It is with great luck, persistence and a few of my favorite comic book stores’ help that I’ve been able to finish collecting Eagle, Banana Fish, Recipe for Gertrude and Andromeda Stories recently. (Admittedly, I found Andromeda Stories on Right Stuf.)
Andromeda Stories by Keiko Takemiya and Ryu Mitsuse: I was really excited to read Andromeda Stories because I loved To Terra…, but Andromeda Stories fell flat for me and I’m going to blame Mitsuse for it. Accompanying Takemiya’s lovely art is rather poor world building, bad character development and a plot that takes so long to get off the ground it completely forces the story to implode.
The story begins as the Ayodoyan princess, Lilia, marries the Cosmoralian king, Ithaca and gets pregnant. Ithaca starts acting strangely and it turns out he’s been infected by evil machines that want to take over the entire planet. After giving birth, unknowingly, to twins, Lilia flees with her son Jimsa. The evil machines take over Cosmoralia and Ayodoya at the same time and Lilia’s other child winds up with a prostitute.
Prince Jimsa grows up in the desert, protecting his mom. He gets to step into the role of destined rebel prince when a mysterious elder approaches him, but reneges on their partnership when Mommy Dearest is nearly killed. And this is where our hero’s character development screeches to a grinding halt. Lilia, Ithaca, the machines, the Elder and many other supporting characters have no development to speak of, by the way.
In comes Affle, Jimsa’s long lost twin, as the Elder’s replacement for Jimsa, who feels a strong need to protect Affle. Then they fall in love. Then they all finally get off their asses and start trying to fight the machines, but it’s too late and everyone dies.
And that’s how this manga ends, as a beautifully-illustrated incestuous mess. All that build-up, all that “oh, Prince Jimsa/Affle, you were meant to deliver us from the machines” crap and everyone just dies anyway. I am pretty sure this one got cut off by the editors because it was really unpopular with readers. And for good reason, I think. In other hands, Andromeda Stories could have been a romantic epic.
Dear Vertical, can you license something better by Keiko Takemiya next? Pretty please?
Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President by Kaiji Kawaguchi: It’s terribly interesting to read Eagle as various candidates begin to compete anew for the presidency and as someone who first became aware of politics when the events of the manga take place. It’s also quite interesting how the 2000 election turned out in favor of a white Republican candidate, although a non-white Democrat was elected into the Oval Office less than a decade later.
The story follows a young reporter named Takashi Jo who has been invited to report on the presidential campaign of Kenneth Yamaoka. Jo knows that Yamaoka is his dead beat father and that he may be responsible for Jo’s mother’s death, but Jo decides to trail the campaign anyway.
There’s a lot of high-tension drama in Eagle as Yamaoka struggles to win over American voters and a lot of people who don’t like him. All kinds of politic scandal is thrown out there: illegitimate children, extramarital affairs, dirty deals, blackmail. You name it, Eagle got it in there. It’s a testament to Kawaguchi’s research that he gets not only the scandal right, but the attitudes of various regions and the true problems that presidential candidates face while trying to win over the people.
And it’s entertaining. The fast pace of the election really helps keep things interesting- because when you look at the bare bones of the story, Eagle is like one of those shounen manga where you fight a foe before they become your friend- as does the romance between Takashi and Yamaoka’s adopted daughter, Rachel.
At the same time, it’s such a sadly idealistic manga to be reading today, especially post-9-11. As a young adult, I’m not sure I could believe an idealistic candidate like Yamaoka, assuming he was running nowadays. Even if I voted him into office, I wouldn’t expect him to be able to get anything done. Still, it rekindled my interest in the stories tha happen during the presidential elections. Perhaps I shall look forward to the upcoming one just a little bit more.
Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida: No sooner did I put down the final volume of Banana Fish than I began to cry a little. Not too many manga have done that to me! This 19 volume series starts out about the titular mind control drug, but becomes more and more about the main character Ash. His struggle to gain independence from all the cold-blooded evil in his life is more than a little intense. Ash is the leader of a number of New York City gangs, and is set to inherit a powerful position in the Italian mafia as head of the Union Corse. There’s so much violence, rape and killing, you can barely believe this is a shoujo manga.
Since the majority of the characters in the book are male, the aforementioned rape ranges from secret pedophilia clubs to jail gang bangs. Luckily, it’s only alluded to and not shown, but it’s all a large part of the yaoi influence in this series. It’s also a huge motivation for Ash to move the story along as he wants to destroy the head of the Union Corse, Dino Goldzine, who is his adoptive father, pimp and tormentor.
Another bit of yaoi influence is in Ash’s relationship with Eiji Okumura, a Japanese photographer’s assistant visit Japan to chronicle New York City’s dangerous gang members. Eiji winds up getting caught up in the violence, but because if it, he forms a deep bond with Ash. They aren’t lovers, soul mates is a much better word, but they can’t really stand to be separated for long.
The story ends in the final volumes with a whirlwind of violence and trying to outsmart the enemy, which is quite the emotional buildup because Ash has almost nothing whereas Papa Goldzine has billions of dollars at his disposal. The ending also strays very far from the original premise of the series, with only brief mentions of Banana Fish. But it’s so entertaining you hardly notice the story has gone off on a tangent, never to return.
Banana Fish is well worth tracking down for the impact of the whole story.
Recipe for Gertrude by Nari Kusakawa: I’ve read a few of Kusakawa’s series now and I have to say that Recipe for Gertrude is her weakest. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the story, except that the two main characters, Gertrude and Sahara, are rather uninteresting and the most interesting thing that happens to them is that they fall in love. Sadly, Kusakawa never puts enough emphasis on this romance and the reader finds little other reason to relate to them.
Far more interesting are the side characters, Mariotte and Puppen, two demons who become attached to Gertrude, as well as a demon librarian. All three have quirks that Gertrude and Sahara totally lack, something that becomes obvious when you read short stories about them in the final volume.
Normally, I would be all for a little less emphasis on romance in a shoujo manga, but this isn’t the the way to go about it. I suggest reading some of Kusakawa’s stronger series like Two Flowers for the Dragon. (Which is also out of print due to DC shutting down CMX.)