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MMF Appetizer: Three for Kids.

filed under , 30 August 2010, 11:40 by

[Here’s a digest of reviews, re-posted mostly verbatim, previously written for and posted on Comicsnob.com (Dec ’06-May ’08, now defunct) – the first three were originally posted 5 May 2007; the follow-up review for Kilala Princess vol. 2 was posted 16 June 2007]

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Warriors, vol. 1, Dragon Drive, vol. 1, & Disney’s Kilala Princess, vols. 1 & 2

Now, we all know that I have a decided preference for properties aimed at a more adult audience — or at least, those items wrapped in plastic so the kiddies can’t (supposedly) get into them — but since I like comics, I try to read a little bit of everything… particularly when I can get a free copy of something.

Some of my own readers (I know for a fact) are parents — and while they stop by this blog for their own edification and weren’t expecting these recommendations — I just so happen to have a small stack of “all ages” stuff handy so let’s surprise the readership and review a few manga for the shorter set.

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Warriors, vol. 1: The Lost Warrior

Published by: Tokyopop/HarperCollins
Created by: Erin Hunter (she gets her name on the cover)
Writer: Dan Jolley
Artist: James L. Barry

112 (90) pages.
Original Language: English
Orientation: Left to right
Vintage: April 2007
Editor: Lillian Diaz-Przybyl
Publisher’s Rating: Youth, Ages 10+

Rating: eh, 3 out of 5

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Premise: You always knew your housecat resented you; let’s look at why.

Synopsis:

The forest is being clearcut and bulldozed to make way for even more suburban housing. This displaces some of the resident feral cats, including Greystripe and other cats of the Thunderclan. (Wild cats have a hierarchical and feudal society; didn’t you know that?) In a “humane” gesture, the contractor clearing the forest hires some animal control types to capture the strays, presumably to give them homes.

This doesn’t sit too well with the cats, however. The feral cats — proud members of a clan and warriors true — do not consider themselves to be an infestation problem and so fight back. One of their number, Greystripe, bravely rescues many of his comrades, but gets trapped in the animal control van in the process.

Some weeks later, he has been placed with a family, in his terms now just a “kittypet,” and merely a shadow of the noble wild warrior that he was. Will the stifling care of the “twolegs” reduce Greystripe with the beckoning call of its free food and warm, dry, and wanton ways — or will he break out of his comfy prison to once again become a proud and self-reliant cat?

Review:

Now, if I want a cat-manga fix, I’ll likely re-read Azumanga Daioh, or something with catgirls in it, but the recent bestseller lists are telling us that either there is an untapped market for cat comics, or perhaps that the books of Erin Hunter have an enthusiastic and motivated fanbase.

The story is just getting established in this first volume, but already our noble hero has been pulled from his home and begins to hear the first Call to Adventure. I could get even more Campbellian on this, but the epic quest is I think secondary to the “aw cute” factor. Cats being cats has an appeal that goes beyond story fundamentals and myth, particularly if one loves and owns the critters. Of note as well is how artist Barry manages to differentiate his characters, since they’re all cats you know.

Me, I can’t stand having a cat around. I prefer to be the laziest, most arrogant thing in my house, thank you, and I don’t need the competition. (oddly, cats love me — especially as a place to sleep; just part of the other furniture, you know.)

Much like Inubaka is the prefect thing for dog lovers, here we have something for cat people, or perhaps for those unduly enamoured of Hunter’s novels. Not having read Hunter’s originals, I’m not too impressed but will give the book 3 marks, judged on it’s own merits as a decent character- and story-intro and overall solid first outing. (As an extra after the manga, the publishers give us a 6 page excerpt from the first Warriors novel, and 4 pages from the most recent — out of the kindness of their hearts, I’m sure)

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Dragon Drive, vol. 1

Published by: Viz Media’s Shonen Jump
Writer & Artist: Ken-ichi Sakura

202 (188) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to left
Vintage: 2001. US edition April 2007.
Translation: Lucy Craft, Corinne & Kohei Takada, Honyaku Center Inc.
Adaptation: Ian Reid, Honyauku Center Inc.
Retouch & Lettering: Jim Keefe
Design: Sam Elzway
Editor: Urian Brown
Publisher’s Rating: suitable for all ages.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Premise: There’s a new game in town! Oh. yeah, I guess you’ve heard that bit before.

Synopsis:

Our hero Reiji Ozora is a generic-issue loser, never able to succeed at anything, or even stick with it for long. Though when he is introduced to the new Dragon Drive game by childhood friend Maiko, he finds something that not only engages his interest, but for which he may have an aptitude.

The wildcard is his new dragon, assigned to him for the game supposedly based on his own skills and abilities: while the dragon “Chibi” (as Reiji names the poor runt) doesn’t seem like much, in match after match Chibi manages to surprise everyone, even the creators of the game…

Review:

DD cannibalises quite a few bits and pieces of other titles: It’s a computer game, but you get cards for game elements. You play in virtual reality, but you have to train your dragon to get it to level up. The owner and fighter have to be in sync, and the control depends on mental effort…

Yes, this is in fact a re-hash of every other proxy fighter released for the past 9 years. So far, it manages to succeed despite that, though I think our manga-ka, Saken-sensei, owes a vast unacknowledged debt to CLAMP’s Angelic Layer, which Dragon Drive most closely resembles. (Angelic Layer is an excellent anime, which I recommend —a personal favourite of mine, in fact— but only a so-so manga title which is fine for fans of CLAMP or the show but not worth seeking out otherwise.)

