A boy sets off to see the world in this big-hearted, two-fisted, gung-ho tale of the road. A wonderful adventure indeed.
Translated by:Elina Ishikawa
Adapted by:Elina Ishikawa
What They Say
Kakashi is a small-town boy with a big dream: to travel around the world. He's so determined to leave his little island home behind that he stows away on board a marvelous zeppelin - one that just happens to be loaded with treasure and a gang of ruthless criminals!
The cover image is one that contains all things needful for high adventure: a boy, a dog, and a treasure map. It's a nice enough image - the way the hero is adjusting his goggles is a good touch - but it isn't really enough to prepare you for the amazing story inside. (The first splash-page will do that, though.) The back cover isn't anything special, just a write-up and a portrait of the Man Chicken family (oh, shut up) underneath; but the spine has a great looking scheme in bold red and white. When I put it on the shelf next to some other manga it stands out really well. Inside I found some good printing with nice, deep blacks on decent paper. And as you'd expect from Del Rey, I was treated to several pages of translation notes after the story and a short preview in Japanese for the next volume.
It's not very often you find a comic with a visual style that lives as much as this one does. Not only does the artist show a ridiculously spectacular flair for physical action, the slower mood-oriented scenes show a great energy as well. Even inanimate objects can come to life: a book almost becomes a character at certain points of the story. This being an adventure story through and through, we get to see a lot of sights along the way and they all have the sense of wonder that they need. The character designs are appealing without getting too cute, and the artist excels at drawing them in expressive poses and from dynamic angles. I'd say layout is just about perfect, because I can't remember a single panel that disoriented me. But it's the "impact" panels that leave everything else in the dust. This book has far more than its fair share of moments so rousing they lift you right out of your seat. Out of all the manga I've read, only Trigun can match this for sheer visual oomph. The only quibble I can really make is that background characters and settings are sometimes too sketchy, particularly in the first couple of chapters. But everything else is very, very good.
As usual with Del Rey sound effects are untouched, but translated by accompanying English text. The lettering is in a good legible font and properly centered in the boxes and dialog balloons. Occasionally you get some huge vertical text that would look exaggerated in most other manga, but it sorts perfectly well with the enthusiasm of this story. I ended up being a fan of the translation, too. The comic relief and character moments come out very well; and there are several statements that are repeated throughout the book like mottoes, or even refrains, and these are evocative enough to lift my spirits every time I hear or remember them.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Whenever I enjoy a book down to my toes, I almost invariably look back and try to pinpoint the moment at which I became absolutely in its power. I don't always find this easy to do. Some books have a very clear dividing line: a moment so vivid it's like a dream - not a daydream, as the phrase "like a dream" usually means, but a real dream, something so shockingly vivid that it can jolt you awake. Other books creep up on you slowly, too gradually to to put a finger on the exact moment of no return. Toto! was somewhere in the middle. My first reading didn't give it away immediately. I knew it had to have been pretty early on, but couldn't get any more specific than that. So I had to look it over again. And on the second go-through, I found it. It was the raft.
The raft our hero has constructed as the first step in his journey to see the world is a makeshift affair. Planks are nailed across two oil barrels. The sail is tattered and patched. An old bicycle is lashed on the deck to power the propeller. There's something ridiculous but at the same time inspiring about the idea of a boy sailing to the ends of the earth in a vessel that is the equal product of ingenuity, determination and almost complete ignorance of construction. Especially considering what happens nearly as soon as he gets out from land, in the first of several explosions of comic relief that take you by surprise.
Needless to say, the raft won't take our hero to the ends of the earth. But if you think that will keep him from trying again, you don't know the boy. And it's high time you did. His name is Kakashi - the significance of this will be explained in the translation notes, if you don't know it already - and he is the son of an adventurer. His most precious possession is his Father's journal - the record of all his travels, his only legacy, and his son's inspiration. Undaunted, Kakashi stows away on a zeppelin, and the journey begins.
And it really is a journey. Kakashi isn't training to enter a tournament and prove himself the world's strongest whatever, or hunting down the hundred demons who stole the terribly magical thingamajigger. He just wants to see the world, because the world is a big place with plenty to see. This gives the book a marvelously "wide" quality. We don't know this world any more than Kakashi does. The next destination might be anywhere. Anything can happen. The story is full of the possibilities that only come from chasing the horizon. That is the true spirit of adventure, and it fills the book the way a sail fills with wind. I'm sure you all know (though I've only just thought of this myself) that the Greeks were quite right to use the same word for "spirit" and "wind". A spirit is a wind: and this is a good wind that blows no harm.
Some of you are probably wondering, like I did, if Toto! has any connection to The Wizard of Oz. The answer is...sort of. There are references to Oz, mainly in chapter three, but it never gets beyond mere name-dropping. Spiritually Toto! has more in common with Tennyson's "Ulysses" than any Oz story I know of, film or book. But at heart it's a full-blooded boy's adventure story, and one of the best I've seen, manga or otherwise. Be warned, though: the cliffhanger that ends this volume is absolutely vicious. There oughta be a law.
Toto! is professional storytelling of the highest caliber, and proved to be the perfect antidote to some of the limp and frankly amateurish stuff I've been reading lately. It wears its heart on its sleeve - and on its pant leg, belt buckle, shoelaces and hat. And God bless it, say I. Its sense of wonder and adventure and good clean fun are infectious. I've enjoyed this volume more than any other I've read this year, with the possible exception of Gon. But enough talk. The door is flung wide; beyond it, the open road. Follow it. After all, you don't need a reason to go on an adventure.
Note on the age rating: I obviously can't speak for subsequent volumes, but this one doesn't have anything that should bother a child old enough to read it. There's no violence at all, unless you count a very brief, bloodless judo-style exchange. Even a scene where the hero has a gun put to his head winds up being played for laughs. No profanity, and no fan-service, either. 10+ would have been fine.