by Takahashi Miyuki; adaptation by Tony Ogasawara
published by DC/CMX Manga; $9.95 US
Musashi #9 is a teenage secret agent, sent to rescue often clueless kids from danger. The back cover gives away the surprise, such as it is — although everyone thinks Musashi is male when first seen or talked about, she’s really female, making her talents and impressive skills even more unusual. In short, this is a set of adventures featuring a teenaged female James Bond.
The character’s got presence. Within the story one student thinks, upon first seeing the agent but without knowing who s/he is, “He’s not doing anything. And yet, everyone is sort of blown away by him. He seems so … heavy.” The same feeling of significance extends to the reader through the art, with panels revolving around the quiet, stone-faced Musashi.
In the first story, a spoiled schoolgirl with airs above herself becomes an assassination target. Although she’s used to being the center of attention in class, acting out to make sure she draws everyone’s eye, once she finds out she’s really important, enough to kill over, she collapses. The kids’ behavior is realistic, and the art is nicely detailed, capturing their attitudes.
I didn’t like Miss Priss, but I wanted to keep reading about her to find out what happened. It was also nicely different to see that she was a target simply because of genetic lottery. I found that reflective of the randomness inherent in today’s violent events.
Musashi is drawn with all of the aloof competence and accomplished superiority that a superspy requires. She’s always the center of attention and always draws the eye from elsewhere on the page. I found myself frequently stopping to admire the beauty and elegance of the linework, which made this a denser read than the plot description might suggest.
In other chapters, a girl looking forward to welcoming her older brother home finds their reunion marred by a downtown explosion and two kidnappings; a scientist’s son becomes a pawn under governmental pressure; and two gun-obsessed boys learn what weapons can really do. For being ten years old, they’re still timely stories, looking at the meaning and effects of violence during a time of life change.
Book 2 plays more with the gender-bending expectations of a teen girl super-agent. In the first story, she’s sent to infiltrate and rescue a group of basketball players being held hostage. After her co-workers laugh at the idea of her needing to act to successfully complete the mission (her lack of emotion has been noticed by others, it seems), it’s enlightening to note how quickly the team, even under the threat of automatic weapons, turn from compatriots sharing danger into boys, determined to protect her regardless of how foolhardy their actions might be.
Next, teen beauty Serika wanders into one of Musashi’s missions. She’s used to every boy around falling for her, but she’s bored with it all. When she sees Musashi protecting an old man, she develops a crush on “him” for being different and exciting. Of course, it can’t work out, but her involvement teaches her something about the world being bigger than just her interests and perceptions.
This series is a “what if”, exploring how normal people — schoolkids, mostly — would honestly react to being placed into an action movie. It’s not exciting and glamorous; it’s pretty darn scary, and only the insertion of a larger-than-life character, someone firmly in the mold of the classic outsider savior (think Westerns), can protect them.