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Comics Reviewlution Manga Blowout: September 2004
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2004

Format: Comics
Released:   September 2004
Review Date:   October 27, 2004

Instant Teen: Just Add Nuts #1 (story and art by Haruka Fukushima, Tokyopop, $9.99) — This manga has got to win some kind of award for goofiest title, but it's a fairly accurate descriptor of the plot. Homely young fifth-grader Natsumi wolfs down a packet of strange pink nuts (and it's not what you think, you pervs!), and wakes up in the body of a smoking' hot teenage girl. Man, if I had a nickel for every time that's happened to me.

Anyway, the newly filled-out Natsumi finds herself in a world of people wanting to employ her as a model, ask her out on dates to classy Italian restaurants, or worse. That'd be overwhelming for someone who WAS a teenager, but for a fifth grader it's almost unbearable confusion and pressure, and this manga is all about how Natsumi navigates her way around the glamorous world of hot teenage superstardom.

The art is shojo-standard, but the story is fairly interesting, especially in the way it doesn't shy from Natsumi's utter inexperience at anything other than being a grade-school girl, the secret behind the pink nuts, and the way her very shapely figure all too quickly attracts the wrong sort of attention from males. But on the whole, this is a sweet, charming, harmless story, and recommended to shojo fans.

Saikano #1 (story and art by Shin Takahashi, Viz Communications, $9.95) — Chise is a clumsy, shy, skinny high school girl. Her erstwhile boyfriend Shuji is a huge jerk, more inclined to call her stupid and slow than to speak soft words of affection. Chise also happens to be Japan's ultimate weapon, able to sprout mechanical angel wings, high-powered autocannon, and rocket jets, and she occasionally has to miss class to fight off strange foreign invaders that are trying to bomb Hokkaido back to the stone age. Her new abilities are starting to give Chise a newfound confidence, but at the terrible cost of her very humanity, both physically and psychologically.

Yes, this is an intriguing concept (schoolgirls of mass destruction!). But what makes Saikano so interesting is not the Robocop-esque tragedy of a human being twisted into a killing machine against her will or how Chise reacts to it, but instead in how the whole situation affects her boyfriend. This manga isn't told from Chise's point of view, but Shuji's, as he reveals why he's so seemingly callous to her in the first place, his gradual falling in love with her, and his horror and despair over what she has become. Saikano glosses over the battle scenes in favor of this undercurrent of personal horror, and it's very effective and disturbing. Definitely recommended for the mecha fan looking for something with a twist.

Tsubasa #1 (story and art by CLAMP, Del Rey Manga, $10.95) — Princess Sakura of the Clow Kingdom is carrying on a secret love affair with young archaeologist Li, who is on a dig with his father in her country. Unfortunately, a magical spell gois terribly wrong, and scatters shards of Sakura's lifeforce and memories across the multiverse, and Li is determined to get them back and restore Sakura, even if it means transcending dimensions.

If these characters seem a little familiar, they should; they're the leads from CLAMP's earlier megahit Cardcaptor Sakura . . . only they're not. CLAMP has apparently decided to play around with their characters and their universes, starting with Li and Sakura. These aren't the exact same characters, though, but slightly older alternate-universe versions, and the various CLAMP characters Li encounters as he roams the multiverse are likewise familiar yet very different. Tsubasa unfortunately doesn't do much with this rather intriguing concept, almost burying reader interest in a bizarrely convoluted plot and a stampede of cameo characters. If CLAMP can settle down and actually pay attention to their plot, though, this might have some promise.

Abenobashi — Magical Shopping Arcade #1 (story by Satoru Akahori, art by Ryusei Deguchi, Tokyopop, $9.99) — This is another dimension-hopping manga series, this time based on an anime from powerhouse studio Gainax. Elementary school kids Sasshi and Arumi are about to be evicted from their homes when their family-run shops are scheduled for demolition, in order to make way for a big fancy new shopping center. A similar magic screwup propels Sasshi and Arumi through a series of alternate shopping centers, populated by strange alternate versions of their family and friends.

Abenobashi may have a similar concept to Tsubasa, but it's a whole hell of a lot less serious. The alternate worlds our leads find themselves in are more often than not parodies of anime and video games, including a really perverted riff on Gainax's own Evangelion anime. The problem is that the parodies are too superficial to really have any impact, and the characters don't have enough depth to make up for that. I've heard the anime is better, but I sadly have to recommend leaving the Abenobashi manga on the shelf.

Gundam Seed #1 (story by Hajime Yatate and Yoshiyuki Tomino, art by Masatsugu Iwase, Del Rey Manga, $10.95) — Based on the newest incarnation of the giant-robot megafranchise that's currently running on Cartoon Network, this is basically a manga retelling of the anime, which in turn is itself a retelling of the original 1979 anime. Young, genetically engineered Kira Yamato finds himself reluctantly piloting a Gundam for the Earth Forces, fighting against an rebel army of his fellow genetically altered humans. Kira has to face the angst of fighting his former friends, the torment of betraying his people to fight alongside oppressive humans, and the utter horror of a psycho girlfriend. Still, he does get to pilot a giant color-changing battle robot, so it's kind of a wash.

I must confess to not being all that impressed with the Seed anime, but the manga seems to do a pretty good job of telling the story in an effective way. If you're a fan of the show on TV this is a pretty cool way to get more of the story, and there are even a few early character designs and notes in the back. Everyone else, though, will probably be fairly indifferent. It's really only for Gundam fans, but they're gonna love it.

Coming this season to a Web browser near you! RevolutionSF's Kevin Pezzano is — Instant Editor: Just Add Nuts.

 
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