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
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.