Ra-i Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Release Date: Monday, October 30, 2006
Translated by:Adrienne Beck
Adapted by:Joll Freshney
What They Say
Al Foster is a private detective whose workaday life suddenly shakes up with the arrival of 13-year-old Rai Spencer, youngest son of the billionaire Spencer family, genius child prodigy, and unrepentant smart aleck. Rai has an unusual gift -- his telekinetic powers can knock out anyone who stands in his path. He also has a sister who sports a mean left hook. But what Rai desperately needs is someone to figure out who has been trying to kill him for the past month!
As a one-shot, four-chapter work, RA-I's a passable way to kill an hour or so; but that's about it.
RA-I features some of the worst manga cover art I've ever seen in a while. The front cover shows RA-I's major characters standing together in varied poses; this is all well and good, except that there's a pair of hands hovering in front of the group, framing the picture as if preparing to take a photograph. Between the hands and the garish pink-and-yellow color scheme, casual browsers will probably assume that RA-I is a romantic story with photography worked into the plot somehow. (Even after reading through the whole volume twice, I'm still not sure whose hands those are supposed to be.)
Inside the book, the print quality is fairly standard for mass-market manga -- with the exception of the first four pages. Like the rest of the book, these pages are printed in grayscale; unlike the rest of the book, they are clearly sourced from full-color artwork. Issues of artistic integrity aside, the artwork on the pages is incredibly muddy and almost impossible to make out. I wouldn't blame the reader for just skipping them over entirely, rather than trying to earn a headache working out what's printed on them.
Matoh's artwork is, in a word, functional. There's not much along the lines of elaborate detailing or shading; still, the artwork is clean, consistently on-model, and never crowded or distracting. Character designs have the feel of a typical mid-to-late-80s manga, but tend to be somewhat generic. This is especially true for some of the minor male characters featured in the third chapter, who can be difficult to distinguish from each other at times.
As with many of Tokyopop's works, standard dialog is printed in a straightforward comic-style typeface, while the font used for whispered dialogs and asides is excessively small and illegible. SFX are left untranslated. Signs are presented in English, though since the story takes place in New York it's unclear whether this is a feature of the original artwork or a touch-up on Tokyopop's part.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
New York private eye Al Foster is surprised to discover a large crate delivered to his office; he's even more surprised to open the crate and discover 13-year-old Rai Spencer stowed away inside. Rai is quickly followed by his older sister Rei (albeit through the door rather than as cargo), and the pair offer Al a princely sum to act as Rai's bodyguard. They suspect their older brother Rou is responsible for repeated assassination attempts on Rai, whose ESP has narrowly kept him safe from harm. The would-be assassin responds by switching up tactics, kidnapping Rei and using her as bait to draw out Rai. Even after Al defuses the situation, Rai has no intention of going anywhere; using Rei as a bargaining chip, he lands a job as Al's assistant.
(On a side note ... Rai, Rei, and Rou? Somebody needs to revoke Mr. and Mrs. Spencer's license to name their own children.)
While on an errand for Al, Rai begins receiving telepathic cries for help from a stray kitten. Fellow ESP practitioner Rathe Goldman has chosen the kitten as a medium to advertise her dilemma: she and her mother are being held hostage by the mob in an attempt to force her now-reformed father to carry out one last bank heist. Rai offers to help, leveraging his ESP to extract information about the job from one of the gangsters and to ambush the would-be thieves on the night of the robbery. When a tip-off leads the police to the scene of the crime, Rai sweet-talks Al into trying to get Rathe's father off the hook for his involuntary participation in the caper.
Rai essentially disappears from the story for the third chapter, which explores the budding relationship between Al and Rei. Though Rei is technically in an arranged engagement to Colin Feath, her beauty and large inheritance never fail to attract suitors at social events. In a fit of jealousy, Al begins covertly profiling and tracking Colin in the hopes of convincing Rei to call off the engagement. When Rei manages to stumble into yet another hostage situation, Al sees an opportunity to impress her with a daring rescue.
Finally, the story fast-forwards three years, completely shifting the focus away from Al and his detective agency. Rathe and Rai are effectively a couple, though Rai seems to be in denial about it. This has raised the ire of many boys -- especially Willie, Rathe's highly-possessive playmate. When unlikely accidents start unfolding at the expensive of Rathe's male entourage, Rai suspects that Willie is unleashing ESP powers of his own on his perceived enemies. Rai confronts Willie about the incidents, eventually leading to grand showdown over Rathe's divided affections.
RA-I is one of those titles that's hard to give a solid thumbs-up or thumbs-down on, because it does nothing extraordinarily well nor extraordinarily poorly. The artwork is unobjectionable; the storytelling is satisfactory; and the overall execution is competent. But by the same token, there's not a whole lot here that makes me want to encourage people to run out and buy it. Matoh discusses in the author's notes that she let RA-I sit on the back burner for a few years, and it shows. The artwork, plot, and characters never really develop enough to leave any kind of lasting impression on the reader, good or bad.
Ironically, the fundamental root of this problem is that RA-I is overly ambitious. In one standalone volume, Matoh tries to track two romances among four major characters over the course of three years and three different cases, with a side story and a bevy of supporting cast-members added to the mix. With this much breadth, and so little time to let any of these individual story elements evolve, it's unsurprising that the end result feels rushed and shallow.
Because one-shot titles are relatively scarce in the North American manga market, RA-I could fill a niche for readers looking for something short and sweet. Most other readers will want to give RA-I a pass; while it's not a bad title, neither is it engaging enough to make it worth running out and buying.
Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: C-
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Right to Left