It becomes more and more evident throughout the course of Devil King Volume 1 that Takao Saito wanted to make a statement on the structure and nature of society in the Manga.
Is Saito’s social commentary interesting however? Well the idea that to change society for the better one must completely reconstruct and take charge through a dictatorship is an interesting idea, and also the exploration of how far people would go to achieve this through the characters like the professor does give this title the potential to be interesting. Unfortunately the fact that Saito tries to explore these themes through an almost ‘monster movie’ like structure made it hard for me to conjure up any interest in the plot.
I hardly had any sympathy for the protagonist Akio – if you can call him that – he hardly made an appearance in the book and rarely said anything. Its evident that Saito wanted the reader to feel sympathy for him due to the depression he seems to have (caused by the loss of his parents) and his wish to be independent from his brother so that he wont financially drag him down. However he is really quite generic – much like Detective Conan without the wit – he’s curious and brave…and that’s all, he has no real personality to him, his entire existence as a character seems to be so that this title could have been marketed as a shonen title and sold to teenagers. However this is not a shonen title yes Akio is a young boy and therefor you would presume that this was aimed at younger readers. It also contains elements of action and often characters speak with a childish voice however this story is very much a seinen title, this is both demonstrated immediately at the beginning of the book when an ex-patient combusts after escaping from the laboratory and through the adult themes the book contains.
Whilst the story cannot be argued to be entirely original in its plot points, the interesting angles which are drawn and the way in which the eye flows from panel to panel due to the almost film like way each panel follows each other makes the title an addictive read. By this I mean that Saito doesn’t use a concentration of close up or medium shots he uses a wide variety of different ones and draws similar poses from different angles to suggest movement – a technique which is rarely used at the moment, and uses lots of panels to describe small movements – creating suspense. Whilst characters look generic backgrounds and scenery are detailed, there is not a noticeably high use of screen tone in the volume but when it is used it is highly effective with the backgrounds.
Whilst the story isn’t very original and writing is often poor the strong artwork made this book very addictive to read, Saito pays a lot of attention to small details – which modern mangaka’s often avoid doing to save time. If you are looking for a strong story and you want to read one of the great classic manga titles from the 70’s by Takao Saito read Gologo 13.
Devil King Volume 1 is available from Jmanga at http://www.jmanga.com/devil-king/1
What it’s about: Ranko Gekkouji isn’t particularly interested as to what her late husband’s money can buy her, rather she’s interested in how she can use it to manipulate others. When she sees selfishness or greed she will pay off others, create new rivaling companies or marry so to manipulate the ‘culprit’s’ social situation and bring them to her own sort of justice.
Story: Is Ranko an amiable protagonist? Well sometimes she is. The way in which she is portrayed suggests she just wants to flaunt her money around and play with other people’s lives. However underneath all of this it appears that she is was actually quite struck by her late husband’s passing and really feels a need to put his money to good use in order to help the Japanese upper class society improve. Ranko’s sense of justice makes the manga out to be a sort of detective story, however unlike the majority of detective’s she doesn’t always get her man, but this is what makes the story more believable and makes Ranko more amiable and human. However at the same time when characters turn out to be innocent and are left in utter ‘social poverty’ for the rest of their lives one cannot help but feel sorry for them and feel slightly betrayed by Ranko’s poor judgment on people.
Whilst upper class Japanese society may not necessarily be an original setting for a Josei manga, the way in which it is portrayed is quite interesting. The shallowness of the both the characters Ranko pursues and those around her shows a different side to those at the top of society. Money and looks are all anyone is really interested in (this can be stated of Ranko at times as well) and characters constantly sleep around with others so to maintain their popularity. Ranko is very much aware of this fact and uses her money and looks to help her manipulate others, she tells characters what they want to hear and what they want to see, but in the end she ultimately turns this against them. However at the same time the Josei and Shojo archetypes still exist – the shy handsome male, the rich otaku boy and the pretty yet unpopular girl – but as most of these characters do not take prominent roles you are able to look past them.
