Black God Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Release Date: Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Translated by:Sung-Woo Park
Adapted by:Christine Schilling
What They Say
Wending his way home after a bender one evening, master moocher and game programmer Keita Ibuki decides to satisfy a craving for ramen at a noodle stand. Instead of slurping soup, though, he surrenders his meal to a manic girl who, unbeknownst to Keita, is a Mototsumitama, a guardian of the coexistence equilibrium. When his new acquaintance is attacked, Keita gets caught in the crossfire and loses an arm. Awakening from the shock of his injury, Keita finds himself back in his apartment... arm intact! But just whose arm is it?! Asking the strange girl raiding his refrigerator reveals only that Keita's life has become a great deal more complicated.
So, if a graphic novel created by Koreans, then translated and first published in a Japanese magazine, is it still Manhwa? I don't know the answer, but I do know I enjoyed every aspect of this book.
These days, it seems most American publishers stick to the original Japanese covers, even though there are times when the backgrounds are changed or slight modifications are made to the art. Lucky for us, Yen Press looks good coming out of the gate. They not only use the original art, but their English translations also mimic the color and placement of the title and creator text. The front cover depicts Kuro, the main female in the story, crouched with her long hair whirling around her. She's got her 'dukes' up and her little dog has her back. The back cover has a story synopsis and a rating system that more publishers should adopt. Yen Press has an age rating system similar to other publishers; All Ages, Teen, Older Teen, Mature. However, they have also added content indicators; L=Language, V=Violence, S=Sexual Situations, N=Nudity. This is great, customers will be able to flip over every Yen Press book and quickly see what content aspects contributed to that particular Age Rating. For example, Black God volume 1 is rated Older Teen for L S V. If I had kids, I would be applauding Yen Press for the extra effort. Now I wonder if some volumes in a series can have different Age Ratings?
The print reproduction is very nice, ala a boutique publisher such as Infinity Studios or Broccoli. Yen Press used thick white paper for this book, which I actually prefer over the more yellowed. Printing is top notch, solid tones throughout the entire book. Extras include a funny comic by the artist about the challenges of being Korean and creating a story based in Japan. The first four pages of the book are in color, which is interesting. The beginning of chapter 2 and 4 were originally in color (maybe only in Young Gangan and not the tankobon?), but they are in black in white in the Yen Press release. It appears that maybe Yen Press took the color plate from chapter 2 and moved it to the front of the book where it is printed in color with a Table of Contents placed over it. This is all speculation on my part, and I'm not going to knock Yen Press down for only printing the color pages at the front. However, I personally would pay a buck or two more for the 'Infinity Studios treatment' with all the color pages reprinted regardless of their place in the book. Then again, considering how many books receive the 'No Color For You!' treatment, I'll just shut up now.
Park (and his assistants) does an amazing job illustrating this title. Characters are attractive, well proportioned, varied, and it's easy to tell even the minor characters apart. From the low-lidded sultry Akane to the peppy Kuro, facial expressions are amazingly varied and already each of the three main characters have specific nuances to their expressions. Backgrounds are beautifully intricate and the characters appear perfectly at home in their given space, and not just overlain. Shading is a blend of cross-hatching and small-sized screen tone, giving a believable sense of depth. Action scenes play out well and are easy to follow. Park relies heavily on speed lines, but he uses them in a way that I really appreciate. Only the quickest moving body parts receive speed lines. For example, the face and body can't move as fast as a leg or arm, so only the leg in a kicking attack or arm in a punching attack have speed lines.
Oh, yeah, Ed wanted me to mention Park's foot fetish. I never thought about it before, but after the fact that Kuro wanders around Tokyo with no shoes for five chapters, it got me thinking. So I started flipping through some of the other titles he's worked on and sure enough, the guy is always drawing character's bare feet. Even in this book, there are at least three panels of nothing but Kuro's foot. This might actually be pretty good evidence of a possible foot fetish considering most artists I know hate drawing hands and feet. Then again, this argument could probably be made for Yuji Shiozaki for as often as the women in his books are barefoot.