This is a fine title to give to young fans who have already “caught them all” or collected all the super-rare whatever-eyed-whatever-coloured dragons of Yugi’s. It’s more of the same, but different, and that’s all a lot of fans are looking for.

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Disney’s Kilala Princess, vol. 1

Published by: Tokyopop
Writer: Rika Tanaka
Artist: Nao Kodaka

96 (84) pages.
Original Language: Japanese
Orientation: Right to left
Vintage: January 2007
Adaptation: Kathy Schilling
Retouch & Lettering: Jennifer Carbajal
Graphic Design: Monalisa De Asis
Editor: Hope Donovan
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Premise: Young girl with an over-developed imagination and princess-fixation gets to put her Disney trivia to use, in an effort to save her best friend.

Synopsis:

Kilala and her best friend Erika attend a school with an odd tradition: each year there is a princess contest (…seems like a beauty pageant to me) where a prime example of young-girlhood gets chosen as princess, and awarded the school’s tiara. We can’t be sure what else the honour entails because soon after winning, Erika gets kidnapped. Oh… that should be “kidnapped, exclamation point. [!]”

Kilala has recently made the acquaintance of two handsome young men: the likeable but slightly abrasive Rei, and the slightly older, less likeable Valdou. It seems these two are on a quest, to find the princess who can save their alternate realm. In an odd twist, it may be that Erika, winner of the trifling pageant, was in fact the princess they sought. Now Kilala and Rei (and Valdou too, I guess) must embark on a mission to rescue Erika, and find the fabled Seventh Princess. exclamation point, !

Review:

The best thing I can say about this title is that it would have been a much better manga without the cumbersome Disney tie-in. I can see how writer Tanaka is going to use the Disney properties to good effect, even with just the hints dropped in this first, slim volume (and given the setup and pacing, they’re aiming for at least a dozen of these) [edit: though only 4 ever came out in English] but while I like Rei and Kilala and the supporting cast (so far) I don’t know that I necessarily needed to see Disney’s Snow White brought back as a character in any form, let alone as one merely there to provide a little colour to someone else’s story.

I think later Disney princesses (Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine) will translate better, while the classics (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella) aren’t going to do so well with the manga treatment. I’ll give artist Kodaka some praise: the art almost works; the transitions from original to borrowed art are OK and not as jarring as one might expect, but there is still a disconnect — These differences might be mitigated as the story progresses to newer Disney titles but certainly not the one that dates to 1939 …but here we are.

No doubt, I wouldn’t have read this at all if a promo copy (through my bookstore, not sent to me personally) weren’t available, but I find Kilala and Rei likeable enough characters, and might even be tempted to buy a few more of these (depending on the story).

And honestly, that should be praise enough. If I’m tempted, then the Princess fans at your house will eat these up wholesale, with or without sugar. You might even wait a few months (or a year) so that more of Kilala is available, before giving this crack-like substance to the young Disney otaku in your home.

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Disney’s Kilala Princess, vol. 2

Published by: Tokyopop
Writer: Rika Tanaka
Artist: Nao Kodaka

96 (84) pages.
Vintage: May 2007
English Adaptation: Kathy Schilling
Retouch & Lettering: Star Print Brokers
Production Artist: Courtney Geter
Cover Design: Monalisa De Asis
Editor: Hope Donovan
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12

Rating: still 3 out of 5

What’s up:

With the help of the Seven Dwarves (yes, those seven) and Snow White (yes, that Snow White) Kilala and Rei manage to defeat the Evil Queen, acquire the means to find Kilala’s kidnapped friend Erika, and rush back to the “real” world to save her before it’s too late. And so begins the second half of the book…

The Disney tie-in is a fine gimmick, for what it is (i.e. cheap ploy to sell books) but the new characters that Tanaka created are what drew me into the story, at least far enough to spend six bucks on the second volume. The plot gets surprisingly complex before we end volume two on a bit of a cliffhanger. I expected the chaste, sweet romance — but here it is as a plot point, not just an eventual goal for our young heroine. In other books she might have pined away in silence for volumes, eventually getting closer to her beau, and not confessed until the final chapter. As it turns out, the pair may be split apart and there is only one night (and a dance, naturally) for the two to share.

Of course, to find out what happens after the dance, and why it was so easy to find Erika, the lost friend, after the flashy kidnapping in volume one, we all get to wait four months for the third installment.

I have to wonder if the the writer and artist had the idea first, and then had to sell it to Kodansha, who then had to pitch it to Disney. I suppose it’s much more likely that Tokyo Mickey had the idea, and then went looking for the manga-ka to make a cheap knock-off in the ol’ Princess line, but there is a surprising amount of heart here.

Kilala is a fairy tale by-the-numbers, nothing really original, but even a plain tale will be a pleasure, if it is a plain tale well told.

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Postscript:

Since these reviews were written (two years ago, I’ll remind you) Dragon Drive was finished (at 14 volumes), Warriors continues to be published (10 volumes and counting), and Kilala Princess was abandoned by Tokyopop after 4 chapter books (corresponding to only the first 2 of 5 Japanese tankobon) — I don’t know what the licensing fees were like but given Kodansha’s current relationship with Tokyopop I think we can write off Kilala as a nice trifle but unlikely to see completion.

Though if the [relatively new] Kodansha USA were looking for recommendations on what to publish: Disney’s Kilala Princess is just sitting there, waiting, and quite likely to make money. Maybe quite a bit of money, if marketed correctly.



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