Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The first volumes of a copule of manga series, both of which are inspired by L. Frank Baum's Oz books

Dorothy of Oz Vol. 1 (Udon Entertainment) Technically this is manhwa rather than manga, but I'm going to review it in this post anyway because I was trying to be cute with the post title up there. It's the work of Son Hee-Joon, and if someone—especially some someone who either hasn't read a whole lot of Eastern comics and/or has a negative opinion of them—were to imagine what a "manga Wizard of Oz" might be like, this probably falls awfully close to the comic that they imagined (even though it's not technically manga).

We open with four characters walking down a yellow brick road: a big-eyed, big-breasted, short-skirted girl carrying a cartoony dog named Toto, a boy with slightly baggy clothes and straw-colored hair, an emotion-less android dressed in silver and a cat-eared, cat-tailed boy (whom I actually at first took to be a girl).

They travel to a town which is besieged by vampire and werewolf monsters that they fight; the heroine battles them by going through a transformation sequence which makes her clothes disappear, and then reconfigure themselves into a sexy witch costume so revealing she's ashamed of it.

The closest pop culture relative to Dorothy of Oz I could think of is probably 2007 Sci Fi Channel miniseries Tin Man, in that the basic character types of the leads are fairly drastically re-purposed for a genre adventure with less in common with L. Frank Baum's work than more derivative genre work.*

The first two-thirds of this volume are devoted to introducing the characters—Mara, Abee, Namu and Tail—and their conflict with first a renegade group of monster/soldiers and then the corrupt (but handsome!) officer from Emerald City the monster/soldiers answer to. It's not until the final third that we flash back to Mara—the Dorothy-like girl from the real world who ends up in Oz—and learn how she went from school girl living in Seoul to the leader of a small gang of wanted Oz outlaws.

Everything is executed somewhere between competently and pretty well, and there are some fairly cool bits in this first issue—Shine's sword made out of self-propelled rocket darts is pretty boss, for example—but the one-for-one substitution of elements from the Oz stories for action manga staples is obvious to the point of laziness, and I had trouble finding a hook to interest me into following Mara and pals down this particular yellow brick road.

Toto!: The Wonderful Adventure Vol. 1 (Del Rey) The Oz allusions in this book, however, are slightly more subtle...and much more spaced out. Our protagonist is named Kakashi, which means "Scarecrow" in Japanese, something I didn't realize until near the end of the first volume. He's a little boy with constantly frustrated big dreams of traveling the world, and after several attempts to leave his tiny island in the middle of nowhere, he manages to stowaway on an airship.

There he makes the acquaintance of a puppy dog with mysterious powers and The Man Chicken Family, a group of golden-hearted gangsters who hijack the ship and reluctantly take him on as a member of their family.

It's not until the book nears it's climax that Kakashi and his puppy meet school girl Dorothy, "captain of tornado senjutsu team at St. Kansas Academy" in a cornfield and she gives the puppy the name Toto. The three of them are forced to travel together when the military comes looking for Toto.

Yuko Osada balances comedy and action in roughly equal portions, with a bit of melodrama thrown in here or there, making for a read that's both fast-paced and fun. The Oz allusions are, at this point in the narrative, little more than allusions, and seem almost incidental to what would be a pretty funny action story no matter what the kids and their dog were named.

Osada has a thin line and his characters are thin-limbed, big-eyed, big-mouthed and round around the edges–their perfect cartoon avatars of expressive emotion, and most every panel features some big emotion blasting out of one character or another, with a fluid panel-to-panel flow that gives the narrative an animated rather than silent-comedy sense of crazy over-acting.

Unlike Dorothy of Oz, which I may pursue in the hopes of it improving the longer I'm exposed to it, Toto's a manga series I can't wait to pick up the next volume of—partially to see where the unpredictable plot is going, and partially just to see more examples of Osada drawing things.

*That said, I kinda sorta enjoyed Tin Man. Beverly Hills, 90210 alum Kathleen Robertson did some of the best work of her post-90210 career in it, Neal McDonough was pretty great, and while Alan Cumming and Zooey Deschanel hardly gave their best performances, I like both of 'em so much I can watch just about anything with 'em in it. I think I watched the whole thing on DVD while drawing and only occasionally glancing at the screen when something particularly interesting sounding was going on though, so if you're planning on watching it on my recommendation alone, you might want to make sure you have something else to do while you watch it...?

1 comment:

Eric said...

Too bad both series' English-language versions didn't get very far (Dorothy of Oz at four volumes, Toto at five), and neither wrapped things up. You might also want to check out Oz: The Manga by David Hutchison, an American attempt to adapt the original novel into a manga format. It was successful enough that he did a follow-up adaptation of the second Oz book, as The Land of Oz: The Manga.