written by Surt Lim; art by Hirofumi Sugimoto
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
The writer’s American, the artist’s Japanese — does that make this OEL (global) manga or authentic? Who cares! Kasumi wears its love of standard manga elements on its chest like the big red bow that’s part of our heroine’s completely unrealistic class uniform. But they’re stuffed in with such happy energy that it’s still a fun escapist read.
That cheerfulness is what sets this apart from a cliché-fest like Kujibiki Unbalance. Surt Lim, the writer, isn’t Japanese, but she clearly loves the fantasy version of the place she’s read about so many times, and she’s doing her best to show it in this story of a magical schoolgirl.
Kasumi has an absent, work-oriented father and a deceased mother. Because of her dad’s work, she finds herself entering a new elite school with snobby students. Her good heart and fearlessness sets her apart, making her a target for their bullying. (I told you this would sound familiar.) She’s also got the most interesting hobby of a shojo heroine: she does magic tricks. Not real magic (that comes later), but stage magic, slight-of-hand, card trick kind of stuff. That makes for a nice contrast to the book’s concept, that she can also turn invisible when she holds her breath.
Normally, I wouldn’t reveal such a surprising element when it isn’t introduced to the reader until halfway through the story, but the book’s back cover puts that in the first paragraph, so I guess it’s ok. By the time it arrives, though, we’ve already had family trouble, a near-death fall, school trouble, a mysterious encounter with magical fireflies, student hazing, and a competition bet… as I said, this book is stuffed. It’s much like the weather. Don’t like an element? Wait a few pages, something else will come along to distract you. That’s a pleasant change from fewer ideas being strung out over more pages.
Lim also puts an unusual twist on the standard otaku geek. He’s the only one who’s friendly to Kasumi on her first day (perhaps because he’s also an outcast). Instead of loving manga, though, he’s a huge fan of superheroes, especially “Superguy”. It was a bit surprising to see caped heroes even mentioned, let alone as a character element, but then I found out that the pitch for this was once “a shojo comedy version of the X-Men”, and his presence makes more sense. Future volumes (the second is due in March) seem to promise more exploration of where Kasumi’s invisibility came from and discovery of others with their own unusual powers.
Artist Hirofumi Sugimoto usually does more shonen-style works. This is shojo, but the switch works. While the characters are conventionally designed (except for their lack of noses), the panels have a bit more action, a little less “nothing but face closeups”. The emotions are there, but there’s more body language and movement to convey them. It’s very confident in presentation, which suits Kasumi’s energy well. I expect to enjoy rereading this, since there’s so much going on, both in story and art.
The book has its own website. More information on Surt Lim can be found at her company site, while Hirofumi Sugimoto has his own art site. This interview talks more about their online collaboration process. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)