Vs. Vol. #01 - Mania.com

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  • Art Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Released By: CMX
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 196
  • ISBN: 1-4012-1068-6
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Vs. Vol. #01

By Eduardo M. Chavez     September 25, 2006
Release Date: April 01, 2006

Vs. Vol.#01

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Yamada Keiko
Translated by:Jonathan Tarbox
Adapted by:Jonathan Tarbox

What They Say
Sometimes it takes a person who has shared your dream to make it come true. For Reiji, a gifted violinist with no formal training, success may be the key to escaping from his miserable home life. Mitsuko was also a prodigy until an accident left her unable to play. Now she is going to help Reiji achieve the goal she could never attain. Passions and rivalries play out against the backdrop of the music world, while Reiji's family background provides intense, emotional drama.

The Review
One of the main reasons I did not buy this title when it initially was released was the cover. I am sorry! Even though I find Yamada-sensei's art pretty cool, I just wasn't looking for another shojo title with an odd-couple combi. Well, that was really Yamada's fault. I did not know that the person on the left was a guy. If that could have been made clear, I possibly would have given this a chance. Maybe I should have looked at the blue background or something.

Open the book up and CMX continues to do a solid job. After issues with trim and binding early on in their manga publishing career, CMX's books look and feel good inside. Their prints are clean and have good alignment. They kept the original chapter headers and really just made sure this book looked clean from start to finish. No color pages or extensive extras but there are mangaka notes here and there. Overall, a fine release.

Yamada-sensei's art is classic shojo. Characters are big headed, big eyed and practically everyone has feminine qualities. About that, until I actually the first chapter I did not realize that the main character was male. I assumed that by the cover art this would the story of two young women. So you can see I had two problems. First I thought Reiji was a girl and second I thought he was much older than an eight grader. But once I got used to the idea, I felt that worked. All Reiji has done is the violin. His body is malnourished and is mainly skin and tendon. If his hair and clothing weren't so ambiguous his eyes and narrow frame might not had thrown me off. In typical shojo style the other males have much more traditional designs with square jaws and broad shoulders. I will say Yamada tries hard not to draw these with any degree of detail, as so make Reiji somewhat manly in his youth.

The layout is simply insane. Paneling is very busy and extremely varied as far as size and placement. Yamada uses the paneling for pacing and mood much more than most. However, readers should understand that despite the chaos the book is relatively easy to read. There is very little action to decipher, so readers just have to que in on the symbolism and emotion.
Backgrounds can get interesting. However, I would not believe that any of the original room designs Yamada has created would be either comfortable or functional. An architect or interior designer she is not.

I noticed a couple of typos early on in this book. Furthermore, the shortened names caught me off guard a bit especially without their appropriate honorifics. Man, can I see a Jonathan Tarbox work from a mile away. The style is casual and a little personable. But he knows when to turn that on and off in this series (very important to the character roles).

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For Saioin Reiji every day is a struggle. You possibly would not believe it by looking at him. He is the brightest star at his elite school. A person with skill that is only seen every ten years or so. Yet this eighth grader has to carry the burden of two in one of the toughest environments imaginable - the music industry.

First, his very well being is entirely provided to him by the school. They have given him a scholarship even though his family is bankrupt. They house him. They feed and cloth him. They give him the best teachers available as long as he fulfills his end of the contract. The deal is simple. He must make it to the Japanese National Music Contest and then finally win the whole thing. The victory would guarantee notoriety for the academy which would in turn provide security for a young man who has nothing in this world. Well, almost nothing. Because the other burden is that of his younger sister who has no choice but to survive with abusive parents in poverty until Reiji's talent can find safe haven for them both.

The pressure is on though. Like a musical version of 24 every hour of every day must be utilized to its fullest. With very little time to spare not only does he have to learn new pieces of music, he literally has to live them, almost feel them. A victory will not be guaranteed unless the judges are moved emotionally. So Reiji is going to have dig deep to overcome his adversity at home and find inspiration there to find his true calling. Not going to be easy with a stubborn kid like this, but he has no other option.

In shojo manga being able to overcome all the pressure the world can be is a common theme. Sometimes it might seem as if the whole school is against poor lower class stubborn talented lead. Then there are times when the average ditz finds strength in her friends and ideals to save the universe for love and justice. And then there are times when stubborn castoffs are given a single chance to change their lives through a seemingly unattainable goal. In these situation, back-stabbing and sabotage are norms. For the darker stories abuse is inflicted by loved ones and sometimes the main characters themselves. The character seems alone in this world with his talent and maybe one annoying guiding voice leading them out of their personal hells.

Yamada-sensei has the perfect victim here. Saioin Reiji is very young and has been abused and abandoned. That is hitting the sentimentalities in many ways. Even if he is a jerk most of the time, feeling for the kid is easy because he is not developed emotionally or socially. One might even think he is physically underdeveloped. So you have the perfect character, because you have to doubt him or hate him at times. With the world against him and with the impossible nature of the business he is in Saioin's struggles simply are fascinating. Seriously how bad can it possibly get?

I personally tend to like stories where characters are anti-heroes. I love seeming them fall even when they succeed. VS seems to have that down right. The drama is intense and so is the angst. Yet, somehow when Yamada-sensei wants to present some symbolism through the music her characters play this story can slow down and allow for readers to get more from this title than just tragedy. Thus creating a story that feels hopeful. And with a character like Reiji that's important, because his life seems so void of hope and support and the music opens the door for a positive future.

Music based manga is always a tough call. This is particularly true when titles focus n genres that are not so popular. So quite often there is a gimmick to these titles that allow for the music and characters to gain support. Nodame uses comedy to bring life to music than can be considered dry to younger readers. VS uses angst to do much of same. I was shocked into this story and once I felt sympathy for Reiji I could not wait to see how low he can go before taking off. That type off story might turn off some readers, but to me it is a great alternative to the standard shojo/shonen titles where everything seems to work out well at the end of each chapter.


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