Today I'd like to premiere a new review feature on The Manga Test Drive: The One Volume Wonder!
You see, not every manga series has multiple volumes. Some release one and are done. Some do this on purpose, and are meant to be self-contained stories. Others are simply series that were cut short, and these single volumes are rather like the equivalent of an unoptioned TV pilot - a good idea that never got enough attention or support to go on further. This will be a semi-regular feature, as I want to tie them in with theme months if possible. All that being said, enjoy this month's One Volume Wonder:
TRASH (Torashiyu), by Sanami Matoh. First published in 2004, and first published in North America in 2006.
PLOT: Will Anderson is the nephew of Rubeo, one of New York City's most prominent Mafioso. One day, while waiting for his cousin Kate in the park, Will comes across a couple of odd things: a large penguin, and a strange dark-haired man who consumes Will's hotdog in a single *CHOMP*. After a brief argument, the dark-haired man hands Will a card for The Trash Company, with an offer to help Will at any time.
That offer soon comes in handy when Kate is kidnapped by one of her father's traitorous associates. Luckily, saving Kate fits in perfectly with the plans of The Trash Company. It turns out that said company is a front for a group of jewel theives, and this same associate has also been smuggling raw diamonds that the group is very interested in. Will and the Company end up teaming together to save Kate, and he is soon hired on as a part-time worker. Now their next target is a rich woman with a valuable antique pearl, but will the Company's schemes hurt Will's budding friendship with a fellow classmate?
STORY: I was really surprised to find that this story only lasted for one volume, because much of what I see here seems to be a solid setup for a series of fun crime capers.
First of all, I really like our lead, Will. He's a great example of how to make a character mild-mannered without making him boring. True, he does pale in comparison to his fiery cousin and his flashy, outgoing uncle, but Will is no meek cutout of a character, one who is dragged along into everything and always reacting versus acting. When people close to him are in danger, he is ready and willing to take action and save them (especially if he gets hit on the head and his much more violent split personality comes out to play). Oh, did I mention the split personality? Well, don't ask too many questions about how it came to be, because that plotline is sadly left dangling.
Sadly, outside of Will and his family, there's not a lot of character building, although a large part of that is due to the fact that this series was cut short. The Trash Company gang don't get nearly enough screentime to establish much character. Hell, I don't think most of them even get named. The majority of them are just one-note goofballs, who are wrangled by their icy, no-nonesense blonde boss and Guy, the strange hot-dog chomper from before. Also, no one ever explains why on earth they have a huge penguin. Is it a pet? A mascot? A sidekick? What the hell is it? Why does no one outside of Will recognize it as something strange?
There are two story arc in this volume, and I found the introductory one to be slightly stronger than the second one, even if the second one brought a bit more character development for Will. I think it's the supporting characters in that second one that make a difference - Will's friend Sena is just a blank, and his aunt/guardian is a hardass bitch. It does manage a nice little twist at the end, and we get a goofy little bit of fangirl-bait as an epilogue, and overall it was entertaining.
The fact that it's entertaining is the very reason why it boggles me that this series wasn't extended longer. Even if it never got around to any sort of larger story arc, I would have been perfectly happy reading one-off stories about the heists that Will and the Company get up to, or to spend more time with Will and his family. Also, a longer series would have fixed most, if not all, the issues I had with the lack of characterization and plot threads which are never fully explored or explained. At the very least, they could explained that damn penguin. As it is, Trash is a fun bit of action, but its shortness leaves its cast and story a bit shallow and underdeveloped.
ART: Matoh's character designs are surprisingly rugged for a mangaka known for shoujo and shonen-ai. Most of the characters are appropriately Western looking, with their square jaws, blunt chins, wide set eyes, extremely expressive eyebrows, and simple mouths that are often sneering, leering, or grimacing in anger, and all are drawn with thick, dark lines. It's actually a welcome contrast to the usual pointy, delicately drawn bishonen you see in so many other manga. It's also a pleasant bit of artistic evolution on Matoh's part, as her characters here are much more visually distinct and realistic than the lantern-jawed, pointy chinned folks from her earlier and best known work, FAKE. I also like the way she draws hair, be it Rubeo's slicked back locks, strands of hair falling loose from a ponytail, or the way that Guy's messy mop shifts about mid-fight.
The action is not badly drawn either, but neither could I call it nicely drawn. Speed lines are present, but Matoh uses them more like hatching to create dramatic effect over just using them to convey speed. She does use creative angles for the fights and she also uses hatching and screentones to create some nice shading, but she tends to frame them in closeups in small frames, so a single punch tends to fill up the entire panel between the speedlines, punch impact, and sound effects. Because her panels are so tightly focused on the characters, we don't see a lot of backgrounds, but the ones we do see are nicely drawn, and her use of low angles keeps the images from getting too static.
Trash's overall art style is solid. Her characters are distinct and entertainingly expressive. Her composition is a bit too cramped to let the action shine, but this thankfully does not detract too much from the equally solid story.
PRESENTATION: The only extra here is a single color splash page up front of Will, Guy, and that goddamn penguin.
Seriously, someone explain that thing to me. WHY IS IT THERE?
This is an entertaining action story that could have turned into a good series. Sadly, its untimely end leaves the plot and characters dangling, which hurts the story greatly.
This volumes was published in the USA by Tokyopop. It is out of print.
You can purchase this volume and much more manga like it through RightStuf.com!