Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
I discuss three manga volumes with appropriately spooky themes — you’ve got your ultimate undead!fighter!, your fanservice-y vampires, and your bishonen zombies (a very *special* kind of undead). So there’s a little something for everyone!
Jack Frost, vol 2, by JinHo Ko. As per the first volume, the creepy, evocative art trumps the convoluted story. There often seem to be two different narratives competing for dominance in this title. The first is the most interesting — we learn that Noh-A Joo, seemingly just a regular high school student, was purposefully killed and brought to the world of the un-dead because she has a special power as the “Mirror Image” to bring people back to life. The second story, which I originally described in my review of volume 1 as “Undead!Battle Royale,” where everyone wants to fight Jack Frost and claim the title of the most powerful fighter in Amityville, continues although it isn’t clear yet to what end.
This two stories only appear to be connected right now because Jack and Noh-A are connected (he’s the one who seems to have brought her forcibly into Amityville, i.e. he killed her), but Ko needs to figure out what story he’s telling exactly, and try to develop the plot more coherently. There’s still a lot of potential here but too many obscure references to the history of this strange world end up detracting from the otherwise spectacularly creepy revelations concerning both Jack Frost and Noh-A’s respective histories.
The most compelling aspect of this volume is watching Noh-A come face to face with some pretty ugly aspects of her existence. It is possible that her special status as the “Mirror Image” not only caused her own death but might have also caused innocents around her to die simply because they were in proximity to her while she was still alive. Haunted by a former friend who lost their life, Noh-A, starts to look less and less like your average high school girl and more and more like a disturbance that could set this particular underworld ablaze.
Rosario + Vampire, vol 10, by Akihisa Ikeda. This is my first experience with the harem comedy but I found it to be mainly inoffensive and rather playful. In spite of the silly and frequent excuses for one girl in particular to get naked and paw the “hero.” The shonen protagonist, Tsukune, attends Monster High as the lone human in a sea of well-disguised witches, vampires and other supernatural types. While Tsukune is a rather average guy — i.e. why are all these hot girls all over him? — one supposes as an average human might be “exotic” to those on the other side. In particular, I did like his relationship with the obvious queen of the harem, the vampire Moka, who has two personalities — the shy, sweet girl whose powers are kept in check with a “rosario” and then the freed vampire whose affections run much less freely for her personal human blood bank, Tsukune.
Volume 10 is comprised of a few unrelated stories, my favorite being when all of Tsukune’s new “monster” friends follow him home on vacation giving his mother the shock of her life. Not because they’re not human, but because she can’t imagine her rather ordinary boy has inspired such devotion from one girl, much less a whole harem of them. The supernatural factor is mainly used to spice up the shonen harem genre and as a whole the title is a nice diversion that gives fanservice a relatively good name. (One again, I’m not sure why one girl in particular can’t keep her shirt on but that seems to be her strange personality “quirk”).
Volume 10 is the end of the first “season” of the manga, but basically that just means that the title moved manga magazines between volume 10 and 11. Otherwise, there is nothing that particularly marks this as an “ending” and one assumes that the Monster High student body will be back in all their glory when season two (aka volume 11) returns next spring.
Zombie-Loan, volume 7, by Peach-Pit. As per my experience with other Peach-Pit manga, I find the art far easier to follow than the writing. The primary concept driving Zombie-Loan is fairly interesting — people can voluntarily become created-zombies after they die by agreeing to hunt the other kind of Zombie (i.e. mindless, likes to munch on human flesh, etc). These people are literally taking out a “loan” in order to remain on Earth in their original body. The heroine of this story, Michiru, gets caught up in this arrangement because she can actually read people’s “lifeline” by seeing a ring around their neck, that gradually grows darker until it becomes black (black = death). Since she can see the undead up and walking around amongst the otherwise breathing student body she ends up as the side-kick of two attractive “Z-loan” zombies, who have both loaned out their bodies in order to remain alive.
By volume 7, things have gotten extraordinarily complicated — this volume finds two groups of zombie-loaners trapped in a school environment which has become a kind of “closed space” in which they are cut off from reality and will probably starve / go mad / go zombie on each other (the threat of cannibalism can jump start any manga!). In this environment one of the handsome Z-loaners starts to revert to his baser zombie instincts — i.e. he tries to eat the heroine — and in order to save him, Michiru uses her power to dive into his memories. In doing so she learns exactly how and why he came to loan his body out. However, Michiru finds that she isn’t just in his memories…her power also means that she is actually intervening his past and any action she takes could forever alter his past, present and future. I admit this isn’t a new storytelling tactic but it is a compelling aspect to an otherwise overly-populated narrative which contains multiplicity of supernatural elements and mythologies (this story has zombies, shinigamis and god knows what else), not to mention a boatload of side characters, who are all featured for a short time in this volume.
Review copies provided by the publisher.
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