In principal, a video game or visual novel ought to be a solid foundation on which to build a manga: the designers have already done the hard work of creating characters, endowing them with powers (or weapons), and setting them loose in a richly detailed environment. In practice, however, many game-franchises-cum-manga are a dreary affair, with thin plots and two-dimensional characters. I’ve largely sworn off the genre, but when my Manga Bookshelf colleague Sean Gaffney sang the praises of Rose Guns Days Season One, I thought I’d take it for a test drive.
Rose Guns Days Season One, Vol. 1
Story by Ryukishi07, Art by Soichiro
Rated OT, for older teens
Yen Press, $13.00
Rose Guns Days has an intriguing premise: what if Japan had surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1944 instead of fighting until the bitter end? In Ryukishi07’s scenario, American and Chinese troops occupy Japan, carving out distinct spheres of influence while rebuilding the country in their respective images. Japanese citizens, meanwhile, are struggling to get by: work and food are scarce, creating an environment in which smuggling and prostitution flourishes.
Sounds interesting, no? If only the story was as compelling as the universe in which it unfolds! A close examination of Leo Shisigami, the principal character, offers insight into why Rose Guns Days reads like a pale imitation of better series. Shisigami’s got the skinny suit, tousled hair, and dangling cigarette made famous by Cowboy Bebop‘s Spike Spiegel, but their resemblance is pure surface; Leo is a cheerful blank whose only quirk–if it can be called that–is a fondness for pasta. After a meet-cute that’s shown not once but twice, Leo becomes a bodyguard for Rose Haibana, a pretty madam whose establishment caters to foreigners. The next 100 pages are a riot of kidnappings, fisticuffs, and golden-hearted hookers–no cliche goes unturned.
The artwork is similarly pedestrian. Though the supporting characters are rendered with loving attention to costumes, facial features, and body types, Rose looks like something pilfered from a twelve-year-old’s Deviant Art account: she barely has a nose or mouth, and her face is framed by two immobile locks of hair. The backgrounds, too, run the gamut from meticulously rendered to barely-there. Only a few panels capture the disruption and poverty caused by the occupying forces; most scenes appear to be taking place in a no man’s land of Photoshop fills and traced elements. What’s most disappointing, however, is that the artwork does nothing to bring depth or nuance to the original visual novel concept. Each scene feels like a collection of artful poses, rather than a dynamic presentation of a story with fistfights and car chases. With so little effort to adapt the material for a different medium, it begs the question, Why bother?
The verdict: Unless you’re a devotee of the visual novel series on which Rose Guns Days is based, skip it.
Reviews: Seth Hahne posts an in-depth assessment of Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, while Erica Friedman reviews the Japanese edition of Rose of Versailles. Over at Snap30, Frank Inglese test drives the new Weekly Shonen Jump series Samon the Summoner, which debuted on September 21st.
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