Monday, August 02, 2010

Three hastily-written reviews of three first volumes of three horror-themed manga series

I Luv Halloween Vol. 1 (Tokyopop) This is an extraordinarily strange work, one of the not-really-manga-but-packaged-and-sold-in-manga-like-format books that Tokyopop was pumping out for a while back there (See also East Coast Rising, King City, Blank, etc).

It’s written by Keith Giffen, a mature, accomplished writer probably best known for his DC super-stuff, but who has a bibliography several miles long, and it’s drawn by Ben Roman, who actually gets top billing.

There’s some neat ideas floating around the book, and Roman’s idiosyncratic art is certainly something of a highly individualized treat, but it never really all came together for me. The concept and execution seemed a little too calculated, as if someone at some point decided they should do a post-Johnny The Homicidal Manica book for the Hot Topic set, and someone else did their best to make it a reality, even though they were missing the necessary muse.

It opens with a pair of little kids apparently getting ready to go trick or treating on Halloween night. The eldest is Finch, a boy wearing a skull mask. The younger is his little sister Mooch, dressed as a fairy and seen pulling the teeth out of the mouths of the decomposing dead bodies lying around a table with a birthday cake in the middle of it in their house.

What’s up with that?

Eh, it’s never really covered. Finch hooks up with his friends, each of whom has a single character trait (one is really dumb, the others really horny), and a stranger dressed in a devil mask that the other boys only see on Halloween nights.

The book chronicles their night, which includes various trick or treating rituals, a quest to recover a missing bra, the brutal murder of a couple of bullies by Mooch, Mooch’s never-explained zombie dog, and a little boy who’s just as maniacal and developmentally challenged as Mooch.

The book reads like two or three different stories sewn together, each with a different tone and level of realism, making for a surprisingly formless, even amateur-esque story—all the more surprising given what an experienced writer Giffen is.

Roman’s art doesn’t quite save the book, but it’s at least consistent—despite the vacillations of the plot, I Luv Halloween always looks more cartoony and silly than realistic or serious. His contribution is enough to make the book worth a look, but I wouldn’t recommend actually reading it. Even Giffen’s neat ideas—the fact we never see the characters without their masks, the imagined rituals, the mystery of a boy only seen by his “friends” one night a year—are disappointing in that they never add up to anything beyond a series of episodes that seem like outtakes from different scripts, stitched together to make something resembling a whole.

Maybe some of the alluded-to but never explained circumstances and supernatural elements are cleared up in future volumes, and the tone of the work smoothed out in those same volumes, retroactively explaining away some of the randomness of this volume. tells me future volumes of the series do indeed exist, but the library I got this from didn't add them to their collection. I don't blame them.

Night of the Beasts Vol. 1 (Go! Comi) High schooler Aria is a super-tough man-hater who dishes out justice with her fists, protecting the virtue and well-being of her fellow girls from male attention which may range from the benign (asking them out) to the criminal (actually assaulting them).

One guy happens to get past her armor, but he’s not entirely human—mysterious boy Sakura houses some sort of ancient demon that occasionally takes control of his body and attempts to destroy whatever it can get it’s ectoplasmic claws on. For a reason never revealed in the first volume, only Aria’s touch seems to be able to put the aroused demon back to sleep and restore Sakura to his senses.

Chika Shiomi’s manga boasts some pretty incredible monster designs, including Sakura’s demon, which resembles a sort of dark, mercurial aura that seeps out of him and forms the outline of a bestial monster and a dog that becomes possessed by a demon of its own, although her human characters are much less compelling. They’ve got big bodies, thick necks and tiny heads atop them, dressing in clothes that may have been in style at the time of original publication, but now just look garish. (It was published in Japan in the late nineties, and looks it; U.S. publication started in 2006).

The pace at which information is revealed is fairly frustrating, given that Aria learns of Sakura’s demon problem and vows to help him fight it early on, but Sakura refuses to give Aria—and thus, the reader—much information in this opening volume.

The result? I could sort of see the shape of a hook to the series, but never so clearly that I ever actually felt it, and by the time I set the book down, I certainly didn’t feel the need to pick up Volume 2.

Zombie-Loan Vol. 1 (Orbit/Yen) Michiru Kita has shingami eyes, which allow her to see the rings around people’s necks, foretelling how close they are to death (the darker the rings, the less time they have left).

The meek, picked-upon, bespectacled girl is hardly the most extraordinary kid in her class, however. Super-cute boys Chika Akatsuki and Shito Tachibana have pitch-black rings around their necks, can take off and trade body parts with one another, and materialize weapons out of thin air. That’s because they’re already dead, and Michiru knows their secret.

It takes a while before the boys force them to help her, and thus lay out the premise of the series to the reader, but they’re undead repo men of sorts, trying to work off the massive debt they’re settled with by hunting down undead monsters and zombies for the loan agency they work for, Zombie-Loan. Unfortunately, they can’t see the dead like Michiru can, so they need her eyes, and Michiru needs…well, all sorts of things, but a backbone and friends seem pretty high on the list.

The undead repo men hired to recover borrowed time is a pretty neat concept, and creative collective PEACH-PIT has done their typically strong job on character design. The artwork’s not the most fluid in the world, but each panel tends to look pretty good on its own, and by the volume’s climax, when the three kids unite to exterminate an undead cannibal nun whose been feasting at students at their school after hours, the series seemed well-poised for a more streamlined way forward.


Hdefined said...

I hated I Luv Halloween. It's beautifully packaged, but it's one of those awful Giffen-on-autopilot stories that never connects or has anything meaningful to say.

mordicai said...

I read I Luv Halloween & had exactly the same experience; it just seems like a somewhat weak Johnny the Homicidal Maniac fanfic.