Train Man: A Shojo Manga Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Release Date: Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Translated by:Makoto Yukon
What They Say
Sometimes, all it takes to find true love is one moment of courage... and a lot of virtual friends. When Ikumi Saiki meets a beautiful girl on the train ride home, she seems to see his hidden hero within. But will he be brave enough to win her heart for certain? Desperate, he posts a plea on an internet message board: "Help me win the girl of my dreams!" Now, everyone in the online world is ready to help Ikumi realize that even he has a chance at true love.
The front cover features Ikumi and Mai sitting side by side and smiling warmly at each other. Ikumi's in casual clothes and holding a book or magazine. Mai, who is wearing a pretty blue and white dress with a yellow cardigan on her shoulders, is holding a teacup. Behind the pair is a childish rendition of a train and background scenery. The title "Train Man," which has a black design with red highlighting and blue speed lines, is placed towards the top of the cover with the subheader, "A Shojo Manga," in plain black letters just underneath it. Towards the bottom are mangaka and publishing credits. The top and bottom edges of the cover are decorated with cute blue little train cars.
The back cover is a bright blue. More cute little train cars, this time in white, decorate the top edge of the cover, followed by the banner heading, "Lonely Hearts Unite!" in pink capital letters. The story summary follows in black lettering. The bottom half of the cover sports a picture of Ikumi holding Mai in his arms with a purple crayon drawing of a train in the background. Ikumi's wearing more fashionable clothes here while Mai's in a white and purple flowered dress, and both are smiling broadly. At the very bottom are publisher's and age icons and the ISBN code.
Materials are satisfactory. The print job is pretty crisp although it did run a little dark on a couple of pages, and the alignment was slightly off in one area. Extras include table of contents, an explanation of honorifics, a three-page afterword from the mangaka, six pages of cultural notes, a short essay about the Densha Otoko phenomena, and ads for other Del Rey releases.
Regarding artwork, I am not particularly enamored of Ocha's character designs. Mai doesn't really stand out in terms of prettiness, while Ikumi's otakuness is established more though his coworkers' comments about his social behavior and a single trip to an anime store than through his appearance (he just looks like an eyeglass character in a suit who needs a haircut) or his home environment. In other versions of the Densha story, it is obvious from the crammed contents of the Densha Otoko's room (manga, figurines, posters, models, etc.) that he is an anime fan boy. Ikumi's room has a few figurines and some posters on the wall but does not exactly scream otaku.
Interior backgrounds in general are on the plain side and lack depth. Outdoor backdrops are satisfactory but not particularly spectacular.
Ocha handled the interaction on the message boards with a combination of single frame glimpses of the members' reactions and responses and stand-alone panels of thread posts/ASCII art. Although many faces pop up, none were particularly memorable, and there was only one character that left much of an impression at all on me.
English translations of sound effects in plain lettering are placed alongside the original Japanese. Most signs, labels, papers, and text message screens are translated with overlays in plain text.
Japanese honorifics are kept, and, as much of the dialogue is online, Del Rey translated the forum's "conversations" into English Internet-speak, which really does capture the flavor of these interactions. Del Rey explains some of the more obscure expressions and cultural references in footnotes or in the cultural notes at the end of the manga. These thread postings include a lot of ASCII art that incorporates Japanese emoticons, which might be a little confusing for English-speaking audiences, especially since many symbols used are not found on a QWERTY keyboard. Other than a few punctuation errors, the translation of spoken dialogue is satisfactory.
Ikumi Saiki is an employee at a commercial firm with no ambitions except to keep up with his anime hobbies and surf the net. Still, he does dream of having a romance one day with someone special. Well, that some day comes in the most unexpected of places.
During a train ride home, an old drunken man begins pestering the other passengers. When the old drunk starts harassing a pretty young woman on the train, Ikumi gets a sudden (and uncharacteristic) burst of courage to stand up against him. Unfortunately, Ikumi's no fighter, and he has to be rescued from the angry old man by another passenger. Ikumi's embarrassed by his ineptness, but the other passengers are grateful and request his contact information to send formal thank yous. Afterwards, Ikumi posts a thread about the incident on one of his favorite forums, "The Underdogs Bite Back" Forum on Channel 2. While the others on the forum think what he did was admirable, neither they nor Ikumi think that anything will come of it. Until... Ikumi receives a set of expensive designer teacups in the mail. It's a thank you gift from Mai Kohinata- the pretty lady!
This development instantly grabs the forum's attention, and with a lot of encouragement and advice from the online community, Densha Otoko (Ikumi's online pseudonym) achieves the impossible -- he contacts Hermes-san (as Mai is known on the discussion board) and invites her to dinner as a thank you for the cups! One thing leads to another, and soon Ikumi and Mai strike up a friendship. There's one problem. Ikumi's falling in love, but Mai has a boyfriend! And as Mai's close friend informs Ikumi, this boyfriend is "Mr. Perfect." The old Ikumi probably would have given up at this point, but the confident new Ikumi takes this information in stride and decides to keep trying despite the odds.
Got Densha? For those of you who have never heard of Densha Otoko (literally "Train Man"), this is a modern day Cinderella story with a twist, involving a hardcore anime otaku, a beautiful woman, an Internet chatroom, a train, and a pair of Hermes tea cups. To my knowledge, there are four manga based on the Densha Otoko story, and out of the four, the Machiko Ocha story to be released by Del Rey is the only single volume version and the only shoujo version.
While I find Ocha's characterization of "Hermes-san" the best of all the Densha Otoko material I've encountered thus far, this version seems to come up short in every other department. The 167-page long manga feels rushed and gets a little confusing at times (especially with Ocha's occasional dream/fantasy inserts). Densha's transformation from otaku geek who doesn't even know what to do with a girl to a man that can capture Hermes' heart moves too quickly to be dramatic. Because all of the events happen right on top of each other, you don't get the sense that each step of the relationship is a formidable hurdle for the otaku Densha or that he's relying heavily on the forum's support to push him to action. Actually, the forum seems more like a bunch of spectators looking in from the outside at Densha's developing relationship than a key factor in ensuring that Densha actually engages in the relationship. Ocha doesn't spend a whole lot of effort trying to flesh out the individuals in the community. However, oddly enough, she does use up frame space writing in Ikumi's slacker co-worker, who doesn't add much to the story at all.
One thing I can't figure out is why this manga is classified as the "shoujo" version of the story. I would characterize the artwork in Watanabe's Densha Otoko manga (to be released by CMX) as more shoujo than Ocha's. It's a romance, but all the versions of the Densha Otoko story inherently have romantic elements to them (including the happily ever after ending). And it's not as if this version of the manga is without its comic elements. There are moments of silliness with Ikumi's dream/imagination sequences and when Mai's secret hobby is revealed. By the way, that scene is probably my favorite out of the whole manga as it destroys the image of perfection that Ikumi and the "Undgerdogs" have built of her, but also shows how her "weakness" actually makes her the perfect person for Ikumi.
For someone just looking for a brief synopsis of the Densha Otoko tale, this manga will do the job. It provides all the major points of the story in a compact form, and the references Del Rey includes are a plus. However, I believe that the main appeal of the Densha Otoko tale is the wealth of opportunity it provides for character development, storyline complexity, and social commentary (especially for anime/manga fans). When compressed into a single volume, all of that is lost, and that really is shortchanging the story.
This title is rated "16+" for some profanity and a glimpse of Ikumi's naughty doujinshi.
Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Del Rey
Orientation: Right to Left