Vermonia Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, December 23, 2010
Release Date: Monday, August 31, 2009
Four ordinary kids discover they are reincarnations of the protectors of the universe!
What They Say
On a distant Blue Star, Mel, Jim, Naomi, and Doug - friends obsessed with their garage band - don't seem that different from any of the other twelve-year-old skateboarders at Union Middle School. But everything changes when Mel is kidnapped and imprisoned in a world called the Turtle Realm. As her friends rush to save her, guided by the magical squelp Satorin, they find a world terrorized by a conquering army; a land whose villagers' only hope is an ancient prophecy foretelling the arrival of four heroes. Will they be brave enough to release their true warrior spirits - and return the rightful queen to her throne?
This is the first Candlewick title I've seen, and I'm impressed by the production quality. The book comes with a dust cover featuring Doug and his silver tiger guardian spirit in the foreground and Queen Frasinella, Doug's three friends, and their magical squelp in the background. Flip the dust cover over, and you'll find a black-and-white illustration of the four main characters printed on the inside. Printed on the actual cover is yet another illustration, this one of Queen Frasinella and the planet Vermonia in shades of blue. The book also includes two glossy opening pages in full color as well as a foldout two-sided mini poster. The paper stock is about average, and the print quality is nice and crisp. The sound effects are all in English, but there are a few places where the original Japanese sound effects remain.
The artists are a team called Yoyo, which is apparently Japanese, but I'm guessing that American collaborators played a large role in the series’ creation. The artwork and character expressions are more reminiscent of American comic books than shonen manga, and the main characters look and behave like American kids. In addition, the dialogue bubbles are more wide than long, which better accommodates English text, instead of the opposite, which is more often the case with Japanese script.
Doug, Naomi, Jim, and Mel are friends that have grown up together in Union City. They have a good time skateboarding and playing in their band, Veracity. But their normal suburban life drastically changes when otherworldly creatures materialize in their skateboarding lot. Suddenly, they're transported to another planet where they discover that they are the reincarnations of the four ministers of the Great Queen, Frasinella, and that the fate of the universe depends on them...
This series is rated for ages eight and up, and indeed it's well suited for a Western juvenile fantasy/action audience. It has a Chronicles of Narnia feel to it. There are no Japanese cultural references, the tweenage main characters have Western names and come from what looks like an American town, and most of the action ends up taking place on a fantasy world anyway.
The story is predominantly plot driven. Mel gets kidnapped by the bad guys, and her friends have to rescue her and free their guardian spirits in order to defeat the evil forces threatening good Queen Frasinella's order of the universe. Between world building and explaining all the prophecies that the main characters have to fulfill, there's not a whole lot of space left for character development.
Much as I dislike it when people refer to manga as kids' books, Vermonia is actually a children's series. The dialogue and situations are simplistic, and the characters largely one-dimensional. There are also places where the plot doesn't make much sense. In our main characters' opening scene, an indignant Mel tells her friends they have to stay out of their usual skateboarding lot because her father the mayor put up a no trespassing sign, yet ten pages later, she's skateboarding there with them. In a later scene, our heroes flee through a forest on their skateboards -- something that might sound very cool to a kid reader but wouldn't work very well in real life (there's a reason skateboards aren't off-road vehicles). As a side note, associated with the series is a website with online games connected to the story.
The fate of the world rests in the hands of four skateboarding 12-year-olds. It's a good title for kids aged 8 through 10, even those unfamiliar with manga. There's fantasy, magic, and action without excessive violence or anything lewd or obscene. It is rather simplistic though and is less likely to appeal to teen and adult readers.
Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A+
Text/Translation Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 and Up
Released By: Candlewick Press
Orientation: Right to Left