MELINDA: Good morning, Michelle! Having a happy birthday week?
MICHELLE: Reasonably so! I’d grouse about my age, but since you’re older than me, I’ve decided to be sensitive.
MELINDA: I appreciate that, I really do. So, have you read any birthday-worthy manga this week?
MICHELLE: I have!
Since we’ve been doing this column for nearly three years (!), I thought it might be interesting to start revisiting some series that I first talked about in early days. Library Wars: Love & War had its second volume featured in our September 8, 2010 column, and at the time I was not complimentary. I found the concept “ill-defined,” the military ridiculous, Iku (the heroine) “annoying” and “inept,” and the series overall “sloppy and generic.”
So, how do I feel about the series in volume nine? Surprisingly benevolent! The concept is still very silly, as is the super-shoujo-riffic depiction of a military unit, and Iku is still inept in some areas, but somehow I have grown tolerant about all these things. Throughout the volume, she deals with things like a pervert in the library, testing to move up to Sergeant (which involves the arduous task of reading aloud to children), a plan to get the government to retract some of its censorship laws, and her knowledge that her commanding officer, Dojo, is the “prince” she has idolized since high school.
I admit, summarized like this, it doesn’t sound like Library Wars has overcome its sloppy and generic origins, but somehow I have started to honestly enjoy it. I just stopped expecting it to be something it wasn’t, or for certain elements of the story to make any sense, and decided to simply enjoy the romance unfolding between a shoujo heroine who is one part typically clueless and one part occasionally competent and a shoujo love interest who is your pretty standard gruff/stern guy with a soft and mushy center, except he’s short.
I can’t claim Library Wars has itself made a huge dramatic turnaround, since I suspect the real change has been in my mindset regarding it, but it’s a nice bit of fluff, and sometimes I like that.
MELINDA: Wow, has it really been that long?! I’m quite impressed by our dedication!
I remember well your initial reaction to Library Wars, and I have to say that I’m quite loving the fact that you’ve come to enjoy it! I think one of the best aspects of this kind of serialization is that so often this can happen. I’ll usually (usually) give any manga series at least three volumes (and often five) before giving it up, and I’m constantly surprised at how often this leads to readerly happiness.
MICHELLE: There must have been something about it that kept me coming back, despite my initial complaints, and I’m glad I didn’t give up on it!
What have you been reading this week?
MELINDA: Well, this week, I dug into volume one of Dark Hunters: Infinity, Yen Press’ graphic novel adaptation of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The Chronicles of Nick, which is a sort of YA prequel to her popular Dark Hunter novels, with art by JiYoung Ahn. I’ve never read any of Kenyon’s hugely epic series; I really never thought they’d be my thing. And despite the more appealing (to me) YA vibe of this particular corner of Kenyon’s universe, I’m afraid the graphic novel adaptation may only be reinforcing my original impression of her work.
Fourteen-year-old Nick Gautier is in a tough spot. Though his greatest priority in life is trying to do right by his mom, who works herself to the bone as an exotic dancer to keep him fed and clothed, an unpleasant combination of school bullies and unwanted peer pressure are pushing him hard down a destructive path. And unfortunately, these aren’t the only forces seeking to wreak havoc on Nick’s life.
As his neighborhood falls victim to an infestation of living zombies, it becomes clear that Nick is much more than an ordinary human, and two warring supernatural factions are making a play for his soul. With a host of mysterious figures vying for his loyalty, young Nick struggles to figure out who he can actually trust—all the while, his future self looks on, desperately seeking to change his own path.
If the paragraph I just typed above was the total sum of what goes on in this series’ first volume, that would be a lot to handle in a single installment. Still, I wish that were the case—because the truth is, there’s soooo much more. So much, in fact, that I came out of the volume feeling utterly at a loss as to how to process what I’d read. This volume throws so many characters and supernatural concepts out at once that I think I might have done better if I’d stopped to take notes. And though I actually like being tossed in the middle of a complicated universe and certainly I’ve loved and even praised jam-packed openings like this in the past—the first volume of Pandora Hearts springs immediately to mind—what Pandora Hearts had that Dark Hunters: Infinity lacks is a set of characters so immediately compelling that anything else is rendered a non-issue.
Kenyon’s characters look like they should be compelling from the outset—a scrappy, underdog hero, a long-suffering mom, and a large collection of attractive, mysterious supernatural beings, each with his or her own unique abilities—but the further in you get the more generic they feel.
I’m suspect this reads more coherently as a novel—and maybe the characterization is deeper as well. But as it stands, I’m unimpressed.
MICHELLE: I reckon it makes business sense for Yen Press to produce these graphic novel adaptations, and sometimes they’re genuinely worth reading—Soulless is pretty fun, for example—but sometimes the original is just too sprawling and complex for it to work. And when the original is something that didn’t appeal much to me in the first place, I’m afraid I just can’t get excited about an adaptation.
MELINDA: Well said, on all counts. I expect I’ll continue with this series for at least one more volume, but I admit that the prospect feels a bit like a chore.
So, speaking of adaptations, our mutual read this week happens to be one as well! Want to give as an introduction?
Due out this Tuesday from VIZ is the first volume of Tiger & Bunny, which is, as the front cover proclaims, “based on the hit anime series!” Before I began reading, I knew two things about Tiger & Bunny—1) it was a popular anime and 2) it involves superheroes. After I finished… I still pretty much knew only those two things.
In the metropolis known as Sternbild City, there’s a popular reality show known as Hero TV, which bills itself as “rescue entertainment” and broadcasts heroes’ attempts to save civilians and foil criminals and rates them on their efforts. One such hero, Wild Tiger, has been around a long time and declined a great deal in popularity with the audience (he also has a ridiculous costume) and clashes pretty quickly with Barnaby Brooks, Jr., the newcomer who bucks tradition by showing his face to the audience. Practically immediately, the corporate bosses behind the show have paired them up and they’ve got to work together to stop a bullied kid with the ability to animate giant statues.
The volume goes by really quickly, and it felt to me like an episode of some Saturday morning cartoon.
MELINDA: I had very much the same reaction as you did here, Michelle. The volume whips by so quickly, my first thought when I finished it was that I really wished we were getting it in omnibus editions, because I felt like I didn’t have a chance to get to know the characters or story at all beyond the basic premise.
On the upside, unlike Dark Hunters: Infinity, what little we did get to see in these characters gave me a lot of hope that we have something more to learn. Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Wild Tiger, who is dangerously close to becoming a has-been, is at odds with the studio regarding more than just his declining ratings. Unwilling to strategically delay his heroic acts to coincide neatly with commercial breaks, Tiger appears to be the only hero in the bunch to still prioritize minor details like actually saving people over maintaining corporate sponsorships. And though Barnaby (whom he irreverently nicknames “Bunny” near the end of the volume) has been set up as his superior (Tiger is actually referred to as his “assistant” at one point), one can assume that he’s got a lot to learn from idealistic Tiger.
It’s not the deepest stuff, perhaps, but I’ll admit that the end of the volume left me genuinely wishing for more, rather than simply shrugging at its incompleteness.
MICHELLE: Although the ending is a bit hokey, it is true that Tiger’s the one responsible for saving the day for everyone in the situation. I admit to actually being a bit more curious about the supporting cast, some of whom are very quirky. At this point, I think I’d rather know more about Rock Bison than our two protagonists.
MELINDA: I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next installment to see if we can truly grasp the source of the anime series’ popularity. Fortunately, there’s enough here to keep us curious, at least for now.