Broken Angels Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Translated by:Nayoung Aimee Kwon
What They Say
Fujiwara Sunao is a rather unusual young lady. Not only does she prefer to wear her hair short and dress like a bouy, but she also possesses the power to control water! One might think Fujiwara would be an odd fit at her school, but strangely, she's not. Between the destructive and demented school president, the kooky and somewhat stalker-like school nurse, and the obsessed underclassman who wants to be her apprentice, Fujiwara may be the sanest person at the school - which is a big help considering she may be asked to save it!
The packing on this release is really nice. Sunao is the only figure on the front, naked with her arms crossed and large wings of water coming out of her back. One of the wings extends around the spine to the back cover. Across the top and bottom borders is a reoccurring pattern that looks very similar to snowflakes, and the logo is approximately in the center of the front cover and looks great. It's a very minimalist approach, but the wings are drawn and colored so well that it really makes the volume pop out. It bears all the standard Tokyopop trademarks: the Tokyopop mascot, manga name, creator's name and volume number on the spine, and a summary of the story on the back.
Setsuri Tsuzuki is an excellent shoujo artist. It is easy to tell the women from the men (not always the simplest thing to do in shoujo), and Sunao looks like a girl even with short hair and boys' clothes. Her water-controlling ability looks cool, and with all the individual, scattered strands of water it's strongly reminiscent of CLAMP's work. The characters are all drawn to scale and their faces have great emotional range. Backgrounds change from intricate to sparse, and sometimes absent altogether. Plain white backgrounds are generally used more to emphasize an emotional scene, while the detailed backgrounds are more prevalent in action scenes. The only negative is that some panels have so much going on in them, and contain so much detail that they seem cramped, but this is a relatively minor issue. The artwork is definitely this manga's strongest point.
The translation for Broken Angels is good, but not great. Sentences can be confusing, but by and large the dialogue is easy to read and enjoyable. That is, when you can tell who is talking; it is often quite difficult to ascertain the speaker in certain scenes, due to many speech bubbles lacking tails (the parts that point towards the character speaking). This is obviously not the fault of the translation and adaptation team, and I believe they have made the best of a bad situation. On the bright side, there are little notes and asides throughout the volume, usually on the outside of speech bubbles, and while some can be difficult to read, the small size is necessary to keep the panels clean and open.
Fujiwara Sunao is not what many would consider a normal girl. First of all she goes around school dressed in a boy's uniform, which really gets the principal riled up and the other girls swooning. Of course, this pales in comparison to her ability to control water, which she keeps a closely guarded secret. She also has the more subtle ability of empathy, which allows her to feel what other people (and animals) are feeling, or have felt in the past. Along with all of this comes a desire to do her own thing, and while she isn't actively rebelling against anything per se, she refuses to follow any rules other than her own. With her supernatural powers and a little bit of moxie she manages to help various people with their problems, which can range from saving a little girl that falls into a river to stopping a homicidal hacker from killing everyone in school, and everything in between (Disclaimer: volume may not actually contain everything in between).
Throughout the volume she manages to obtain a continually growing retinue of friends and admirers, including the class president Ikushima Kureha, whom Sunao saves from a fiery murder-suicide; the creepy school nurse, Mr. Shizuki, who dresses very much like a woman and seems to have hidden motives; and Ugaki Maasa, an underclassman who admires Sunao but tries a little too hard to emulate her.
The last chapter deals mainly with Ikushima and Sonoda Harumi, an admirer of hers who spends much of his day stalking her and wishing he could paint her portrait. When she finally takes notice him, however, he is shocked to discover that his preconceived notions of her personality are grossly incorrect. In the end he still admires her, once he can get used to her as a greedy, narcissistic nymphomaniac.
Broken Angels is a difficult read. Not because its content is too extreme or graphic, and not because there is so much going on that it's difficult to keep track of everything. No, the reason is that it is literally difficult to read. The story, which still manages to be interesting, is very disjointed; often I had to focus like a laser beam to keep track of what was going on from one panel to the next. Many times it is difficult to even understand who is speaking in a given scene, due to the aforementioned lack of tails and general ambiguity of the dialogue. This can be very frustrating.
The characters themselves are fairly unbelievable. Ikushima goes from psychotic, animal-killing loon to playfully aggressive schoolgirl a little too quickly (and easily) for my tastes. Someone that close to the brink doesn't become instantly normal (well...semi-normal) when someone tells them that they can help and shows them a nifty water controlling ability. Mr. Shizuki is a great source of comedic relief, and has an interesting "mysteriouso" layer underneath his happy-go-lucky exterior, but the manga continually refers to him as a man that dresses like a woman, whereas the Tokyopop website says he is actually a woman. Which one is it guys? Because I sure can't tell, and it's probably not both. On the bright side, Sunao has just the right mix of laid back, slacker attitude with a sense of justice that so many manga protagonists have these days.
As far as the story is concerned, I find it to be just a bit too neat and tidy. Problems range from dysfunctional families to (repeated) attempted murder, and somehow everything just happens to be all tied up by the end of the story segment. Parents and children are made to see the love they have for each other, Ikushima (the animal killer) goes on to become a happy member of Sunao's cabinet, and the deranged hacker Shiba is wrassled and hogtied and ready to be turned in. There's no problem with people drastically changing, or a neat and tidy ending, but the way serious issues and potentially deadly problems are treated with relative triviality is more than a little disconcerting. The pacing certainly doesn't help the situation; exposition seems to take far longer than it should, while resolution tends to be very short and often abrupt.
There are definitely some redeeming features to be found. Sunao's powers are interesting and useful, and there are an almost limitless number of situations where they could be important assets. We still don't know about her past, or why she has these abilities, which proves to be a strong driving force to continue reading. The artwork is very nice, and the budding relationship between Sunao and Ikushima proves to be a point of interest for yuri lovers, although any relationships between characters have yet to be taken seriously.
I know I make it sound like Broken Angels is some kind of crime against humanity, and it's really not. There is a lot of potential here, which could (and may) be used to create an interesting series. It is unfortunate that in this volume the pieces just don't fit very well together. To get from piece to piece of the good stuff the reader is required to make several leaps of logic and/or suspend disbelief, and while I personally don't mind the occasional leap of faith, having to do it this often leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I truly hope this is just a slow start, and the next volume will explore the relationships between the established characters more. All the ingredients are here for an excellent series; now it depends on the recipe.
Mania Grade: C
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Right to Left