Shinobi Life Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Art Rating: B-
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translation Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 and Up
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 192
  • ISBN: 9781427811110
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Shinobi Life Vol. #01

By Erin Jones     July 03, 2009
Release Date: November 04, 2008


Shinobi Life Vol. #01
© TOKYOPOP

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Shoko Conami
Translation: Lori Riser
Adaptation: Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane

What They Say
Energetic and strong-willed, Beni doesn't care if she lives or dies as long as her death will result in embarrassing her arrogant father! But one day, she suddenly encounters a Kagetora - a ninja who's fallen from the sky - and he swears complete loyalty to her. Kagetora has traveled from a time long, long ago, and has devoted his life to protecting the Princess Beni. Little does Kagetora know that this Beni is not the real princess... Can true love and honor survive after a centuries-long time warp - in a crazy modern world?

The Review!
Packaging:
Tokyopop’s standard fare is at play here, with decent print quality and no color plates.  The cover itself is an attractive shot of Beni with her arms wrapped around Kagetora on a pink background.  The cover art itself is not amazing, but the contrast between Beni’s and Kagetora’s outfits gives a nice hint of the storyline.  The English-language logo, which has a nice italic font on pale pink flowers, is one that I actually like, while the spine and adjacent cover edges are gray and adorned with pink and whites hearts and ninja stars.  All in all, the “ninja romance” of the title is nicely played up in the packaging, and although it doesn‘t necessarily jump of the shelf at you, it‘s not bad.  Bonus features are composed entirely of two four-panel spoofs on the series, with, amazingly, no advertisements at all for other series.

Artwork:
This series does not look like your run-of-the-mill shoujo, although it is clearly falls within the genre: characters have large sparkly eyes, clothes are either stylish or ninja garb, fights are lots of speed lines and not much else, and asymmetrical, cramped page layouts abound.  Although Conami does give the layout some room to breathe during dramatic moments, effectively drawing them out, the conversations--and oh, are there a lot of them in this series--can get very cramped.  Screentones are out in some force, but there is also enough white space to keep the art from overwhelmed.  The characters feel rather angular, with pointy chins and long limbs, without ever crossing into the realm of being distracting so.  The artist is capable of creating some very visually appealing moments during the dramatic climaxes, but the art can get shaky during the quieter moments, and many of the romantic moments are too light and sketchy for my tastes.

Text/Translation:
The translation for this series read pretty nicely, especially considering that the main male love interest is an exceedingly polite warrior from the past.  There were only a few times when Kagetora used a phrase that struck me as being too “modern” or casual.  Honorifics are retained, and any notes, such as definitions of “hime” and “shinobi” are provided immediately alongside the frame that the original term occurs in.  Sound effects, and occasionally even small side dialogue outside text bubbles, are left untranslated unless they a scene doesn’t make sense without them.  TokyoPop continues its trend of being terrified of letting words run off the edge of the page, and thus squishes text into much smaller blocks than is really necessary in an effort to force them towards the center of the book.  It might be necessary for publishing, but having split text bubbles near the edge of the page should not be an invitation to crowd both sections into the “safer” half.

Content:
A long time ago, the ninja Kagetora was helping his princess, Beni-hime, escape from an attack on the castle when an explosion knocked him into a lake.  Centuries later, a girl named Beni Fujiwara is being threatened by a kidnapper atop a tall building when it starts raining--and Kagetora falls out of the sky, knocking them both over the edge. Although he saves both of them via grabbing onto a window sill, this makes Beni even more upset--she’d been kidnapped (and not for the first time) by a man with a grudge against her father, and wanted nothing more than to have her death be her father’s fault.  The reason?  Her mother died in an accident, although Beni is certain that her mother killed herself because she was treated poorly by Beni’s father, who has never shown any guilt.  Kagetora is determined to protect Beni, thinking that she is the Beni-hime of the past, but she orders him to leave.  It is only when she is kidnapped again that Beni realizes she cannot leave Kagetora alone in the modern world, and sets off a smoke signal that brings her ninja bodyguard to the rescue.

Even with her support, Kagetora does not adjust to modern life easily, often threatening the life of those he thinks are a danger to his “Beni-hime.“  Beni makes her new bodyguard promise not to hurt anyone, or sacrifice his own life for her, but that presents further complications when she is kidnapped by her father’s secretary--something that turns out to be a test for Kagetora set up by Beni’s father in the first place.  Life is not all flowers and sunshine even after he passes the test, because Kagetora believes Beni is a princess, and refuses to let her treat him as an equal--even after they accidentally kiss.  Although she doesn’t want him bound by the social constricts of the past, Beni cannot bring herself to tell him that she is not Beni-hime, for fear that he will leave her.

Beni decides to try and solve the mystery of how Kagetora came from the past, but another tumble from atop the same building sends them back to one year after the attack on the castle, where they meet Beni-hime.  After being injured by the same explosion that sent Kagetora to the future, she pretended to have lost her memory, and began living with Heikichi, a merchant.  Beni’s secret is thus exposed to Kagetora, who attempts to desert her in favor of serving Beni-hime.  However, the former princess is having none of it, while Beni plans to take the place of Beni-hime at the castle.  Kagetora tells her that she should just live peacefully with Beni-hime and Heikichi, but he and Beni find themselves cornered by another ninja on the edge of that same lake…

Comments:
The length of the first summary paragraph--consisting only of the first chapter--proves just how busy this series is.  There is a lot of exposition in the first pages that attempts to explain Beni’s desire to die.  Unfortunately, this information dump is carried out before any character development occurs, making it hard to process, let alone believe.  It all amounts to the excuse to have Beni eventually realize that she wants to live because she has discovered she can’t leave Kagetora alone, which also occurs far to quickly.  Although shoujo romances that drag on for too long are one of my major dislikes, this series runs pell-mell through what should have been important character development moments.  We do get “the kiss” at the very end of the volume, which is a relief considering how often these things are often drawn in similar series, but I also didn’t see much in the first volume that indicates this series can continue now that the first major plot points have been resolved.

Kagetora’s adjustment to the modern world is also over-simplified and played for laughs, which comes off as strange.  He is convinced, at least until the time-travel incident, that the entire modern world is an illusion.  Of course, things like cars, tall buildings, and other pieces of modern technology are of no actual concern--the problems are how TVs work and what Beni’s skimpy underwear is.

Despite how I criticize this series, I have to admit that I enjoyed it for what it is.  It is essentially a romance story with a twist, and, typical of most series that run in Princess magazine in Japan, has a very different feel to it than a lot of the high school shoujo manga that is on the market.  The characters have a little more grit to them, the art is a little quirky, and the lead couple is a little cuter, in their own stereotypical way.  It might not be any better than a lot of the stuff on the market in pure objective terms, but it is a little different, and might make a nice break from the usual for shoujo fans.

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