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
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.