by Haro Aso
published by Viz; $9.99 US
If you were going to pick a magical stuffed animal to protect and train you, wouldn’t you want a chainsaw-wielding, cigar-smoking, fedora-wearing teddy bear?
Closer is a wimp. He knows it, and the whole school knows it. The only person with faith in him was his beloved grandfather, a globe-trotting archaeologist. Only Grandpa went missing years ago, and Closer didn’t learn until just now that he was the King of Sorcerers. That only matters because magicians from all over the world are now hunting Closer, mostly with enchanted toys. If these enemies can eat the heart of the direct descendent of the Sorcerer King, they can gain his immense power. (Eww.)
Thankfully, Grandpa left Hyde, an enchanted bear totem, to protect Closer. Along the way, Hyde will teach Closer how to stand up for himself, become a man, and justify his place as heir to a King. Hyde’s a stand-in for the grandfather’s love and life lessons. He’ll believe in Closer, which will help him grow up, as the bear emphasizes that manliness is based in courage, confidence, and conviction.
The combination Hyde embodies, deadly cuteness, fuels most of the battles in this book. The chapters follow formula: some killer toy is sent to get Closer, and Hyde protects him while encouraging Closer’s courage and self-awareness. When Hyde first awakens, it’s to fight a stuffed monkey throwing knives. The pair’s next challenge is a demonic jack-in-the-box.
I found these fights artistically confusing, but that’s typical of shonen manga for me. I don’t read enough battle comics to be familiar with the visual language and conventions. Instead, I figure not knowing what’s going on is a similar feeling as Closer has during these attacks.
I also wonder what kind of substitution is going on to make this series suitable for the American audience. It’s rated for Older Teen, likely due to violence, but perhaps also due to Hyde’s smoking and drinking. An early panel is prominently labeled “Chocolate Cigars”, and Hyde’s drink on the rocks is said to be honey, not bourbon, but I wonder how much of that is authentic to the original. Then there’s the “Texas Chainsaw”, the magical weapon Hyde pulls out of his back, and the way it slices through the enemy toys.
There’s something inspired about having a kid learn what it means to be a man from a teddy bear — I imagine this plays into lots of boys’ concerns as they struggle with growing up. It’s a shame that the younger audience that would most enjoy or appreciate this are ruled out by the rating. (The publisher provided a review copy.)