Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fairy Navigator Runa, vol. 1

Story by Miyoko Ikeda with Illustrations by Michiyo Kikuta
Published in the US by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: In the original legends, fairies were anything but nice.

Runa was left at an orphanage as a baby, never knowing her parents but told by a teacher that Runa's kindness was her strength and that she needed to be careful or the weight of it would crush her. Runa never really understood what her teacher meant until two strangers that could transform into animals approached Runa and told her that she was the fairy princess. Her parents gave her up to protect her but now there was an open portal to the fairy realms so other fairies will come since Runa is the only one who could freely travel between the worlds. However, for Runa to use her powers makes her cold and distant, so she needs all of her friends from the orphanage and the fairy realms in order to keep her on an even keel and remind her that kindness is what makes her powerful, not fairy powers.

Runa comes across as another sweet and gentle story intended for younger readers, but then towards the end shows a bit of bite. When Runa loses her cool and wants to harm another fairy (for admittedly perfectly valid reasons) her dark side emerges that is genuinely disturbing in contrast to her earlier behavior. While she quickly gets herself back into under control, the fact that her dark side is so clear cut brings extra meaning to the story. The fear that she could lose control of herself is meaningful, rather than her just being a light and fluffy character that says she has to be good, or else. The supporting characters don't seem to know who they are, with their decisions furthering the story but not making much character sense. Still, for a children story it seems to be more willing to show the consequences and costs of power than most.

Fairy Navigator Runa, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Neko Ramen, vol. 1 Hey! Order Up!

By Kenji Sonishi
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Not realistic in that no cat work around that much water.

While on his lunch break Tanaka decides to try out a new ramen shop and discovers it has the strangest chef he has ever heard of.  It is not that the ramen chef Taisho is particularly skilled (in fact, he does not seem to be very good) but instead that he's a cat.  Taisho ran away from home, determined to not be like his cat model father who specialized in being too cute for words.  After his dream of being a sushi chef fell through (he snacked on the fish) he turned to ramen noodles. Taisho swears that he plans to become a famous ramen chef, but his ramen never really improves and he seems to be more interested in fame than anything else. Strangely he ignores his quickest route to fame for while Taisho knows that he is a cat, he refuses to act like one and ignores that others refuse to do the same.  You can find most of the humor of the series coming from either Taisho's ineptitude or the face he is a cat in a chef's world as Tanaka tries to be the voice of reason.

Neko Ramen is another 4-koma but like many other 4-koma collections, there are several short stories in the volume that are not. Unlike many other 4-koma collections, the shorts work very well and continue story threads that were begun in the 4-koma. A lot of the humor derives from jokes about ramen noodles, so on occasion there are gags that lack punch because they rely on knowing more about ramen noodles than one would normally know outside of Japan. That being said, most of the jokes come across without any difficulty because they rely on standard comedic situations such character obliviousness. The strongest source of humor comes from Taisho's inability to accept that a talking cat could be unusual, and while it could have gotten monotonous, those gags are broken up with enough other kinds of humor that it never does.

Neko Ramen, vol. 1 Hey! Order Up! is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand