by Svetlana Chmakova
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
In Dramacon, Svetlana Chmakova has created an instant classic. Never mind if you don’t like manga, don’t like non-Japanese manga, don’t like Tokyopop… this romantic comedy is witty and amazingly wonderful, hitting all the right notes in a unique setting.
Christie and her boyfriend have created a comic. (She writes, he draws.) To promote their effort, they’re attending an anime convention, she for the first time. She’s overwhelmed, mostly by how a different environment turns her boyfriend into a raging jerk. Or maybe he’s always been that way, and she’s been too naively desperate to notice.
When Christie bumps into Matt, her eyes start opening (which is ironic, given that Matt never takes off his shades, for good reason). They’re charming together, spatting and sparking in the classic way that suggests instant chemistry. He’s her hero, but it’s only a convention weekend. Everyone behaves differently than normal. She’s got to go back to the real world, and fun as it all is, she doesn’t want to change her life based on such an unusual experience.
For a first book, Chmakova’s work is impressively skilled. Emotional expression, caricatures, storytelling flow, attractive characters, backgrounds and settings are all included without drawing attention to themselves. She’s synthesized a lot of manga conventions and asides into an easy-to-read story that doesn’t require a translation chart. Any reader will be drawn in because the events and characters are so involving.
Chmakova captures all the aspects of fandom in a loving, insightful way. Those who know about convention-going will find it all pointedly realistic, while those who don’t will see what it’s like, good and bad, presented with humor. And it’s really funny, not just in-joke rib-poking that only makes sense to those who were there. The subplots with the established, famous creator and her advice are very true, from the aspiring artist who hasn’t learned yet how to take constructive criticism (and the misrepresentations he gives his friends to soothe his hurt feelings) to the life-changing effect one kind act can have.
Even the characters that sound like plot devices aren’t. Matt’s a dreamboat, but he’s not perfect… he’s admirable, not unreal. (Although I want him! I was pondering why I hadn’t yet seen a manga boy I could fall in love with, and here he is.) Christie’s friends, there to share room costs and serve as a relationship buffer, don’t have a lot of panel time, but they still seem like real people. Even the jerk is understandable, if not excusable.
The danger to the reader is falling too much in love with these people. The story’s over much too soon, and the sequel won’t be out until later this year. It’s so good that that’s going to be a very long wait for more romance, laughter, amusement, and drama.