Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: FRANKEN FRAN

Like Vinland Saga before it, today's review was a darling of the scanlation scene long believed to be unlicenseable due to its content.  Thankfully for us, Seven Seas took on the challenge and the result is nothing quite like we've seen previously in horror manga.

FRANKEN FRAN (Furanken Furan), by Katsuhisa Kigitsu.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

Fran Madaraki is a patient young woman.  She's spent years waiting for her father and creator, the notorious Dr. Madaraki, to return.  In the mean time, she spends her time helping others through surgery in the name of saving lives.  Unfortunately, Fran's got a rather peculiar notion of what saving life means, and she's more than willing to use all sorts of horrific methods to get results.

STORY:

I can totally understand why licensors were so shy about this series previously.  Even by the standards of horror manga, this would always be a difficult one to pitch to others.  Ironically, it's those same unmarketable qualities that make Franken Fran so good in the first place.

Make no bones about it: Franken Fran is pure body horror.  Bodies are chopped up, torn apart, mutated, reassembled, and transformed in all sorts of ways and none of them are particularly pleasant.  Surgeries are shown with abdomens and skulls opened up to the world.  Then there's the matter of Fran's fellow 'friends' and 'rugrats,' the results of her various experiments.  It's saying something that the most pleasant looking one is the guy whose head is attached to a cat's body.  The others are rarely seen outside of the full-body costumes they wear when they leave the premises and it's strongly suggested that there's good reason for that.  It can be gruesome at times and if any of the above sets you off in any way, Franken Fran is not going to be the series for you.

If you can get past that gruesomeness, then you are in for a real treat.  Thanks to the omnibus format, there are a lot of different stories here.  Here you will find tales of revenge, twisted love, mystery, crime and so much more.  Franken Fran isn't quite as moralizing as a lot of horror manga are, mostly because the title character isn't terribly interested in teaching lessons (well...most of the time).  In most case, her patients simply get precisely what they asked for.  There is one thing you won't find here: a lot of continuity.  Most of the chapters are one-off stories with little to tie them together beyond Fran herself.  There are only two stories that deal with anything larger: one that digs a little further into Dr. Madaraki's past and another that shows that Fran isn't Madaraki's only creation.

Despite all that, I would almost describe Franken Fran as weirdly light-hearted.  Compared to the suffocating intensity of a Junji Ito work, Franken Fran is entertaining and incredibly easy to read.  I think that Fran herself is the biggest reason for that.  She approaches every situation with the most noble of intentions.  She truly believes in her work and her dedication towards preserving life at all costs.  She's incredibly empathetic; indeed, most of her cases come from others coming to her with stories of woe or stumbling upon a problem.  That empathy extends not only to her patients, but also to her many creations.  Others might view her as a monster, but her mind she is a Black Jack, and it's that same positive attitude that makes Franken Fran ghoulish fun instead of a grim and gritty gross-out fest.

ART:

Don't let the fanservice-y cover art fool you: Franken Fran is far from a fanservice fest.  There are a fair share of bared boobs, but it's always framed in a frank, medical setting instead of as fetish fuel.  If anything gets that sort of loving treatment, it's the blood, guts and transformations.   Those are the images that take center stage.  In comparison, the characters here are quite ordinary, even cute.  This even applies to Fran.  While she's covered in scars and possesses giant bolts on the side of her head, she is otherwise a perfectly cute teenage girl with her long, blonde hair, sensible blouse and skirt, and her welcoming face.

Kigitsu's approach to composition is just as frank and unaffected as Fran herself.  He doesn't employ a lot of visual tricks, but when you deal in weirdness like this you don't have to get creative to shock and scare people.  That's not to say that he slacks on the visuals either.  Everyone's expressions are fluid and clear, the backgrounds are nicely detailed, and he clearly did his research when it came to the real-world medical details.  His down-to-earth approach to the art ensures that the fantastical mad science elements will still shock but not taking the gruesomeness too far and making the work unpalatable.

PRESENTATION:

Kigitsu throws in a handful of short stories at the end of each volume.  They're not tied to Fran's stories most of the time, but all manage to deliver quite the visual punch with what little space they take up.  They're nice little bonuses for what is already a solid collection of horror.

RATING:

Franken Fran was well worth the wait.  If you're the kind of person who a bit of levity with their mad science and body horror, then you owe it to yourself to pick this series up.

This series is published by Seven Seas.  This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available.  6 volumes have been released in 2-in-1 omnibuses and are currently in print.

Want a chance to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate to buy manga like this one?  All you have to do is leave a comment here to enter this year's Annual Holiday Giveaway!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: SERVANT X SERVICE

Of course, I can't finish talking about comedy manga without talking about a 4-koma.  The problem is that there weren't many new ones to talk about and what was there wasn't all that good to begin with.

SERVANT X SERVICE (Sabanto X Sabisu), by Karino Takatsu.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

In an ordinary town, within an ordinary public service office lies a Health and Welfare Department that is anything but ordinary.  The staff not only have to deal with paperwork, chatty patrons, and slacking on the job, but also with ridiculously long names, angry teenagers, interoffice romance, and a supervisor who works from home via a stuffed rabbit. 

