Speaking of older mangaka, this one features not one but two classic creators teaming up for a single story. Why wouldn't anyone be excited to see what the creators of Ghost In the Shell and Excel Saga would dream up together? Well, they won't be once they see just what the result was.
PANDORA IN THE CRIMSON SHELL: GHOST URN (Kokaku no Pandora), written by Masamune Shirow with art by Rikudou Koushi. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2015.
Nene Nanakorobi is a congenial young cyborg girl who is looking forward to staying with her aunt on scenic Cenancle Island. Then she runs into conniving scientist Delilah Uzal and her cyborg companion Clarion. Nene is so bowled over by Clarion's cuteness that she unwittingly ends up getting roped into Uzal's schemes to save the island from a problem of her own creation. If they're going to succeed, though, Nene is going to need to tap into her untapped potential, and Clarion is the key to unlocking her power.
Goddamn it Shirow, why? You've spent the better part of the last couple of decades hiding away drawing one porn-laden artbook after another while resting on your giant pile of Ghost In the Shell residuals, but you come back for this? You would have done far better to just stay a recluse and keep drawing smut.
In all fairness, he doesn't deserve ALL the blame. Rikudou Koushi may be credited only as the artist, but it's clear that he bears at least some responsibility for some of the story elements as well. Some of them are more obvious than others (like the rather Excel-like reporter who serves as the story's only functional running gag), but this feels more akin to his previous work than it does to Shirow's. Really the only thing that feels like something from a Shirow manga is the fact that there are female cyborgs, and not only does that feel rather derivative (after all, Major Kusanagi also was converted into a full-body cyborg at a young age) but it serves little purpose beyond giving Nene's newfound magical girl powers a technological source instead of a supernatural one.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this is technically a magical girl series? It's certainly light and (relatively) fluffy enough to fit, and Nene's transformation naturally comes with an utterly ridiculous costume that serves no other purpose than to satisfy Uzal's seeming fondness for dressing up underlings in cosplay. Mind you, no one's costume can out-ridiculous Clarion's cat-eared maid get-up. It's easy to forget in part because the story jumps off and on the rails so frequently for the sake of a joke, but that's not the only reason. There's also the fact that this is easily the most lolicon-friendly series since Dance In the Vampire Bund. Yeah, it seems that when you combine two old, notoriously pervy mangaka, you get weird and skeevy scenes like Nene transforming by essentially fingering Clarion to download programs. Oh, they can try to sidestep the implications by throwing in a bunch of technobabble, but these guys know damn well what they're doing with this naked bit of queerbaiting, and they clearly are amused by it, if not more. