written by Barry Lyga; illustrated by Colleen Doran
published by Houghton Mifflin; $18.99 US
This dynamite concept didn’t quite come together for me, although I’ve been anticipating it since it was first announced. The idea — a manga-styled character transfers universes to the “real” world, where what he considers normal is perceived as freaky — is terrific and playful, but the execution tries to combine too many elements, and the result winds up short-changing some of the themes.
Artist Colleen Doran is certainly well aware of and capable of drawing in the stereotypical manga style — the book doesn’t seem aimed at those who realize that assuming that there’s only one is as silly as talking about just one “American comic style” — but I found her art approach to the “real world” sections, while gorgeous, a bit too ornate for the point of the book. It’s best used during a metafictional segment with strong character outlines that reminded me of the work of Alphonse Mucha.
Writer Barry Lyga sets up familiar characters and situations at the start. The lost outsider has a scruffy government handler, who reminded me of Pete Wisdom or another of that trenchcoat crowd. (It’s the same setup as the recent movie I Am Number Four.) Marissa, the love interest, was the popular homecoming queen and dated the head jock, but she found it all boring, so now she dresses in costumes. (The art is amazing in creating different looks, but as a personality quirk, it seems too constructed.) Her goth-ish best friend narrates the exposition to us.
It’s love at first sight between Marissa and Ryoko, the manga boy, allowing for literal hearts in his eyes and jealousy from the possessive ex-boyfriend Chaz. Between the obvious plot and the way Marissa speaks in text — BTW, said as “Bee Tea Dub” — I began feeling too old for the material. Then the extradimensional monsters showed up, for Ryoko to battle, and that’s when I became concerned about how much was being attempted here, and how successfully it would all conclude.
I would love to read the cultural contrast story, with a manga appearance symbolizing feeling different, but add in the burgeoning Romeo-and-Juliet romance, the cross-dimensional monster battle, the high school soap opera, AND the metafictional commentary, and there’s just too much to give any of it enough space. Which is a real shame, because there is so much potential here that I wanted much more of it fleshed out and developed beyond the stereotypical basics we get. Instead, I found the ending rushed and unsatisfying.
Given that this is being put out by a children’s books imprint, I was surprised to see a nude sex scene complete with joke about genital blurring. I suspect parents won’t find it funny. There’s also some explicit violence near the end, including a shooting, that adults should keep in mind before kids read this.
I wish this book had been much longer. The 126 pages of story aren’t enough to flesh out the tale Lyga and Doran are telling, especially given the number of wasted two-page chapter breaks. (It’s a nice design, but at times it makes the book feel choppy.) I’m still puzzling over whether the ending is a good idea for Marissa. It doesn’t really address her sources of unhappiness, although it’s certainly foreshadowed by her earlier method of coping. I hope there’s some good discussion about it after the book’s release; I’m curious to hear what others think.
My favorite part of the book was the manga jokes, showing how conventions of that format would play out in another world. If you’re interested in how Americans approach manga, you should definitely check out Mangaman just for that. At some future date, a sample chapter will be available at the official website. Mangaman can be ordered from your local comic shop with the code JUL11 1128. It’s due out in November. (This review is based on an advance reading copy.)