STORY:

There's plenty of comedic potential in office work.  Everything from Office Space to The IT Crowd to Dilbert have successfully mined that vein for the sake of a joke.  You'd think that the same would apply to the Japanese side of bureaucracy, considering how omnipresent and formalized it is.  At the very least, it would promise us a 4-koma cast that ISN'T entirely made up of high school girls.  Servant X Service would prove you wrong on everything but the last part, alas.

It's obvious that Takatsu ran out of office-related material fairly quickly.  There's truly only so many jokes you can make about coworkers slacking off or chatty old women holding up work.  So, she falls back on fleshing out the occupants of the office to pick up the slack.  The problem is that she fleshes them out with nothing but tired old otaku-friendly tropes.  Thus, the protagonist Lucy gets turned into a oblivious bookworm who has a lot of jokes made at the expense of her obliviousness and her big boobs, the flirty slacker turns out to be a gamer, the temp turns out to be a cosplayer with an obsession with Lucy, and another coworker gets a tyrannical teenaged little sister with an enormous brother complex.  At this point, it was clear to me that Takatsu just gave up on originality altogether. Instead she would just pander to the audience, setting be damned.  She also clearly gave up on any sense of comedic delivery ages ago, as every single joke falls completely flat.

Now there are plenty of 4-komas that try to tackle more dramatic material along with the jokes.  Servant X Service is no exception to this.  As the omnibus progresses, Takatsu starts filling up pages upon pages with establishing some romantic sideplots.  Again, none of them are bad on principle, but Takatsu is no better at writing romance than she is at comedy.  The characters aren't deep enough to make the reader take their relationships seriously.  Thus, these subplots become nothing more than endless, pointless filler, there to pad things out to the next chapter.  Padding is the last thing that any 4-koma needs, much less one that's already as boring and pointless as this one.  Combined with all of the book's other failings, it all adds up to a deeply tedious experience.  I would rather go to an actual Health and Welfare Department than read this manga again.

ART:

Takatsu's art is no more ambitious than her writing.  It's little wonder she went with a 4-koma format then.  It's easy to get away with generic character designs and blank expressions when you don't have to draw their lower halves and can default to super-deformed style whenever you need a reaction.  It also means you don't have to bother with backgrounds, so these folks might as well be working in a grey gradient limbo with the occasional counter or bookshelf.  Like far too many 4-komas, Servant X Servant is just another series of dull talking heads.

PRESENTATION:

Normally I don't object to publishers releasing manga in omnibus form, but I can't imagine a series that merits such treatment LESS than this one.  It must purely be a money-saving measure because there's not enough story here to demand that sort of follow-through.  If anything, it just aggravates the tediousness of the work!  Many a time I found myself glancing at the spine to figure out how far I was into the volume and found myself disappointed every time.

RATING:

Servant X Service is a boring office comedy that substitutes otaku pandering for actual comedy.  Maybe it works slightly better in ebook form, where it's sold by the chapter, but nothing can fix the complete lack of inspiration here.

This series is published by Yen Press.  This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available.  1 2-in-1 omnibus has been released and is currently in print.  This series is also available digitally through the Yen Press digital app.

Want a chance to win a $25 RightStuf gift certificate to buy manga like this one?  All you have to do is leave a comment here to enter this year's Annual Holiday Giveaway!


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Review: NICHIJOU

This year didn't bring quite the onslaught of comedy manga as last year did, but it did bring the unexpected license of what was already becoming something of a cult classic in anime circles.  With its animated counterpart on the horizon, now's as good of a time as any to check out its source material.

NICHIJOU: MY ORDINARY LIFE (Nichijou), by Keiichi Arawi.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

Yuuko, Mio, Mai and Nino would be ordinary girls leading ordinary lives...were it not for the comic misunderstandings, forgotten assignments, random falling objects, life-or-death battles with stray deer, and a mad scientist who is also a little girl who like to keep hiding new features and spare food in her robot.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review: HANDA-KUN

Folks will remember that two years ago I reviewed the first volume of Barakamon and really liked it.  Spoilers: the series is still charming as hell and it's still one of my ongoing favorites.  So naturally when I heard that Yen Press was releasing a prequel series, I had to check it out.

HANDA-KUN, by Satsuki Yoshino.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016. 



PLOT:

Long before Sei Handa went to Goto Island, he was a calligraphy-obsessed high school student.  His classmates think that Sei's aloof air makes him a cool guy.  What they don't know is that he's actually incredibly negative and insecure and perceives all the attention as mockery and gossip.  Sei is so oblivious to the truth that he manages to stumble his way through love confessions, school council elections, popular guys and class punks.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: CELLS AT WORK

Let's start this month off with a manga about a subject manner that will be all too familiar to many of us: dealing with infectious diseases!

What?  That's a perfectly normal subject for a comic, what are you talking about?  Read on, it'll make sense soon enough.

CELLS AT WORK! (Hataraku Saibo!), by Akane Shimizu.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.



PLOT:

It's just another day inside the body for Red Blood Cell AE 3803.  She travels back and forth within the body delivering nutrients, trying her best to not get lost again, and forced to deal with everything from an invasion of pneumonia bacteria to hay fever to a scraped knee.  Luckily, she can rely on a particularly grim white blood cell for protection, along with all the other defensive cells within the body.