The translation reads smoothly and I didn't notice any grammar problems or misspellings. Honorifics remain, which is nice since even though it's written and drawn by Koreans, the story takes place in Japan. I'm a little disappointed at the lack of Translator Notes, however I'm quite happy with the treatment the SFX received. The original Japanese SFX remains unmodified with small transliterations placed alongside or in the nearby gutter. The SFX are also translated into English and placed in the gutters, so overall there is very little modification to the artwork. I personally demand SFX translations in the manga I read because I'm paying for an English translation. Along those lines, I really like getting to see both the original art of the SFX and getting the English translation right nearby because if it is at the back of the book it is too much of a hassle to flip back and forth.
Contents: (Oh yes, there may be spoilers)
This story starts out with the standard, 'my parents died when I was young' premise, but from there it really walks its own path. Keita's dad has never been around, so his life was shattered when his mother died the day after encountering a woman with exactly the same face. Keita is convinced the strange woman was a doppelganger and that's why his mom died. He may be older, living on his own, and trying to make a living as a game designer, but he still thinks about that doppelganger everyday. Well, let me back up a little, Keita may live on his own but he's always borrowing money from his childhood friend Akane. She's a little older than he is and they have a brother sister relationship, but it's obvious she loves him, especially when she's the one having perverted fantasies at various funny parts through the book.
On his way home one night, Keita stops at a ramen cart where he meets a cute, but very dirty and scantily clad teenage girl with long hair and a little dog. Feeling bad for her, Keita gives her a bowl of ramen and learns her name is Kuro. He was discussing doppelgangers with the ramen guy before Kuro told him he was all wrong. She claims they are actually doppeliners and everyone on Earth has two other people sharing their face. When two doppeliners come in contact, one has to die until there is only one left. Before Keita can make any sense of Kuro's ramblings, some guy shows up and starts beating the snot out of her. Keita and the ramen guy try to help, but the stranger is too tough, at least until Kuro becomes fed up and kicks his ass. The whole scene is bizarre as the stranger is mumbling about Kuro being a Mototsumitama and how his 'Current' is stronger. The stranger then fires a blast of energy that Kuro easily avoids, but Keita catches in the shoulder, cleanly blowing his arm right off.
When Keita wakes up, he finds himself in his bed with his arm still attached. Maybe it was just a dream? Then how do you explain why Kuro is in his kitchen eating his food? Seems Kuro saved Keita by switching arms with him and making a pact that will eventually make Kuro a stronger Mototsumitama. But for a while, neither can be apart from each other or the pact will dissolve and Keita's reattached arm will fall off. Akane isn't a big fan of the situation, but once everyone comes to grips, the story gets quite interesting. The author explains just enough to peak my interest. What happens when only one doppeliner is left? What exactly is a Mototsumitama and why is that stranger and his buddies intent on killing Kuro? Who are the mysterious group of men that come in to clean up the aftermath from Kuro's battle? And how much trouble is Akane in now that one of her doppeliner's has discovered her location?
This first volume of Black God sets the series up as an urban fantasy adventure with scattered jolts of humor. Balance that with great art and this series has a lot of potential, especially if character development becomes an additional thread. Actually, there has already been some of this with Kuro's character as the last chapter of this book is a side-story. It seems to be a flashback as Kuro appears in Tokyo with un-tattered clothes and a smudge-free face. She meets an ex-boxer making a living by letting salary men beat on him for 5 minutes. Kuro is so enamored with boxing that she begs for lessons. During their time together, we learn that Kuro's older brother has come to Earth to do something dastardly and although she loves her brother dearly, Kuro has come to kill him. It's a great side-story as the boxer and his little sister, who have a good relationship, play opposite of Kuro and her mysterious brother.
It only took one volume of Unbalance x Unbalance to make me a fan of Dall-Young Lim's storytelling. Both that series and Black God have interesting premises and plenty of humor. Now if Yen Press can keep Black God coming out at regular intervals I'll be incredibly happy.
Speaking of Yen Press, this review is longer than most of my volume one reviews because they're a new publisher. My first impressions remind me a lot of Del Rey when they got started. Both are imprints of large publishing houses, and as such, they should have fairly deep pockets for acquisitions when compared to the boutique publishers. Therefore, it's quite possible that Yen Press could crank up their number of releases in a matter of only a few years. Yen Presses titles may not be for everyone, but I have high hopes as Black God looks to be a good series, the first volume of Zombie Loan ended with me interested enough to at least check out another volume and Alice on Deadlines has a funny premise. I can't forget the upcoming release of Sundome. What otaku can't be excited about the mature rating, great art and premise of a masturbating school club that has a woman wanting to join?
Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Yen Press
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Black God