published by Udon Entertainment
Review by Ed Sizemore
Starting in April of this year, Udon Entertainment launches its new line of manga specifically targeted at second through seventh graders. Currently, there are four books in the Manga for Kids line. I’m excited to see more children’s manga being translated, since there isn’t a lot currently in print. Viz has a children’s line, but the bulk of the books are Pokemon or Digimon titles. CMX has Gon. This new line will help fill a gap and allow younger kids to finally get to see what their parents and older siblings are excited about.
To help launch this line, Udon has put together a website (www.mangaforkids.com) especially for these books. There’s a brief description of manga, a guide on how to read manga, and a listing of the four series included in this line with publication dates. The listing for each series includes a brief description and what lessons can be learned through the series. Also, there is a short preview of the first volume for each.
Swans in Space
story and art by Lun Lun Yamamoto
Udon Entertainment, $8.99 US
Corona Hoshino is a sixth-grade class representative that everyone admires. Lan Tsukishima is a shy girl without any real friends. They strike up a conversation on the way to music class one day. Corona finds out that Lan is a member of Space Patrol, a galactic police force that hides its existence from most earthlings. Lan has recruited Corona to be her new partner. As a trainee, Lan is in danger of being thrown out of the Space Patrol if she can’t find a partner and complete her training.
Swans in Space is definitely aimed at very young readers (2nd and 3rd grade). The stories are short, and the plots are straight-forward. The characters speak very directly and openly with each other. It’s sprinkled with humor to keep the situations from getting too serious. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t simplistic or dumbed down. It’s just that everything is right there on the surface; there are no layers of subtext or hidden meanings.
This is the classic police show setup. Two people with opposite personalities are partnered and have to find a way to work together. Yamamoto is on well-covered ground, but it’s perfect for a children’s book. Yamamoto is careful to clearly define each character and let the narrative flow from their natural interactions with each other and their circumstances. Also, there’s lots of room for dramatic conflict and character-based humor.
The art is basic. The character designs and background art are kept minimal. A surprising feature of this manga is that the entire book is in full color. This works well to keep young readers interested. I think it’s an excellent choice for young American readers, since they’re used to seeing comics in color.
I liked Swans in Space and thought it was a well-written book. I’m not sure what appeal this will have to young male readers. The color palette and designs feel girly. I plan on picking this up for my nephew and getting his reaction. I like that this goes against the grain and is about girls who are becoming galactic police office, not boys. It’s great to see a children’s comic telling its readers that jobs aren’t defined by gender.
The Big Adventures of Majoko
story and art by Tomomi Mizuna
Udon Entertainment, $7.99 US
Nana finds a strange book in her bedroom. When she opens it the pages are blank, but out pops the witch Majoko, who is looking for a human partner to go on adventures with her. They have various adventures in the world of magic and quickly become best friends.
This is a fun series. It appears to be written for 4th and 5th graders. The first six chapters are each self-contained stories with a moral at the end. Adults can easily figure out what the lesson will be. For example, neither Nana nor Majoko are particularly good students. So Majoko takes Nana into the magic world to find Good Grade Apples. The ones they find are fakes. When Majoko’s mom shows up, you can figure what she’s going to tell them. I was thinking that each of these chapters might make for good bedtime reading.
Part of the charm of the series is the two lead girls. Majoko is a little overconfident in both her magic abilities and the ability of magic to solve every problem. Nana is a level-headed girl that shows the value of using your brain to try to solve problems. Both the girls and their friendship feel believable.
The art is very good. I especially like the landscape shots of the world of magic. Mizuna uses medieval Europe as her model for the look of the buildings. The witches dress in black dresses with pointy hats. There are werewolves, vampires, frankensteins, etc. For this book, Udon has included a lot of color pages which are a nice treat.
This is a plot-driven series that I think will appeal to both boys and girls. It’s a nice blend of action and friendship. I will warn parents this book ends with a cliffhanger, so there’s a three-month wait to see how the last story ends. I’ll certainly be back to read volume two.
Fairy Idol Kanon
story and art by Mera Hakamada
Udon Entertainment, $7.99 US
Kanon is a young girl with an amazing singing voice that uplifts those who hear it. Alto is the princess of the land of fairies. Fairies derive their strength from hearing beautiful singing voices. Recently, humans have produced fewer singers with beautiful voices, so the fairies and their kingdom are very weak and on the verge of dying out. Alto hopes that Kanon and her two classmates, Marika and Kodama, will become a singing idol trio so that their beautiful voices will spread around the Earth. If that happens, it will save the fairy kingdom and bring the fairies back to full strength.
This series is a nice blend of fantasy and reality. What impressed me were the more realistic elements. Initially, Kanon’s mom refuses to let her go to the idol auditions. Instead of sneaking behind her mother’s back, Kanon and her friends try to figure out ways to change her mind. This respect for parents is refreshing in comics. It also reminds kids there are more constructive ways of arguing with your parent than throwing a hissy fit.
Hakamada is clear to point out that talent is only the first step to success. You also have to work hard and have tenacity. You will have to deal with a lot of different obstacles. There will be rivals trying to sabotage you. There is the problem of just getting noticed by a promoter or record company. There’s the struggle to balance school, friends, and family while practicing. Even with a fairy’s help, it’s not a quick, easy road for these girls.
The artwork is very well-done. It’s simpler than most manga art you see, but it’s never simplistic. The girls are cute, but not unrealistically so. Each girl has a different look and style to match their different personalities. The page layouts are designed to intuitively guide a younger reader to the next panel.
I found Fairy Idol Kanon a little too frilly for boys. This appears to be aimed at 6th and 7th grade readers. Both the art and writing are drawing from the shojo tradition. It feels like this book is designed to prepare girls for a magazine like Shojo Beat.
Ninja Baseball Kyuma!
story and art by Shunshi Maeda
Udon Entertainment, $7.99 US
Kyuma is the last of his ninja clan, living alone with his dog, Inui, in the mountains. He’s still a young ninja in training, awaiting the day he will be called into battle. Kaoru is the captain of a struggling baseball team. Kaoru recruits Kyuma to help him defeat a team of older players. Kyuma knows nothing about baseball and thinks this is a new form of battle. He has to learn to play by the rules of the game and not try to kill the opposing side.
This is my favorite of the four books. Not only because it centers around baseball, my favorite sport, but also because Kyuma is such a likeable guy. Kyuma is energetic and optimistic. I find his enthusiasm to be contagious. He pours his heart into everything. Kyuma is also the classic babe in the woods. A skilled ninja, but has no clue of life apart from training for battle. He’s so honest and straightforward, I can’t help but root him on.
This is also my favorite artwork. The art is dynamic and captures the flow of a baseball game. The sound effects are large, and there are tons of action shots in this book. The art is also the most complex with lots of tone work and detail in the costumes and character designs.
This is a quick-paced book. It’s perfect to keep a young reader from getting bored. I enjoyed it tremendously and look forward to reading further volumes in the series. I also know this is the kind of comic my nephew would like and get excited about. This is aimed at 6th and 7th grade readers and seems to prepare boys to move up to Shonen Jump.
I think this is a solid lineup of books and a good foundation for a kids line of manga. I want to encourage parents and librarians to pick up these books and get them in the hands of their intended audience. I would love to see all these books do well and for Udon to expand their line further. I hope that other publishers will also make more kid-friendly manga available. We desperately need a good translation of Doraemon for American audiences, for example.
(These reviews were based on PDF copies of the books provided by the publisher.)