You may have seen angsty teenage heros transported to alternate worlds before, but this alternate universe is a unique, creative one full of possibilities.
Writer/Artist: Duo Brand
Translation: Christine Schilling
Adaptation: Brynne Chandler
What They Say
Akito has always been in his older brother's shadow, but all that changes when Shinkai offers to send him to study abroad... though it's not any "abroad" he's ever heard of! Suddenly trapped in a world full of warlocks, poisonous bugs and more than a few secrets, Akito and his friend Yaya have nothing but their wits and the help of a mysterious benefactor named Neon - who seems to know a little too much about Akito's brother!
GoComi rarely disappoints when it comes to packaging, and this release is just another one of their solid products. Page and print quality are above what larger companies usually put out, which I’ve come to expect from this company. The cover features an interesting shot of Akito and Shinkai, and offers a few tantalizing insights into the mysteries of the series, although one might not notice these until after they’ve read the volume. The art on the back cover, with its purple and silver color palette and more obvious depiction of the Stages, is more immediately intriguing. It’s set alongside a brief summary of the volume, which limits itself to information in the first two chapters. There are no color plates in this release, but there is a very brief set of translator’s notes and a few advertisements for other GoComi series.
Drawn by a two-person dojinshi circle, Cross Break has a detailed, almost overly-busy. Although panels sometimes feel a little cluttered, they are rarely bad enough to be confusing. The character designs fall flat when it comes to the sole female member of the cast, Yaya, who varies from dull to downright unattractive depending on the frame and angle. The male characters do look more like what you’d expect from a yaoi dojinshi circle; they’re all lean, attractive, and fit comfortably into the stereotypical physical appearances that fit with their respective personalities. Although panels sometimes feel cluttered, they are rarely confusing, and a wide enough variety of angles are employed to keep a dynamic, involving feel. All in all, everything feels creative, but there is some feeling of amateurism throughout the entire book that keeps it from being as polished as many other releases.
The dialogue for Cross Break is dull and a little clunky, although it is likely not due to Go Comi’s translations. Some story-specific fantasy terms are confusing, as they are left unexplained, but again, it’s hardly Go Comi’s fault that the creators threw terms around without explaining them. So there’s nothing really wrong with the dialogue that is the translator’s fault. Smaller sound effects on simple backgrounds have been replaced with their English translations, whereas larger, more complex ones have been subtitled in a font and style similar to the original.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Akito and his older brother Shinkai don’t exactly get along--but Akito hardly expected to be shipped off to study abroad, leaving his best friend and crush Yaya, because of it. Confronting Shinkai doesn’t help, either, because his older brother merely tells Akito that he is sending him to “reality”--and the next thing Akito knows, he’s waking up in a cave filled with mushrooms. Providing him with company, as well as a source of more trouble, is Yaya, who was looking for homework help from Akito but ended up being transported along with him.
It doesn’t take long before a pair of mysterious men shows up, asking questions of Akito that he cannot answer, and then promptly attempting to kill both him and Yaya. They are saved in the nick of time by a friendly, mysterious man named Neon who drags the confused pair to the safety of his house--and then tells them that not only does he know Shinkai, but that they have been transported to a completely different world from Tokyo. Unable to trust this man who seems to be spouting lies about different worlds, Akito takes Yaya and flees to a nearby city, where they are attacked again by the same two hunters. Neon saves them again, and agrees to help Akito in his quest to find out what is going on. Things get even more complicated when Yaya is bitten by a strange spider and requires medicine that can only be found on an upper “level.” Requiring the service of a “skipper,” or individual who can row upstream to the higher levels, Akito is forced to enlist the service of another mysterious man named Haran, whose only condition is, mysteriously, that Akito play the piano whenever he asks him to.
Created by Duo Brand, a two-person yaoi dojinshi circle, Cross Break feels like a very creative, slightly sloppy attempt at a first professional work. Some aspects of it are simply too self-indulgent to be taken seriously; the over-abundance of mushrooms, the completely implausible world set-up, and, perhaps most distracting, the introduction of many, many plot threads without giving us a sort of conclusion on any of them so far. Some things wouldn’t even be a mystery without the authors’ notes in-between each chapter that drop even more hints of things to come. The characters are also rather bland; Akito could have been pulled straight out of a Final Fantasy game, as an emotionally troubled, piano-playing tough kid with a soft side when it comes to his next door neighbor, Yaya. His older brother is the manipulative, mysterious figure who seems to be pulling the strings of most of the characters, and the aforementioned Yaya is a quiet, awkward girl who may be hiding a mysterious power.
There is some real creativity involved with the world set-up, which does helps balance out the lackluster characters. The underground caves and the differing “levels” provide a very involving atmosphere, as well as plenty of opportunity for further world development. Unfortunately, we seem to have already left behind the first level without fully exploring all of the social and geographical possibilities, or answering very many of the questions that it presents. I hope this isn’t a sign that more of the mysteries presented are going unanswered, because most people who pick up the second volume will do so in the hope that more aspects of the world will be explored, not because of the plot or the characters. If and how those questions are resolved will either make Cross Break a relatively fun fantasy series or turn it into absolute mush.