by Yuko Osada; adapted by Elina Ishikawa
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Kakashi is an orphan boy around 12 years old who lives on a small isolated island. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and travel the world. To date, his various schemes to get off the island have failed miserably. A dirigible makes an emergency landing on the island for quick repairs. Kakashi begs the crew to let him onboard, but they refuse. He stows away and is finally off to fulfill his dream. While hiding among the luggage, Kakashi makes his first new friend, a very adorable puppy.
Unfortunately, Kakashi’s bad luck is running true to form. The airship is hijacked by the Man Chicken Family of pirates. They force all the passengers and crew off the ship and into the ocean. As they’re searching the cargo hold for valuables, they discover Kakashi and the dog. Tequila, the leader of the gang, wants them thrown off like the rest, but Kakashi, through sheer determination, is able to stay aboard. However, the military has some very special cargo hidden on the dirigible and come to recover their property. Thus, begins the next phase of Kakashi’s adventures/travels.
Toto! is tremendously enjoyable and funny read. If the title evokes memories of the Wizard of Oz, it’s meant to. Osada peppers this series with a plethora of references to the Oz books. (The translator’s notes do an excellent job pointing out all the references.) In this book, you will meet Dorothy, a farm girl headed for the city of Emerald. She was the captain of the Tornado Senjutsu Martial Art Team at St. Kansas Academy, and she’s the one who names Kakashi’s canine friend Toto. Kakashi’s name means ”scarecrow” and both Dorothy and Tequila say he looks like his namesake. The translator promises that the Oz references continue in future volumes. I can’t wait to meet Osada’s versions of the Tin Man and Lion, not to mention the Wizard himself.
There are less obvious references to Hayao Miyazaka’s films here, too. The scene where the Man Chicken Family hijacks the dirigible reminds me of the scene in Laputa where the air pirates, Dola and her sons, attack the airship that the heroine, Sheeta, is a hostage on. Also, Tequila and his gang are similar in disposition to Dola’s family. They’re both likable bands of rogues whose cutthroat act is more facade than fact.
Dorothy reminds me of the strong female heroines found in Miyazaki’s films. You can compare her to San from Princess Mononoke, Princess Nausicaa, and Fio from Porco Rosso. Also, the pseudohistorical European setting is similar to the ones Miyazaki used in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, and Laputa.
Toto! is a thrilling and fun comedic adventure manga. The book is fast-paced and the jokes are broad with a healthy dose of slapstick. What’s nice is the variety found in both the humor and the action. You get jokes based on character, situational jokes, and goofball gags. I actually laughed out loud while reading it. You have adventure in the air and on land, you get chases and fights, and there are characters with surprising abilities. Kakashi seems to move from one life-threatening situation to another. Osada is like a master chief blending all these ingredients to give you a dish with plenty of diverse flavors without overwhelming you.
Osada has created a great cast of characters too. Kakashi reminds me of the comic strip character Calvin. Part of it is that they have similar hair styles, but they also have similar body language and personality. Both are filled with manic energy, and once they’ve made up their mind about something, they become totally obsessed with the idea. Plus, their grip on reality at times can quite tenuous. That said, Kakashi, like Calvin, is a completely absorbing kid. Once you meet him, you instantly like him. You quickly get caught in his enthusiasm. He has those wonderful traits of youth: naivete and boundless optimism.
This is not Frank Baum’s Dorothy. She is not a quiet, shy farm girl. This Dorothy is a serious-minded young woman looking to make her way in the world. Heaven help any one standing in her way or making her mad. I mentioned earlier that she is the captain of a martial arts squad, and she is not afraid to throw a punch when needed. My jaw hit the floor when she started fighting. This is her first time out in the world by herself, so she shares some of Kakashi’s naivete.
The artwork in the book is as infectious as the characters. Osada’s art has bold lines and a slight animated look to it, which is perfect for this book. The art style communicates a sense of kinetic energy during the action sequences. Just like Bill Watterson, Osada knows how to communicate a ton of information with facial expressions and body language. The art alone can really sell a joke. I normally like artists to experiment with page layouts, but given the quick pace of the story, the traditional grid design works well here. This layout allows the reader easily keep pace with the story.
I had a marvelous time reading this book. I can’t wait for future volumes. I highly recommend this book for anyone. It’s also a great book to give to young readers. It’s rated 13+, but I think most parents will find it suitable for children around 10 or so. Seriously, if you haven’t tried manga, this is a great series to dip your toe in. Now, go buy a copy and rediscover how fun and invigorating comic reading can be. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)