Baku Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Art Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: B-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 192
  • ISBN: 1-42780-285-8
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: Baku

Baku Vol. #01

By Greg Hackmann     October 18, 2007
Release Date: October 01, 2007


Baku Vol.#01
© TOKYOPOP


Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Hakase Mizuki
Translated by:Yoohae Yang
Adapted by:Nathan Johnson

What They Say
In this collection of paranormal short stories, Takeshi Uesugi finds out that he is the reincarnation of the "Baku," a spirit that devours people's nightmares, while Mephist "help" ghosts, demons, and other supernatural spirits. Everyone has a past or memory they can't forget...

The Review
Baku's first story is a waste of 120 perfectly good pages of paper, and its second story ends almost as soon as it starts getting really interesting.

Packaging:
Baku's cover artwork is appropriately sparse, featuring an outline of Takeshi and Fuyuko sitting together under a mostly-barren tree. Oddly, the covers feature a vertical title block that reads BA_KU, whereas the credits page and Tokyopop's promotional material opt for the more conventional Baku spelling. (I'll stick with the latter in this review.) The back cover features the standard story synopsis, except that here it's broken up into blocks which are rotated into various orientations. Apparently, Tokyopop's cover art department either has too much time on their hands, or wants to actively discourage people from reading the synopsis in bookstores.

Inside, Baku is partitioned into distinct "Baku" and "Mephisto" sections, with three chapters and two chapters allocated to these sections respectively. Confusingly, the two stories are printed without so much as a single blank page separating them, save for a small "End" mark that barely peeks out from the book's spine. The advertisements that follow these stories are the closest thing Tokyopop gives us to extras.

The print quality is generally standard for mass-market paperback manga, with clean lines in the art and lettering. However, the cover page for the first chapter is extremely muddy, and appears to be sloppily converted from color to black-and-white.

Artwork:
The "Baku" section of the book exhibits a minimalist art style, with character designs stripped down to the bare essentials and backdrops often reduced to pure white or black panels. While I have nothing against this kind of style per se, Mizuki's stylistic choice comes at the cost of the story's readability. Clothing and facial features are simplified to the point that it's often hard to tell even the main characters apart; some of the few remaining cues, like clothing and hair color, aren't even consistent across the story's artwork.

The "Mephisto" section, on the other hand, features a complete shift in artistic direction. Where Mizuki barely bothered to outline the characters' basic features before, "Mephisto"'s character designs feature an array of bold strokes and vibrant costumes, and backdrops are no longer reduced to monotone rectangles. Overall, the artwork exhibits a much wider range of detail and shading than before, which adds a nice touch to the story's atmosphere.

Text/SFX:
Tokyopop prints most of the dialog here in their standard comic-style font, without any noticeable typos or grammatical errors. Unfortunately, they insist on using a tiny typeface for printing asides and internal monologue, a fault that has plagued many of their other releases.

Sound effects and signs are left untranslated save for a handful of places, where translations were provided below the Japanese text or in the margin.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While returning from hiding out from a pack of rabid fangirls, semi-professional model Takeshi Uesugi encounters a young girl playing in the street with her dog. Their conversation is interrupted when a car comes barreling down the street, only to finally turn away when Takeshi mentally compels the driver to do so. Unnerved by the situation and confused by his apparent psychic control over the driver, Takeshi is even more shocked when his father greets him with the news that his mother has escaped from the mental asylum. His mother, locked away for believing that her son is the product of an affair with a non-human creature, soon arrives at her son's apartment, and returns his warm greeting with the business end of a dagger.

After Takeshi settles on casually bleeding to death in the comfort of his own home, he is rudely interrupted by another pair of visitors: the Snow Woman Fuyuko, and Nekomata of the Cat Tribe. Surprised by their grand entrance through his twelfth-story window, he is equally bewildered by their story that he is a Baku, an eater of nightmares. At this point, the reader is shown several fights that Baku has been involved with over his many incarnations, including ones that tie his life story into that of Fuyuko and Nekomata; but with so little background information presented between the fights, it's difficult to figure out who Baku is fighting, much less why, when, where, or how.

The three chapters that constitute "Baku" lead into "Mephisto", the two-chapter story that fills out the rest of the book. Mephisto IV, an orphaned half-demon/half-man, has taken charge of excising the neighborhood of its resident lost souls. He does this with the assistance of his pixie Nana, his hamster Creamtea, his twin sisters Chie and Shige, and resident mooch Mika. The supporting cast largely fades into the background in these two chapters, with Mephisto and Nana respectively taking charge of comforting the souls of a young suicide victim and an abandoned doll.

Comments
The two stories that Mizuki presents here aren't just unrelated in terms of plot: they vary so much in style and quality that it's hard to believe that they were produced by the same author. The three-chapter "Baku" story opens the volume on an extremely weak note, with a storyline that barely even qualifies as "skeletal". Mizuki seems to be making it all up as she goes along; characters drop in and out of the story with no apparent logic, discuss supernatural powers that never actually materialize, and generally behave with no clear motivation or purpose. Why is it that Takeshi's nightmare-eating powers apparently endow him with the ability to levitate and psychically control others, but not to eat nightmares? If Nekomata is a member of the cat tribe, then why doesn't he look or behave like a cat in any way? What exactly is this "Snow Woman" title that Fuyuko is labeled with, and how did she become one? Why do all these people get involved in fights with Baku? I don't have good answers to any of those questions, and Mizuki certainly isn't telling.

These shortcomings are compounded by the minimalist art style used throughout the story. Character designs and backdrops are pared down to the point that the reader has little sense of what's happening to which person at any given time. Mizuki's tendency to jump between timeframes just adds another dimension to the confusion, as there are few visual clues to clarify even when certain events occur. When combined with the virtually non-existent plot, it all makes for a frustrating and unrewarding reading experience.

The "Mephisto" portion of Baku is a massive improvement over the book's first section. That's not to say that "Mephisto" doesn't suffer from some of its own plotting problems, such as Mizuki's tendency to drop subplots without following them through to the end. However, there's enough development of the key plot points and characters to keep things interesting throughout this short section. Mephisto and Nana in particular work together well as a pair, and the story's quirky sense of dark humor kept a smile on my face while I was reading. Moreover, the artwork here is a much better fit for the story, with dark shading and a judicious use of detailing to complement the plot's black comedic tone and horror setting. This stylistic flair keeps the remaining plot issues from derailing the story as a whole; the only real disappointment is that Mizuki ends things just as the reader starts to settle into the storyline.

Unfortunately, the book as a whole is weighed down by the disastrous "Baku" chapters, and the improvements exhibited in "Mephisto" simply come across as too little, too late. Frankly, the "Baku" section is such an unreadable mess that I'm hard pressed to find any redeeming qualities in any of its 120+ pages. The remaining 70 or so pages dedicated to "Mephisto" are a massive improvement over what came before them; but they only barely give Mizuki enough time to introduce the characters and plant the seeds for an interesting storyline. By the time she manages to draw the reader in to Mephisto's world, the story's over.

All told, I can't really recommend Baku. Much of the material is a complete waste of time, and what remains is not really enough to justify a purchase.

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