Flock of Angels Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, June 20, 2008
Release Date: Thursday, August 30, 2007
Translated by:Makiko Sasamoto
Adapted by:Tim Falls
What They Say
The members of the number one pop band Angelaid wear wings on their backs when they perform. This inspires their multitudes of fans to wear wings each day in public. But among the people with costume wings, people with real wings secretly exist! One hundred years ago, a meteor carrying the Angelosis virus hit the Earth. This mysterious disease causes wings to grow on humans. Typical teenager Sheer suddenly grows wings, goes public, and becomes a celebrity. Can Sheer adjust to being a new kind of human?
Sometimes, it's the little things that make a big difference. Case in point: when I opened Volume 1 of Flock of Angels, I was pleasantly surprised that Aurora had printed the manga's interior on thin cardstock. The line art stood out really well against the bright white paper, and the thick paper is a nice touch to resist shelf wear.
Then when the book snapped itself shut the fifth time, I realized why I've never seen a book printed this way before.
While the sturdy paperstock that Aurora's used keeps everything looking sharp, it also has an unfortunate side effect of resisting the reader's efforts to hold the book open. Processing art and text printed close to the binding quickly turns into an exercise in frustration, requiring a surprising amount of physical force to bend the pages back far enough to see anything close to the spine; and reading with anything but both hands firmly gripping their respective half of the books is a lost cause. It may sound like a petty complaint; but it's amazingly frustrating to have a book that actively fights against your reading it, closing itself if you dare let one hand go.
(I'll give credit where credit's due: I've got Volume 2 on hand too, and Aurora's corrected this problem in the latter release by sticking with standard paper stock.)
Hamada's artwork is often ugly and crude. Character designs are unnatural and unattractive, and there are constant signs of artistic half-measures like textures painted on by flood-fill. The shading and texturing are handled so sloppily that they sometimes extend over the borders of the objects that they're supposed to be applied to, spilling onto other objects or onto the background.
The translation reads OK; I didn't notice any typos in the English script. Japanese SFX and asides are preserved, and English translations are printed alongside them.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After reading the angel-filled story synopsis, I picked up this title with quite a bit of trepidation. On the one hand, Japanese pop-culture has introduced some really interesting takes on the Western concept of angels, including respected anime and manga series like Escaflowne and Haibane Renmei. On the other hand, because the angel motif has become so pervasive in certain fandom circles, I sometimes feel like artists try to disguise subpar releases by just slapping of pair of angel wings on a dull character or ten and calling it a day.
Unfortunately, Flock of Angels falls pretty soundly under this second category of titles. Appropriately enough, it's set in a modern-day society where angel fanboy- and fangirlism has reached unprecedented heights: thanks in part to the commercial success of the angel-themed pop band Angelaid (groan), the public's fascination with angel imagery has become so widespread that wearing fake angel wings has turned into a youth fashion trend. As a side effect, this fad has helped victims of angelosis -- a viral disease introduced onto Earth 100 years ago by a meteorite -- mask the fact that they've sprouted genuine, honest-to-goodness angel wings.
And this is where the protagonist, Shea, comes into the picture. Shea is suddenly hit by an onset of the mysterious disease, causing him to sprout wings during an otherwise-ordinary workday. When he rushes home and reveals his condition to his siblings, his older brother Matt secretly captures videotape footage of Shea's wings and submits it to the local news. As Matt hopes, this footage ushers in a wave of publicity for his brother, giving him a foot in the door of the professional fashion design world; it also attracts the unanticipated attention of government officials, who give Shea information about his disease and plead him to take part in a series of pro-angelosis public service announcements.
As strained and rushed as this whole setup is, the story just gets starts getting more and more silly as the plot progresses. When Shea's rise to stardom hits its stride, the government starts sending Shea undercover as bait into dangerous angel slave-trading rings, which are run by evil slave traders who are apparently too stupid to recognize the country's best-known angelosis victim. Despite his new double life as a fashion designer-turned government agent, Shea seems to have plenty of free time to help with the cause of angelosis PR. Whether it's winning over a paparazzo at a hoity-toity benefit party, or convincing his homophobic ... err, angelphobic ... uncle of the errors of his life-long prejudices within the span of five pages, seemingly no job is too convoluted or too contrived for Shea to take on.
As far as I'm concerned, the first volume of Flock of Angels has two huge strikes going against it without doing anything really interesting in its favor to balance them out. First, huge chunks of the story are completely nonsensical, but they're treated in such a serious and deadpan tone that I doubt it's supposed to be intentional. There are plot holes here so large that a small oil tanker could navigate through them: for example, why does Seina have to hatch a convoluted scheme to get kidnapped by the leader of an angel slave ring and fake illness, when all he does in the end is call in the police? I'm not even going to try to wrap my head around how the whole issue of how angelosis spreads, since it obeys some arbitrary list of self-contradictory rules that Hamada has got to be making up on the spot. (It can't be spread genetically, but it can be artificially induced by government-sponsored genetic engineering ... huh?)
The second issue I had with the writing is the clumsy way Hamada that uses angelosis as a proxy for the larger issues of prejudice and discrimination. Incorporating a social conscience into the story is one thing; but it's another thing to constantly regurgitate the same heavy-handed and condescendingly simplistic moral lesson, as Hamada does here. Flock of Angels drills the message of "discrimination eeeeevil!" into the reader's head at every opportunity, spoon-feeding the audience tragic sob stories about foreign persecution of angelosis carriers and families that disown sons afflicted with the disease. These ancillary side-plots pack about as much subtlety and nuance as a sledgehammer blow, and they often border on insulting the reader's intelligence.
So far, I can't find much positive to say about Flock of Angels. If you're a fan of all things angel-related, then it's got that going for it ... but that's about where its high points end. The writing is a confused mess; the art isn't much better; and the whole thing just bored and frustrated me.
Mania Grade: D
Art Rating: D+
Packaging Rating: D
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Aurora Publishing, Inc.
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Flock of Angels