Artwork: As is the norm for Josei and Shojo there is an incredibly high use of screen tone in this book and Tomoko Naka does take on the Josei ‘house style’. On the other hand backgrounds are very detailed and the artist is very skillful in the way in which they incorporate screen tone into them. All characters are unique (even the ‘extras’), and a lot of time and care appears to have been put into producing each chapter.
Negatives: Lines often feel out of place (for example my favourite ‘celebrities really are different to us normal people’) and I believe that lines could of often been left out or simplified as they are not needed and halt the flow of the story. The sizable amount of female nudity also often made it hard for me to believe at times that this was a Josei title rather than a Seinen title, however the fact that most of the story is about women getting back at men deterred me from believing this.
Overall: Despite the petty translation and spelling errors I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has never read a Josei title, anyone who is looking for a different take on the detective story or someone who wants to read about the upper class aggravating each other.
Madame Joker volume 1 is available from Jmanga at http://www.jmanga.com/madame-joker/1
Each chapter focuses on a different convict and the meal they have chosen. After a very promising first chapter which showed how Shunsuke the main character ended up in prison in the first place and set up the plot revolving around the competition for the rest of the series it is disappointing that the story falls flat on its face in the next two chapters. It is very difficult to stay interested in a manga which just has characters describe food. None of the stories which the characters tell are particularly hard hitting or dramatic. However I accept that I’m not really the market for which this manga is aimed at, I’m not a food otaku (if there is such a thing) and I’m not really that interested or knowledgeable enough in Japanese food. However considering that it was published in such a popular seinan magazine (Weekly Manga Action) and even got the live action treatment its clear that there is an audience for this title (I’m just not included in this audience).
Its hard to make a statement about the art work. Yes its good and often incredibly detailed but something about the artwork suggests to me that’s its just a typical seinan style. One of the main problems I have with it is that often the characters all look so similar (due to their convict hair style) I find it difficult to tell who is who.
However I’m so early in that my opinion could still change. Maybe I’ll be hit by the drama which the live action trailer promises me. Maybe I’ll get more of a feeling for Shigeru Tsuchiyama’s art work and I’ll actually be able to tell characters apart.
Note: I’ll add future reviews as I buy more chapters
Gokudou Meshi Volumes 1 and 2 are available on Jmanga.com http://www.jmanga.com/gokudou-meshi/1
Wanting to take up his fathers career and curious about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, Mitsu takes up a job cleaning the windows of the huge ring like structure orbiting the earth which all humanity now inhabits due to the Earth having been turned into a nature reserve. Mitsu soon finds that his new job enables him to take on an outsiders view on the strange world of Saturn Apartments.
Whilst many parts of the story can’t be argued to be groundbreaking, the way in which Saturn Apartments society is divided holds the story together and makes each new client more interesting. Rather than focusing on society as a whole Hisae just looks at individuals making it interesting and creating a much more character driven story. She also doesn’t spend too much time explaining parts the world she has created in the narration (Though sometimes Mitsu and other characters do have out of place lines explaining how the world works, however they are few and far between), this makes the ring much more mysterious and I found it allowed me to piece details together for myself. However it’s the art work which really brings the story into its own. Hisae’s unique art style gives each panel character. She has also used light and darkness in an ingenious way: the lower levels of the complex are filled with darkness which bring out the despair of many of the characters who live there, the light on the second level gives the impression of hope and immense brightness of the rarely seen upper levels really show the prosperity and wealth belonging to its inhabitants. Hisae’s drawings of space and the Earth itself are all genuinely beautiful and do create a hypnotic sense of aw and beauty reminding me of the reactions to the first photos of Earth that captivated humanity when they were taken in the late sixties.
All of the characters are constantly striving to have more. The vast difference between what those of the lower levels and those of the upper levels want suggests that Hisae is really trying to make a statement on both society’s many social issues and how we can never accept our lives as they are – no matter how privileged.
Whilst Saturn Apartments’ storyline isn’t groundbreaking its art style is where it really shines and it’s the art style that often makes the book itself more interesting and keeps the pages turning. Overall I would thoroughly recommend this book to any reader who has become tired of the clichés of the average shonen/shojo art style and wants to find something more original and inventive or a reader who has left manga for a while and would like to read something mature but isn’t quite sure what title they should pick up.