Friday, January 06, 2006

1/7th of a Post Apocalyptic Love Story Should Be Good

Viz sent me a copy of the seventh and final volume of Saikano: the Last Love Song On This Little Planet in the mail recently. I have the distinct feeling it was meant for Cronin and I got it by accident, and it's a little weird jumping in to this series at the end, but hey, I'll read any comic if it's free.

Despite the fact that there were some scenes that would have meant more to me had I read the previous volumes and a back story that I was ignorant of, I could follow the story perfectly well. I'm not sure you can say that about most superhero comics these days, although it's not a fair comparison. I'm pretty sure it would work with something like Preacher, which is similar in that it's a self contained multi volume series. At any rate, this is the first time I've tried this.

The best way to describe this series is that it's an occasionally melodramatic romantic comedy/coming of age story about a teenage couple named Shuji and Chise, done in the manga style. It's just that it's set in the post apocalypse. Chise is not all that dissimilar from most manga heroines I've seen in my cursory reading of the comics that are crushing all American comics without even trying. She's got the big, sad eyes and the school girl uniform. She and Shuji have a cute, awkward relationship, filled with its share of humor. She also happens to be "Japan's ultimate weapon", involved in a war going on entirely off panel.

In fact, we never she Chise involved in any kind of over the top action, at least in this volume, which is an interesting storytelling choice. In a lot of hands, this would be nothing but fight scenes involving a cute Japanese school girl slaughtering waves of enemies. Hell, that's what I would have done with it, just because I love that kind of contrast. But this isn't that kind of story at all. It's all about character interaction. It sort of reminds me of Jaime Hernandez's early Locas stories, or what Kirkman was trying to do with the Walking Dead, in that it's set in a fantastical world but we're seeing what's happening on the edges; the human moments between the people living in these places we see in genre stories all the time.

That includes a sex scene between Chise and Shuji that happens over the course of three chapters. It's a different kind of decompression than you see in American comics, but it's the same basic idea; slowing down a scene to increase its impact. It's also the most troublesome part of the book for me.

I don't consider myself a prude, but I found the technique I've seen employed in some manga (and some "amerimanga" or OEL or whatever you call manga-influenced American comics like Scott Pilgrim and Blue Monday) of making the characters look like children as a form of comedic exaggeration jarring when they were naked and screwing each other. But some good laughs came from those scenes, too, which made for a weird reading experience, as I'd go from being disturbed to perplexed to amused and back again during the course of a couple of panels. I'm sure there are a lot of cultural differences and sexual politics involved in my reaction to this sequence, but I'm too happily ignorant of all that shit to read to deeply in to it.

Taken on its own, this would a good story, with its fare share of emotional resonance, humor, and a satisfying ending, which is pretty important for the a final volume. I didn't like the characters enough to go back and read the preceding volumes, especially since I know how it ends and all, but if this one is anything to go by, this one's worth giving a shot.

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