Sunday, July 05, 2009

More manga from Udon Kids

No one can accuse Udon’s new-ish Udon Kids line of false advertising—these aren’t comics for teenagers, they’re not all ages comics, they’re unequivocally, one-hundred percent, no-fooling kids comics, to the extent that I felt an overwhelming feeling of These Are Not Meant For Me while reading the next two offerings of the initial four books in the line.

I had no problem appreciating the level of craft that went into creating them, and the cute, bright and beautifully colored covers attracted me the way a well-designed box of kids cereal would have grabbled my eye in a grocery store when I was a kid, but getting into these books was something of a struggle.

Particularly Fairy Idol Kanon Vol. 1, which took me a half-dozen reads to get through, and it was only by the last few chapters that I started to feel a teensy bit invested in the plot.

And that plot sure sounds cool. Check out the back cover copy: “Kanon is an ordinary fourth grader who loves to sing more than anything else. When a magical fairy princess named Alto meets Kanon and decides to help start her singing career, their journey for fame takes off!”

Sounds cool, right?

So here’s the premise: Kanon and her classmates Kodama, a bespectacled, wishy-washy best friend type, and Marika, an arrogant Type-A type are the best singers in their school, and one day when they sing in harmony they’re visited by the pint-sized fairy Alto. Apparently, the fairies of Alto’s world are nourished by the beautiful singing of the human world, but are in trouble now because singing’s not so common.

Kanon and friends figure the best way to help the fairy world is to sing for as many people as possible, and the best way to do that is to become a group of idols (pop stars, I guess…?). Alto helps by magically dressing them in cute, frilly costumes and getting then little microphones that look like girly dragon balls mounted on sticks.

They must meet a series of not terribly interesting challenges in their quest to become idols, and usually triumph through some combination of teamwork, friendship and willpower. It wasn’t until the end, where they encounter an evil fourth-grade idol with her own evil fairy, and a boy idol starts flirting with Kanon that the conflicts became a bit more interesting. Good and evil’s something I can connect with much more easily than singing in harmony is better than singing solo or whatever.

But then, I am a 32-year-old man, and not exactly the target audience here (A library co-worker made fun of me when she saw me checking this out). I imagine middle school girls—and even younger girls—will have a much easier time connecting.

Fairy Idol Kanon is the work of Mera Hakamada, and her art is great. Everyone an everything looks cute, even the adults, and I enjoyed spending time in a setting where everyone was a little bobble-headed, stubby-bodied fourth-grader, if only because the cast is so different than most others I encounter. Hakamada is a pretty great clothes designer too, particularly when it comes to Kanon’s casual, tomboy wear (Although there are a lot of magic girl, princess-y looking costumes, most appearing in multi-panel transformation sequences).

Also of interest was the fact that this is a comic about music, and I know we’ve talked before about the difficulty of capturing music in a completely visual medium like comics, a medium which has an even harder time describing music than prose might, as the number of words permissible to attempt and describe the music are more limited than they might be in prose, where words need not be balanced by images.

So I’m always somewhat fascinated with how different comics-makers attempt to deal with that. Here the singing and music is left entirely to the imagination, and there are only a few instances where even the lyrics are presented. For the most part, the characters just close their eyes and open their mouths, and the only indication of the nature of and quality of the music comes from the other characters’ reaction to it, noting how it makes them feel happier or more energetic or whatever.

The Big Adventures of Majoko Vol. 1 also features little girl protagonists, but there’s a more prevalent magic/fantasy hook to the series which gives it a somewhat wider appeal, and the premise is a bit more wide open. While Kanon and friends have a more or less straight line to follow on a quest to superstardom, the girls in Majoko find different sorts of adventures awaiting them in each chapter.

The title character is a cute little witch (that’s her on the cover) who pops out of a strange, blank book that our heroine Nana finds in her room while looking for a lost necklace.

“I sent my diary into your world in order to find an adventuring partner,” Majoko explains, after expressing disappointment that Nana isn’t a strong and handsome guy. “The first person who opens my diary gets to be my partner!”

She promptly invites Nana to sit on the back of her flying broom, and they travel to The Land of Magic, where Nana’s street clothes transform into RPG video game-looking gear, and there they travel to a magic cave to find Nana’s missing necklace (But to do so, Nana must defeat a Cyclops…in a staring contest).

In successive adventures, they travel to the Good Grade Apple Orchard, which grows magic apples that allow you to get good grades on your tests, help poor little werewolf Ururu transform to compete in the Werewolf Race, go shopping for rainbows at the magic mall and encounter a dashing thief with a heart of gold, and go to Magic School, among other exploits.

Tomomi Mizuna’s art is also incredibly strong, and the ever shifting fantasy settings and magic land characters that come and go provide plenty of opportunities for neat design work. Majoko’s a rather winning character too, loud, boisterous and boastful, although usually falling short of living up to her boasts, which gives Mizuna plenty of opportunities for rapidly shifting facial expressions.

Of the two, I think Big Adventures of Majoko is the closer to being truly all-ages, and I could definitely see myself reading a second volume of it without much difficulty. There’s a bit of a pedantic streak to many of these stories as well, but there’s so much humor that it’s hardly irritating—rather than sugar to help medicine go down, it’s more like something pretty sweet that just so happens to be good for you.


RELATED: If you're interested I previously covered another Udon Kids book, Ninja Baseball Kyuma Vol. 1, here.


Jacob said...

Ok, this has nothing to do with this post, but I was just reading a copy of Hourman #21 I found in a quarter box, and in the letters section in the back there's a letter from you talking about Hourman's hairdo. I was just like "Wow. This is so neat!" As a relatively new comic reader (I've been reading for a couple years now), I wish they brought the letters pages back in DC books. It'd be so cool to have one of my letters printed in a comic book.

Caleb said...

I don't remember that particular letter, but there are a lot of letters from me in the backs of DC Comics from around that time, especially Hourman, Hitman, Martian Manhunter and various Bat-titles. Er, not that you should actually look for them or anything, as I'm not so certain Current Caleb endorses all of Nineties Caleb's opinions.

I still think Hourman ruled though...