Sunday, March 06, 2005

Reviewing Worst - Vol. 1 

It seems like Digital Manga Publishing has been doing a push to send review copies to bloggers, and I was lucky enough to get the first volumes of Worst and IWGP. Most of the reviews I've read from others liked IWGP best, so I decided to tackle Worst first:

Worst is by Hiroshi Takahashi and revolves around country boy Hana who arrives at a boarding house in the city where he'll stay while going to school. It ends up that his school is one of the worst around, full of toughs who fight it out. Despite being friendly and unassuming, it turns out Hana is a great fighter with plans of his own.

First, let's talk production. I have to say that the quality on DMP's books are very nice. The front cover is pretty striking and the logo seems fine. The DMP bar/logo is also thankfully pretty innocuous. Something to note is that this is slightly larger (8.25"x6") than most of the manga out there these days. This gives it a pretty substantial feel, things aren't lost in the spine, and it opens up well. It'll stick out a bit on a shelf, though. It has a dust cover like most digests do in Japan, with a b&w cover under it. I do wish they would have removed the "over 1 mil sold" balloon from the b&w cover. The back has a flower design instead of the description/price/rating of the dust cover, so why keep the marketing quote on the front?

The paper is good and the printing quality itself is very nice and crisp. There was one panel on page 62 that seems strangely pixilated, but other than that it looks fantastic with no moire patterns in the screentone. I have to admit that at $12.95, I'd be less likely to pick one of these up on a whim, but the price seems justified due to the quality of production.

The translation seems fine for the most part in terms of how it flows. No unnecessary slang, etc. I really like how they handled the sound effects. The sfx are left alone but then a small english subtitle is placed next to it. Replacing sfx entirely is difficult (especially when they are integrated into the art), glossaries are a pain, and I hate when they aren't translated at all, so this seems like a good compromise. They also keep in the occational word like "sempai" with a culture note in the gutter. One thing that is a bit odd is a couple of places where a sfx switches between the meaning and the sound. For instance the first time you see "shiin", it is translated as "silience". The next time they just write out "shiin". That kind of works, but for people less used to Japanese sfx, they might not make the connection that these two instances are the same thing.

For artwork, I have to say that Takahashi is pretty gifted. For those that aren't into the "big eyes" look, here is something for you. In fact most of the characters' eyes are SMALLER normal people's. ;) And while there is still some cartoony moments (especially for Hana), the artwork is generally pretty grounded. Other reviewers have mentioned his skill in differentiating the various characters, and I agree that he's done a good job. Lots of distinctive facial features and clothing keeps you from getting the main characters confused. Here are the char designs of the five guys at the boarding house. But once it gets to the school, I almost feel like I stepped into a shoujo manga when I look at how many shirt patterns this guy comes up with. ;)

I was also impressed by the judicious use of screen tone (after the first couple of chapters). When it is used, it doesn't call attention to itself and a decent number of shirt designs were inked by hand. The backgrounds are surprisingly detailed as well. You get the feeling that in the times when it is left out, it is to emphasise the character, not just the creator being lazy. Also interesting is a technique used during crowd scenes. I've seen other manga and anime to sometimes leave background characters undetailed, but in Worst he will tend to render these people as very detailed except for having totally blank faces. This gets across pretty well that they are just a sea of people that we don't need to focus on.

Now, as for the story, it certainly isn't for everyone, but I found myself warming to it. Our main character (nicknamed Hana, which means flower), is a friendly country guy with a shaved head. He reminds me of adult Goku in DBZ in that he's a genuinely nice (and somewhat innocent) person who can switch into a serious fighting mode. The other characters he encounters at the boarding house range from tough to outsider to fearful. The adult who runs it seems like a yakuza (but might not be), and the cook is his brother, a transvestite.

Speaking of which, I think it is interesting to note that (at least in this first volume) there are no females at all. It might be that girlfriends and such will appear later on, but currently they don't seem to exist in this world. While on first glance that seems like a bad thing, I'm not so sure. So many fighting manga seem to put in females as either token characters or sexual objects. It is refreshing that there is no fanservice to be found in this book.

In fact, for a book about fighting, there's surprisingly little fighting as well. Takahashi seems to take a more abstract approach. While many fighting manga will have entire volumes devoted to a single fight, so far most of the fights have either taken place off-panel or at most a couple of pages. Even the fighting tournament which decides the top dogs of the school is half-over during one chapter (and most of that chapter is devoted to the people on the sidelines talking). With this being a bunch of normal street brawlers, I think he is smart to realize that (like in a horror movie) it is better to let us use our imaginations to fill in the fight. Here is an entire fight in one two-page spread.

My main complaint at this point is just that there are a lot of characters thrown at you at once (especially once they get to the school), as well as a lot of exposition to introdcuce those people and explain the groups and factions. Still, it seems like this is going to be a book focusing less on the fights themselves and more on the characters involved in them and the various politics of alliances and such. I'm very curious to see where it heads. If it can keep up the energy it has and provide some more depth to the characters, it should be a pretty solid fighting soap opera.

As an aside, considering the recent hoopla surrounding TenTen, it is nice to note that DMP gave this a rating of Young Adult (16+), which seems appropriate. While there is some moderate swearing, the violence is actually less graphic than that of Teen-rated series like Naruto, though that could very well change in future volumes. But it also just feels older than the Jump titles do. Still, if CMX wanted a fighting title for teens, this would have been way more appropriate than the graphic fanservice and violence of TenTen. This is a very solid production from DMP that feels pretty transparent. Instead of screaming about "authenticity" like some companies do, in this case the results speak for themselves.

DMP also has the entire first chapter online as a preview, which is always nice (and sure saves me some time in linking to images..heh). Next up will be a review of IWGP.

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