Man of the Moment

Sean William Scott

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Tough Guy Manga 

Worst Vol. 1 by Hiroshi Takahashi.

I'm generally not a big fan of fighting manga. All those little books about monkey-children from space, ninjas in training and samurai just bore me to tears. So I was actually very surprised to discover that I enjoyed Worst as much as I did. What drew me in at first was Takahashi's art. The figures are very detailed and expressive, and Takahashi has a great talent for drawing comedy. The facial expressions as the characters talk and react to one another reminded me somewhat of Kevin Maguire's work.

The story is remarkably simple: it is a fight comic after all. Hana is new to town, attending a high school with a bad reputation and living in a boarding house with three of the worst kids in the neighborhood. Naturally, it turns out that naive, terminally optimistic and outgoing Hana is the best fighter around and decides to enter the big freshman fight competition to determine who the toughest freshman. Only Hana takes things a step further and announces to the entire school that he plans to become the boss of bosses for the entire school, a school so rowdy that no one person has ever been able to unite the entire student body under their leadership.

Hana is a great character. His seeming naivete masks a tremendous empathy for the underdog, as well as a great ambition. He's not a person to underestimate, yet his manner makes certain that everyone makes the mistake of doing just that.

IWGP: Ikebukuro West Gate Park Vol. 1 by Ira Ishida and Sena Aritou

In this comics adaptation of Ishida's mystery novel, a mysterious strangler is targeting teen prostitutes in a popular neighborhood for gangs and slackers. After Rika, a girl lay-about Makoto maybe could have been in love with, dies, Makoto decides to enlist the help of the most violent gang in the area, the G Boys, to help him track down the killer and avenge Rika. Meanwhile, an unwanted figure from the past seems to have plans for Rika's best friend, and the other girl Makoto might love, Hikaru.

This should have been a book I really liked. Ishida's story, while not really working for me as a mystery, was a very good character study. Makoto in particular was complex and engaging, avenging the girl who he suspects he didn't really love out of a sense of obligation for failing to be there to save her, while at the same time wanting the girl he doesn't think he can have. There are mysteries and secrets to just about every other character as well, making this a book that rewards deep reading. And Aritou's art is very brisk and cartoony. And I think that might have been the root of the problem for me. The art is a little too cartoony, and I think it went against the mood in many scenes. So while I admire the talent of the creators involved, I'm left with the feeling that the story as a whole might have worked better for me in the original novel format.


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