by Sekihiko Inui; adapted by Bryce P. Coleman
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
Subtitled “The Smallest Hero?!”, Ratman is the story of Shuto, a superhero fan who dreams of becoming a hero himself in spite of his lack of height. As he narrates, “Thanks to recent huge leaps in Japanese technology, corporations have been churning out heroes like crazy.” They’re mostly spokespeople for products and companies, but they also give the impression that anyone could be a good guy just like them.
Since he’s short, Shuto’s dreams are laughed at by his sisters and classmates. He’s rescued by Rio, the daughter of the president of the Hero Association, skilled in her own right. (In addition to fighting, her abilities include battling in such a way that we see her panties from plenty of different angles, reminding me that this is a book aimed at boys.)
The ethos here is movie-inspired, from the opening credits, following a poster-like layout and typeface, to the panel staging and action sequences and character poses, standing on rooftops with cape billowing. Shuto’s room says it all about him; it’s stuffed with superhero action figures, statues, and posters. The kids are cute, typically styled for manga, with Shuto’s shock of hair going everywhere and a beautiful long-haired young ice queen for him to crush on, forming the third leg of the triangle.
The beauty is part of his transformation — she’s a hostage, and he’s pushed into signing a hero contract to get the abilities he needs to rescue her. Only then is he told it was all a setup, and he’s now Ratman, working for the villainous organization called Jackal.
Cue the obvious. Shuto thinks “I love my powers, but I don’t want to be a bad guy, but maybe they’ll let me go once I complete this mission, but what will that cute hero girl think of me when she finds out.” It’s Superman all over again, only backwards. (Like reading manga compared to English, heh.) During his first mission, he has to confront a “real” hero and ponder who gets to define what heroism really means.
Rio similarly gets a predictable storyline. She’s training hard to be a hero, but her father wants a proper young lady. She also provides the fan service, as mentioned above, plus a bathtub scene. Since we’re in the U.S., although this is rated for Older Teen, 16+, her breasts are covered with blurry steam (that looks more like erasure marks than part of the art). That rating is a shame, since I think younger boys, 12 or so, would get more out of this wish-fulfillment action comedy.
As is typical of early volumes in manga series, author Sekihiko Inui doesn’t seem quite sure which threads he wants to follow, since the height thing doesn’t get much play after the first chapter. (His hero transformation takes care of that, causing a hunger that becomes a plot point in chapter 4.) He’s putting pieces into play and then seeing which ones are fruitful for continuing content.
My favorite part were the three anonymous, interchangeable minions. They’re used for background comedy, much like Hakim’s harem in Emma — important to establish the details of the hero’s role, non-speaking, but sometimes the funniest part of the scene. (The publisher provided a review copy.)