Thursday, January 15, 2004

If you're wondering where I've been, the answer is "in a corner with my nose stuck in a comic book". I've been reading the first two volumes of Hot Gimmick and Please Save My Earth, as well as the second volume of the Battle Royale manga. Between the manga and the books and the anime, I fear to see what my credit card bill for this month will be.

Hot Gimmick is your typical shoujo schoolgirl romance, just this side of jousei. No science fiction, no psychics, no fantastic elements. It's a much more, hrm, social story than your average shoujo romance. The focus isn't on school life, but rather on the village-life of the massive company housing complex in which our characters reside. Good-hearted, dopy Hatsumi is low girl on the totem pole - the middle daughter of a family with little status within the company. Her spoiled little sister and hard-studying older brother get all the attention and breaks, and everybody cringes whenever Mrs. Tachibara comes sniffing about, looking for anything that might embarrass the company. Of course Hatsumi will get caught in a compromising situation by Ryoji, the Tachibara's bullying genius-asshole of a son. He blackmails her into becoming his "slave", just in time for their childhood friend (and Hatsumi's one-time protector), Azusa, to return from his family's scandal-driven exile in the company hinterlands. Since it is shoujo, Azusa has become a hot magazine model, and is inexplicably interested in our self-effacing, dopy protagonist. She proceeds to get violently yanked back and forth between a socially defective Ryoji and a too-good-to-be-true Azusa.

Meh. That all sounds like back-cover copy, and bad copy at that. Anyways, it's a pretty spritely story, told in an engaging fashion, with some really excellent art. Brilliant art, actually. The artist, Aihara has a definite flair for facial expressions, with a distinct style that would have been mangled by a lesser transfer than the one provided. I believe the Viz edition is actually crisper and better-rendered than the Japanese tankoubon, and the paper quality is definitely better. Viz has come a long way since the bad old days of crappy colorized Ranma pamphleteering.

Viz isn't the only improvement in this story. Please Save My Earth is about sixteen years old, while Hot Gimmick is two or three years old. The difference in art quality and style is quite striking. Hot Gimmick is full of delicate line work, and intricate computer-generated shading which was literally impossible in 1987. Please Save My Earth, on the other hand, is flat and slightly cartoonish. If you're expecting the flawlessly tasteful perfection of the Please Save My Earth OAVs, you will probably be disappointed. But don't take this as a damning report. The OAVs were, at best, a sampling of the original story, and left the story in a half-told sort of disarray. The core of that story - how a group of children deal with the legacy of their prior reincarnations as alien scientist-survivors on the Moon - is still here, and hopefully will be developed in a fashion that produces an ending, rather than a blur of a montage. Don't get me wrong - Kazuo Yamazaki was and is one of my favorite anime directors, but Please Save My Earth was one of the least-well-suited stories to be given the early-Nineties six-episode-OAV treatment.

As for the second volume of Battle Royale, I have to say that the last thing I expected, after that murderously depressing first volume, was touching, or sweet. Kids are still dying in big-box-lots, but there's more nobility and decency than you'd think with that sadistic bastard Kamon holding a magnifying glass and waiting for sunlight.

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