As a critic, I tend to focus on how stories are told, rather than how they make me feel. Much as I’d like to chalk up that tendency to rigorous academic training or a Vulcan-like disposition, I’m afraid the underlying reason is much simpler and less flattering: I’m a snob.
I should qualify that statement by saying that I’m not really a snob, but I’ve spent enough time in the Ivory Tower to know that I’m supposed to appreciate the difference between Great Art and commercial crap, between penetrating explorations of the human condition and cheap sentiment. Crying while watching Sansho the Bailiff? Perfectly OK — it’s a Criterion film based on a critically regarded novel! Crying while watching Marley & Me? Intellectually suspect — it’s a mawkish paean to dog ownership, and an obvious play for the audience’s sympathy!
Except I’m more likely to weep buckets while watching Marley & Me.
OK, that’s only partially true. I cried harder during the final reel of Marley & Me than I did during the final reel of Sansho the Bailiff, though both left me devastated. But you grasp the point: Sansho the Bailiff may be a deep, moving statement about cruelty, sacrifice, and loyalty, but on an autonomic level, Zushio and Anju’s plight can’t hold a candle to a pooch in peril.
Which leads me to Ginga Legend Weed. The story is, in fact, a sequel to Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin, an eighteen-volume manga about an Akita who abandons his human master, joins a pack of feral dogs, and wrests control of the Ōu Mountains from a powerful, demonic bear nicknamed “Red Helmet.” Ginga Legend Weed picks up the thread several years after Akakabuto’s defeat: Gin’s mate, Sakura, has given birth to a pup, but is unable to raise him. On her deathbed, she implores an English Setter named GB to bring Weed to his father, thus initiating the first of many battle arcs that will pit Weed against a genetically altered dog, a vicious baboon troupe, a dog army led by an evil German Shepherd named Victor, and a “large hybrid bear.” (Actually, I have no idea what a “large hybrid bear” is, though it certainly sounds dangerous and impressive. Thanks, Wikipedia!)
As a well-trained product of a fancy-pants university, I can say with confidence that Ginga Legend Weed suffers from a host of structural problems. The pacing is uneven; the action sequences are repetitive, recycling the same attacks again and again; and the script is both tin-eared and thoroughly sentimental, ascribing a full complement of human emotions and motivations to its canine characters. Were I to judge Ginga purely on the quality of its execution, I’d have to proclaim it a mediocre specialty product calculated to appeal to a particular audience, the kind of readers who aren’t likely to roll their eyes dismissively when a puppy cries out for his mommy. Readers like… well, me.
Trading my critic’s cap for a dog lover’s, I can see the obvious skill behind Yoshihiro Takahashi’s drawings; he’s spent many hours observing canine body language and facial expressions, and uses flattened ears, tucked tails, and raised hackles to show the full extent of his characters’ emotional states. Takahashi is also a student of canine social behavior. His dog societies may use human terms to describe each member’s rank — general, captain, and so forth — but Takahashi clearly grasps pack dynamics; canine power struggles frequently drive the plot, as dogs vie for alpha status and bully weaker members of the group.
What Ginga Legend Weed does most powerfully, however, is take the core values of a Shonen Jump manga — “friendship, effort, victory” — and apply them to a story about a young dog trying to find his place in the world. Weed’s unswerving commitment to his friends, his willingness to risk his life for others, and his ability to rally dogs to his cause are, perhaps, a bit absurd — he’s Naruto in quadriped form — but his efforts remind us that dogs are emotionally complex, intelligent creatures capable of forming deep attachments. For an animal lover like me, Ginga affirms the warm, affectionate bond I have with my own dog while stoking my indignation that many human-canine relationships are fraught with violence and neglect. (Many of the characters have been abandoned or abused by their human masters.) That may not have been Takahashi’s intended message, but that’s how Ginga Legend Weed made me *feel.*
And speaking of my emotional response to Ginga Legend Weed, yes, I did sniffle a bit while I read, especially during a story line involving a pup who’d been cruelly separated from his mother. And yes, I felt compelled to write a check to the Humane Society when I finished. I don’t know if either of those actions are testament to Ginga‘s quality, exactly, but they speak to its ability to push my emotional buttons. And sometimes knowing that I’m still attuned to my inner sap is reward enough for a highbrow gal like me.
Jade Harris saysMay 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm
Yes, this is definitely one of those books where you can shamelessly put snobbery aside and just enjoy it. In this age of misplaced sophistication and a demand for superfluous detail and perfection it’s really refreshing to see something like this that’s just plain entertaining.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 22, 2011 at 11:20 am
Indeed! I’m sad that Comics One pulled the plug on Ginga Legend Weed after just three volumes. I was lucky enough to find a hard copy of the first volume at a comic store; the other two I’ve read in eBook form, thanks to a tip from another reader. (For the curious, eBookMall has all three volumes in PDF form for $2.95 each. They’re not as clean as the print editions, but it at least allows folks to read what was released in English without spending a fortune.)
lovelyduckie saysMay 23, 2011 at 9:19 am
I’m interested but…I admit the lack of availability scares me off from trying this series. If this story was 3 volumes total I’d go out of my way to track them down though.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 23, 2011 at 9:38 am
The cheapest and easiest way to read it is to buy the three available volumes through eBookMall. The PDF versions cost $2.95 each, and can be read using Adobe’s Digital Reader, which I believe is available for free. Definitely more sensible than buying paper copies through eBay or Amazon, where folks are asking as much as $50 for a copy in OK condition.
Blackmokona saysMay 23, 2011 at 10:52 am
No, really, how is the art? From the cover alone it doesn’t impress and looks more like a comic than a manga. Lettering, layout, background, ah, where to start? Is it told in a dog-like perspective and understanding, or human-like? I’m genuinely curious as to how the author plays out this animal idea, but the premise doesn’t sound that interesting, does it?
Katherine Dacey saysMay 23, 2011 at 11:10 am
Hi there! If you’d like another perspective on Ginga — and one that I think addresses your questions a lot more clearly than my essay — I’d encourage you to check out Jason Thompson’s wonderful article on the series: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/house-of-1000-manga/2010-12-02.
The story is told from the dogs’ point of view; the dogs talk like regular shonen manga characters (sometimes to unintentionally comic effect), though their conflicts and concerns reflect their animal natures. (They clash over territory, steal food from humans, worry about being separated from their owners — that sort of thing.) Art-wise, the character drawings can be a little stiff, but the backgrounds are drawn with meticulous care. Jason included a few scans in his essay, which would give you a better idea of what the interior artwork looks like. The cover *is* a little misleading; if you look inside a volume, you’ll see it really does look like a shonen manga with dogs standing in for people.
Blackmokona saysMay 23, 2011 at 11:30 am
Thanks for linking to Jason Thompson’s, it really is just a setimental shounen after all.
Katherine Dacey saysMay 23, 2011 at 11:46 am
That it is! If you’re a dog sap, Ginga is fun; if you’re not, I imagine it’s probably pretty tedious.