April 2, 2012

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Gen Manga Monday 1

Written and Illustrated by Shige Nakamora, Yu Suzuki, Gunya Mihara, and Karino Arisa
Gen Manga

I realized recently that while I have been a Gen Manga subscriber from the start and have enjoyed reading the series, I never talked about the stories here on Panel Patter, other than to include Gen Manga on my Best of 2011 Manga list.  Time to correct that error with a mini-feature!  Roughly every Monday, I'll talk about an issue of Gen Manga until I get caught up.  It's a great anthology and I think it deserves a wider audience.  Hopefully, this can help.

For those unfamiliar with Gen Manga, this is a digital-first manga magazine in the style of Shonen Jump or the late, lamented Shojo Beat.  A series of stories are serialized over each issue, to be read chapter by chapter, like an anthology comic.  What makes Gen unique is that its source material is chosen to be roughly the equivalent of Oni Press, Boom! Studios, and other indie-level manga, instead of the big-name publishers.

At this point, however, the material does not feel significantly different from what you might find in other manga translated for an English-speaking audience.  The opening story, Wolf, is about a young man who leaves home to find his father who left him years ago to pursue a boxing career.  It's going to be a journey of discovery and identity, with a few comic moments provided by a secondary character who is also leaving home to find himself, but is a lot less sure of his ability to do so.  Nakamora draws the story well, in a style that places a strong emphasis on the characters, often ignoring panel boundaries to do so.  His work reminds me a bit of Keiji Nakazawa, because the faces and shapes of his people are more rounded than the typical manga characters and there is no hesitation to make the action feel like it's from an older cartoon.  There are almost no background details, which hurts the feel of the story, but I like the main character, Naoto, and his story is intriguing, given the events that happen when he finds his father.  (I really appreciate that Nakamora doesn't draw this event out, like a lot of manga-ka might have chosen to do.)  Wolf shapes up here to be really interesting and is a good lead story for the anthology.

I was really afraid when I started reading VS Aliens, the second story in this issue, because it looked and felt like any number of shojo stories I've read previously.  The story quickly picks up, however, as what looks to be a case of mistaken identity turns out to be real--Kitaro and Aya's school has an alien in it, and the truth might just bring problems for more than the cute trio of kids!  Suzuki's artwork uses a lot of manga tropes in it, but I think they have good effect here.  The changing backgrounds, facial expressions, and other little details that can be overused are spread out just right, and I really like just how much you can tell about the feelings of the characters in this world just by their eyes.  This is the story I think a lot of readers might try to skip, but that would be a mistake--VS Aliens is going to be a fun shojo action romp with characters you will want to root for and danger around more corners than you'd expect.

Kamen was the demo story that Gen Manga offered for free, and I have to admit, I don't think it was the best choice.  A mask possesses a strange man in period Japan where a cruel overlord has pathetic prisoners.  The masked man is soon confronted by men from the overlord, and a conflict is sure to ensue, though we don't see it yet.  This entry is just too short to really do anything for me, though I admit, I know that it gets better because I've read ahead.  The problem here is that this was the example used to promote the anthology, and it's just too generic, short, and honestly pointless to really hook people.  I took a chance and signed on anyway and I'm glad I did, but I'm puzzled that this sparsely illustrated, paint by numbers scenes was expected to hook readers.  Gunya Mihara has more to offer than this shows, but for this issue specifically, it's a bit of a dud, unless you're really into stories like this.

The closing story, Souls by Karino Arisa, is an emotional ghost story that uses the idea of an abused child in a way that I thought was pretty innovative, if a bit overwrought in terms of dialog, though that may be a translation issue.  A strange woman follows a young girl home to her horrible mother, but we soon learn that this situation is far more than it appears on its face.  Our woman deals with lost souls, and who can be more lost than an unloved girl?  The story is creepy enough to keep me interested, but sadly, Arisa's art skills are lacking.  The figures look posed and stiff, and it's hard to tell just what is going on.  The style reminds me more of what you might see from an OEL Manga artist who you might find in artist alley--they have potential, but it's not there just yet.

Overall, Gen Manga 1 sort of like that, too.  It's a digital magazine with a lot of potential, but because these stories are chapter openers, it's hard to see it.  A casual manga fan, if they got past the weak demo story, might not stick around and I don't think I'd blame them.  Those looking for a different take on some familiar tropes who can deal with a few lumps here and there should stick with the magazine, even if it's not wowing them at this point.

Next week, we'll look at how these stories evolve.  Do they get better or worse?  Tune in next week to see what I think of the second parts of these stories!