Ratman Vol. 1 (Tokyopop) The near-future world that Sekihiko Inui’s new superhero-flavored action manga is set in seems particularly timely, what with Stan Lee’s Who Wants To Be a Superhero?, a flood of mainstream media coverage on “Reals” and the Kick-Ass movie in our recent past.
In Ratman, superheroes are real, given their powers through technology provided by wealthy corporations. These heroes split their time between being heroes and being company spokespeople, essentially functioning in society as celebrities a little like professional sports stars and a little like pop idols…who occasionally save lives.
Our young, short-for-his age protagonist Shuto Katsuragi is a full-blown superhero otaku who dreams of one day joining their ranks, but his small size makes that dream seem a particularly unlikely one.
And then he has one very exciting day at school.
While he’s being picked on by some older, bepompadoured* thugs, a beautiful girl drops out of the sky and disables the lead bully with a devastating Frankensteiner. It’s Rio Kizaki, daughter of the head of the Hero Association. She also dreams of being a hero, but her problem is even more intractable—her father forbids it.
She’s not the only pretty girl that Katsugari has shared his dreams with, however. His quiet, cold, distant classmate Mirea Mizushima also encourages to pursue his dream, but for different motives, since she serves as the honey in a honey trap to catch Katsugar for the villainous organization JACKAL.
JACKAL’s mad scientists are able to give Katsugari the codename, costume and fantastic powers he longs for, but with a catch—he’s going to be a supervillain, not a superhero.
That’s the basic premise, that Katsuragi enters the world of superheroics and learns his heroes aren’t all so heroic after all, while he struggles with how heroic a villain’s allowed to be.
It’s pretty funny stuff, with a great deal of silliness provided by JACKAL’s mute foot soldiers, slow-witted, silent men in skeleton costumes called “Jackies” who mostly provide visual background gags.
While the look of the superheroes and “Ratman,” the villain JACKAL transforms Katsugari into, are pretty Japanese, I think much of the genre humor is of the sort even Western superhero fans resistant to manga might find themselves able to enjoy
As a fan of both manga and Western superhero comics, I’m definitely looking forward to future volumes.
(Katsuragi happens upon evil henchman of JACKAL, feeding kittens)
Red Hot Chili Samurai Vol. 1 (Tokyopop) It wasn’t until a few days after reading this that I realized the title of the manga is only one word different than the name of American pop rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That’s…well, it’s pretty lame, but I can’t really hold it against the manga, since it’s not like it was created with that name in mind (The Japanese version, according to the fine print, was “KOKAKUTORMONOCHO”** )
It’s not a very good title for any manga, even this one, which features a young samurai warrior who eats red hot hot red peppers like candy, with one usually hanging between his lips like a tiny cigarette.
The warrior is teenage samurai Sento Kokaku, The White Crane. Together with a small group of fellow young warriors—bespectacled, serious Inaba Ento, beautiful, totes-crushing-on-Kokaku Mimasaka Ran and Shou, a ninja who only speaks on hand-written signs a la Wile E. Coyote—he sets out to right wrongs in a fantasy Edo-era Japan (I think that’s the right setting; it looks an awful lot like your typical samurai-era drama, but Kokaku wears nail and toe-polish, Ran wars 20th century lingerie in one scene, and anachronistic technology comes and goes, depending on the scene).
The character designs are all striking, and there’s a great deal of well-executed action and occasional humor, but in these first few chapters creator Yoshitsugu Katagiri seems to be flailing a bit to figure out what exactly this manga is going to be about and what the tone will ultimately be.
By volume’s end the characters are all beginning to come into focus and their roles in this little dramedy are becoming clear, but there seems to be quite a bit of stopping, starting and experimenting before we get to that point.
(Kokaku, center with the fan, and his running crew)
(I like the little mole-shaped garden implement being employed by child inventor Tsugmugi, even though I don't know what the exact sound effect it makes is. I bet it's a cute sound)
*I just made that word up. It means "having or being in possession of a pompadour." Please update your dictionaries.
**I emailed my Japanese friend to ask her what KOKAKUTORIMONOCHO translates to, and she replied: “I assume Japanese cop from Edo period is the main character of the manga? I think 'Torimonocho' means the story of police from Edo and 'Kokaku' is the name of the character?? I hope it make scene to you.