Translucent Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Greg Hackmann
Review Date: Monday, August 06, 2007
Release Date: Wednesday, July 25, 2007



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Kazuhiro Okamoto
Translated by:Heidi Plechl
Adapted by:

What They Say
Teen-centric, quirky, and romantic, Translucent will appeal to shojo fans who like a little twist with their gakuen mono! Shizuka is an introverted girl, dealing with schoolwork, boys, and a medical condition that begins to turn her invisible! She finds support with Mamoru, a boy who is falling for Shizuka despite her condition, and with Keiko, a woman who suffers from this illness and has finally turned completely invisible. The mysterious disease that the teens struggle with becomes a metaphor in the ordinary lives of the students in their classes, as they try to work their way through their friendships and romances. Writer and artist Kazuhiro Okamoto knows how important surfaces are to people, especially at such a pivotal time in one's life--when dreams are meant to be chased, despite all hurdles. Translucent's shifting variables between what people can see, what people think they see, and what people wish to see in themselves and others makes for an emotionally sensitive manga, peppered with moments of surprising humor, heartbreak, and drama.


The Review
Dark Horse's entry into the shoujo market is a surprisingly straightforward look at middle school life as experienced by the socially-awkward set.

Packaging:
The front cover features a drawing of a partially transparent Shizuka as seen from a slightly elevated angle, set against a plain white backdrop. While it's a simple but effective cover, Dark Horse does go a little overboard by allocating nearly half the cover space to the title. The back cover has a very small illustration of Shizuka & company at recess, with a substantial amount of space dedicated to the logo and story synopsis.

The print quality inside is pretty much on par for mass-market manga, with lines and textures coming through cleanly and sharply. Along the lines of extras, Dark Horse includes a map of the city of Nantara, Translucent's setting; a brief biography of Okamoto (who, if Dark Horse is to be believed, is a curry bun-fueled plastic model robot); and six single-page omake that exhibit a really strange sense of humor.

Artwork:
Okamoto's artwork is sparse but functional. Character designs and backdrops are generally light on details, although he does fill in the artwork a little bit more in a handful of panels. The second chapter especially has some nicely-detailed and -shaded outdoor scenes, but these are somewhat few and far between. With that in mind, there's not really anything wrong with Okamoto's Spartan approach; it's just a matter of style, and it doesn't get in the way of the reading experience.

My only quibble is that many of the adults have unusual character designs that feel out-of-place, ranging in appearance from exaggerated caricatures (the play director, for example) to tallish children (Shizuka's parents). The adult characters play such a small role in the story that it's not really a prevalent problem, but it's still a little bit jarring to see them alongside the students' more conventional designs.

Text/SFX:
With so many publishers nowadays choosing highly-decorative but illegible fonts, it's a relief to see Dark Horse sticking to the standard easy-to-read comic typeface. The script reads well, without any noticeable grammatical errors or typos. SFX and signs are translated inline, either alongside the Japanese lettering or as a small note in-between the panels.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Shizuka Shiroyama is a shy eight-grade student who's just beginning to succumb to the effects of Translucent Syndrome. This noncontagious, incurable disease causes Shizuka to periodically turn translucent, starting at her extremities and progressing until she is almost completely invisible. Though Shizuka eventually returns to full visibility each time, she believes that the disease is driving a social wedge between her and her peers.

Ironically, her disappearing act catches the attention of fellow student Mamoru Tadami. In between fits of playing with plastic models, Mamoru has taken a shine to the socially-awkward Shizuka, and is drawn to her in spite of -- or maybe even because of -- her handicap. Shizuka's disease has also earned the attention of star pupil Okouchi, who seems to suffer from the opposite problem. Frustrated by the constant attention and social pressures, she longs to contract Translucent Syndrome from Shizuka and fade into obscurity, both literally and figuratively.

Meanwhile, Shizuka has personal problems of her own. After witnessing the toll that the disease has taken on a fellow patient's relationship with her boyfriend, Shizuka starts questioning whether own relationship with Mamoru can survive. An extended onset of translucency sets off fears in her family that she may soon face permanent invisibility, unless she leaves her hometown for prolonged treatment. Despite her family's concerns, Shizuka ultimately opts to stay close in Nantara close to her tight social circle as long as possible. She also toys with the idea of pursuing her love of acting, over her father's objections.

Comments
Translucent is not really what I anticipated it to be from the description and from reading the first few pages. I entered expecting a schoolyard romance that centered around Shizuka's fight to overcome her Translucent Syndrome. What I got instead is a fairly straightforward school drama broken down into several standalone slice-of-life stories. Rather than focusing on Shizuka actively battling her illness, we witness her trying to cope with the everyday pressures of middle school life (popularity, play auditions, fights with parents, etc.) while dealing with the additional handicap of her translucency. It's all surprisingly light-hearted -- and, despite my initial misgivings, it makes for a fairly entertaining read in the end.

Much of Translucency's effectiveness comes the fact that it centers around the extremely-likable Shizuka. Okamoto uses Shizuka's illness as a more-literal way to represent something that many people go through as teenagers: feeling disconnected from others and invisible to the popular students, and being anxious about becoming an adult. It's an interesting twist on something that so often comes off as clich├ęd, and Shizuka's perseverance in dealing with these situations is quite charming. This cheerful core is marred somewhat by the supporting characters, who feel a little bit too much like one-dimensional notes, and can be a little grating at times. The way Mamoru in particular is portrayed makes him out to be incredibly immature for his age, and often downright annoying.

In this first volume, there's not really a lot of depth to be found in either the storyline or the characters; so I'm not sure Translucency is a good fit for most readers who are long past their schoolyard days. But for an audience closer to Shizuka's own age, for whom her everyday struggles will feel more relevant, Translucency should make a fairly good light read.



Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Released By: Dark Horse
MSRP: 9.95
Pages: 192
ISBN: 1-59307-647-9
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Translucent