was caught in the middle of all of it, putting Pam in an unheard of position for someone who is ultimately supposed to turn out to be a “bad guy.”

These two volumes also bring to light some new mysteries, including the true nature of Pam’s familiar, who appears to be so much more than she could have ever imagined, and a conspiracy deep inside the angels’ camp that may expose why Pam was brought to the spirit world to begin with.

I like STRAY LITTLE DEVIL, no question, though it’s certainly a frustrating manga at times. It has two enormously appealing elements: Pam, who is as sweet a character as you could imagine enjoying reading about and not quickly growing tired of; and Mori’s lovely art, which excels in lovely characters and interesting backgrounds and settings. The aggravation comes from the inconsistency in story movement; for three plus volumes, the book focuses on Pam and her integration into devil society and her ascendance through the educational system. But by the end of volume four, the story has shifted completely towards the conspiracy angle, and you get the sense that the original plot has been somewhat abandoned, along with Pam’s friends and primary supporting cast. Why? Because there’s only one more volume to go in the series, and there really doesn’t seem to be room to focus on both in order to complete the story.

Flawed or not, I remain invested in Pam and her story, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends. I hope it delivers on the promise this series has shown from its inception.

 

Marc Mason


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