published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.95 US
CMX Manga debuted in October 2004 from American comic behemoth DC Comics. The following are quick takes on five of their titles.
From Eroica With Love
I barely remember the 70s, but this art took me right back. Big feathered hair, Dorothy Hamill cuts, turtlenecks, rock star scarves, leisure suits, tight blue jeans, gold chains … it’s all here. Apparently, this is classic manga styling, affecting the looks of girls’ comics for decades. I found it lush but dated; the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack would be the perfect background music for this glam-inspired flashback.
The book starts as the story of a trio of teens with ESP, but art thief and aristocrat Eroica quickly takes over. He’s flamboyant, gorgeous (as we’re told often, in case we missed it), self-centered, and overall larger than life. In the second chapter, we meet his eventual rival, a German officer who cares about the military instead of art. The two end up, for various contrived reasons, pursuing the same items around the world.
Eroica also collects beautiful men, which makes all the other characters very nervous. I was curious, given the age of this work, how the homosexual aspects would be handled. There’s a certain amount of “gay panic”, where one character passes out after being kissed by another man (only to later pine after him once seduced). Another is repulsed by the idea, shown in such a way that the reader thinks “he protests too much” while waiting for them to end up together.
This almost strikes me as a shonen-ai starter book. Due to its age, the boy-love aspects are downplayed or used for humor. The pictures are pretty, but I lost interest before the end.
There’s a note on this book that explains that the creators were experimenting with Western-style formatting, so the book reads left-to-right even though it’s “authentic manga”. This is the most traditional of the CMX launch titles, including such elements as the child destined from birth for great things, the mysterious elderly mentor, magical gadgets and creatures, and the fan service panty shot.
Madara is a blacksmith’s apprentice with artificial limbs who discovers his fighting potential when his village is attacked. As his mentor passes away, he tells Madara that the eight pieces of his true body can be recovered by defeating the eight villainous generals of Emperor Miroku, establishing his quest.
The art is standard, although the extent of the violence and a few nude scenes give this book a Mature rating. Most of the villains getting killed are humanoid animals, not humans, which helps maintain a fantasy feel. With the predictable story formula, it’s more like a video game than a comic.
Land of the Blindfolded
Kanade is afraid to touch people because sometimes when she does, she sees their futures. A new boy at school reveals to her that he can see people’s pasts, and the two debate whether she should try and change the future. She wants to prevent people she cares about from being hurt while protecting herself.
The various incidents are heavy on emotion, emphasizing courage and the importance of trying to make friends feel better. As the two become closer, the stories also deal with the significance of touch.
The book contains three chapters of the main story and two stand-alone short stories, which I preferred. The shorter length means they’re more focused, less smoke-like, easier to get one’s hands around. One is completely realistic, without the fantasy elements of psychic powers, while the other has more in common with the main story.
At first, I thought not enough happened in this book to justify continuing with it, but after rereading it in a more contemplative mood, I better appreciated its leisurely pacing and thoughtful emphasis on the characters. It’s almost dream-like, but with philosophical questions to keep it grounded.
Another time capsule from the 70s, this time focusing on ballet competition, with much less kitsch and more glamor. Young dancer Matsumi is invited to a prestigious national contest of historical importance. It’s her first competition, so she’s overwhelmed but tries to do her best.
Many little girls dream of being ballerinas, and this is a wonderful, idealized story for them. The more modern Forbidden Dance, in comparison, has dirty tricks and emotional instability amongst the contestants. Here, all the more experienced dancers help Matsumi with no thoughts of backstabbing. It’s all about the art and about representing Japan well internationally.
The graceful lines beautifully capture the elongated dancers’ figures, while the classic costumes give the story a timeless air.
The Devil Does Exist
This comedy shôjo, a high school romance, vaguely reminded me of Hot Gimmick, but without as much complexity or interest for me.
Kayano has a crush on basketball captain Yuichi. When she tries to give him a love letter, her shyness causes it to be intercepted by Takeru, the school bully. Then her mother announces her engagement to Takeru’s father, making the two kids siblings. Since his father is the school principal, Takeru is used to getting everything he wants, and even the teachers are afraid of him.
Both boys pressure and confuse Kayano, and at times, she seems more like a prize than a character. As you’ve likely guessed, Takeru and Kayano say they hate each other, but that’s only to camouflage their attraction.
Thin crossing lines on characters’ cheeks, used to indicate embarrassment, reminded me of pick-up sticks. The artists draws youthful faces on everyone, so the parents appear to be the same age as their children. The art is typical for the genre, full of closeups to show mood and emotion.
If there weren’t so many other good shôjo series out there, I’d be more interested in following in this series, but given the amount of quality manga available now, a new series faces a high bar. This one doesn’t reach it.
The Line as a Whole
This is a minor point, but the books don’t feel as pleasant to read as those from other companies. The paper stock seems old-fashioned in a way I’m having trouble pinning down; the closest I can come is that it reminds me of coloring books. Instead of feeling sleek and modern, the books feel chunky. Also, the tight bindings make the books hard to hold comfortably, especially in one hand.
Like many of their parent company’s superhero books, these books aren’t bad, just mediocre, doomed to lose out to flashier, more attractive competition.