Jormungand 1: Peace Through Superior Firepower

November 18th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Two things surprised me about Keitaro Takahashi’s Jormungand 1 after I finished it. The first was just how much I enjoyed reading it. The second was the fact that Kate Dacey (review on MangaCritic) and Danielle Leigh (review on CSBG) didn’t like it. I usually agree with their reviews, and if I disagree with one writer, then I agree with the other. To have both of them dislike something I dug feels weird.

Regardless! I don’t think I can explain why I like Jormungand without explaining my experience with Black Lagoon. I’d had Black Lagoon recommended to me by several people who thought I’d dig it. It hit a lot of my interests, but never clicked. The script was a little too Tarantino, the dialogue a little too consciously gritty and vulgar, and the action a little too Matrix. Revy’s portrayal felt overbearing. Guns akimbo, booty shorts, bad attitude, and tragic past do not a compelling character make. I think I quit the series seven or eight episodes before the end, just due to being tired of the entire affair.

Jormungand, though, hits the spot in a way Black Lagoon didn’t, but should have. I think that the secret is in its approach. Where Black Lagoon reveled in its excess, Jormungand manages to tone it down a little, but still be fun. Koko Hetmatyr, the leader of an arms-dealing firm, is (and I’m being 100% serious here) a blend of Misato Katsuragi from Evangelion, Sailor Moon, and Sir Integras Hellsing poured into the mold of an arms dealer. Excitable, and seemingly immature, but very, very good at her job. Kate describes her as “garrulous and profane,” and that’s on the money. Rivals underestimate her because she just seems like a young girl in over her head. And then the rivals get shot in the face, because whoops, she knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s better at it than they are.

Koko’s newest hire is Jonah, a very young kid and experienced child soldier. Takahashi dances in and out of the real tragedy of being a child soldier, picking and choosing what can make a solid story. Jonah doesn’t sleep in a bed. He sleeps in a corner, wrapped up in a blanket, and with a gun in his hand. He’s quiet and withdrawn, almost sullen, and rarely asks questions.

At the same time, he’s very good at his job. He carefully watches possible enemies, delivers that info to his team, and isn’t afraid of pulling the trigger with a detached facial expression. He hates weapons, due to his parents being killed in a war, but he’s good at using them and joins Koko’s company of his own volition. There’s something bubbling in the background there, like Jonah is looking for the people directly responsible for killing his parents, or revenge, or something. There are a couple of brief interludes that seem to suggest as much.

The rest of the team are a motley crew. There’s the old guy who is probably a little washed up, but thinks higher of himself than he really deserves. There’s the girl with an eyepatch and a crush on Koko, who is apparently the best of the best. Think Sakaki from Azumanga Daioh with a knife and one eye. The rest of the cast is a little undefined, but undefined in a way that makes me assume they’ll be fleshed out in the future. They behave like a family, rather than a company, with gentle ribbing, bad cooking, and ridiculous jokes (“A mummy!”) being the order of the day.

The art does one thing I don’t know that I’ve seen in a book before, but really enjoyed. When time passes, the last panel on the page before the change or the first page after has a portion of it cut out and shadowed, kind of like a fade-in/fade-out effect. It isn’t 100% successful, but it is an interesting way to show the passage of time. The art is enjoyable, though it waffles between mostly realistic and anime/manga cliche exaggeration a little too often for my tastes.

Takahashi gets the hardware right, though. There’s a great shot of anti-air equipment, the guns look great, and the BDUs are believable, but still cool looking. The combat only gets overly flashy a couple of times, but when it gets down to brass tacks, it’s very straightforward. And hey, people practice trigger discipline, which is always nice to see in books. Takahashi did his homework. Not quite to the extent that Kenichi Sonoda did with Gunsmith Cats, but close enough for government work.

I liked Jormungand 1. I can see why Kate and Danielle didn’t, but something about it just worked for me. It feels a little like Gunsmith Cats with the gun fetish and light humor, which I am 2009% okay with. The casual approach to violence (the full page dedicated to Jonah using a handgun in the second chapter, the knife fight in the woods for seriously no good reason [as acknowledged by the fighters]) is something that’s morally reprehensible but, pretty entertaining. If the quality of the plotting and characterization picks up, this could be something very cool. As-is, it’s a shallow romp, but a fun one.

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Sick Day Linkblogging

October 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been sick for the past two days, but I’m almost back in fighting action now. While I recuperate, you get to enjoy these links to a couple of good posts.

-Tim O’Neill on the X-Men and longevity:

The weird part is that Marvel as a company aren’t ready to acknowledge that the franchise has peaked – or even that, if it hasn’t peaked, it needs some time off before it can perform again. When the X-Men were the number one franchise in comics they built an incredibly powerful editorial apparatus around the books to guide and control the direction. The books were so important that nothing could be allowed to pass unexamined: every creative decision was micromanaged and second guessed, characters and creators were treated as interchangeable and at the same time jealously guarded. This worked to a point – in the early-to-mid-90s when the books were at their inarguable peak, the machine ran smoothly.

-The Eastern Edge has a great translation of Naoki Urasawa talking abotu making comics.

The trouble is, will I be able to produce a drawing of the ideal acting that I have in my head. It’s a matter of whether I’ve got the skill in my drawing hand or not. For example if I’m drawing Kanna, whether she’s crying, laughing, or just standing there, I’ve got her face in my head but sometimes when I try to draw that it turns out completely differently. I feel like, “Ah, stupid right hand!”

-Kate Dacey talks about one of my all-time favorite comics, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. I love the sprawling and crazily detailed comic, and the movie even holds a special place for me, since it was almost definitely the first anime I saw.

The story itself has held up well. Its paranoid, don’t-trust-the-military vibe seems as resonant in 2009 as it did when the manga was first released in 1982, as does its message about the devastating consequences of WMDs. Watching China prepare for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 — leveling shanty towns, silencing protests — suggested parallels with AKIRA’s own Olympic subplot, both in the secrecy surrounding the facilities’ construction and in the Chinese government’s adamant denial of citizen opposition to the projects. Even Tetsuo and Kaneda’s brotherly drama, which was never one of AKIRA’s stronger points, seems better developed in the manga.

I kinda wish that Kodansha used Marvel’s color for the first few volumes, but c’est la vie!

Business as usual next week, hopefully including a post that’s four weeks in the making (four weeks late).

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Say Hi to Kate @ The Manga Critic!

May 4th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Kate Dacey, formerly of PopCultureShock, has launched a new blog called The Manga Critic with two things: an adorable avatar and a name so obvious and well chosen that I can’t believe no one beat her to it. It’s subtitled “Reviews for the discerning manga fan,” and a very good read so far. I added the RSS to Google Reader. You should, too.

Funnily enough, or maybe not, she’s already reviewed a book I was thinking of checking out. Samurai 7 is a retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and Kate tackles it with gusto.

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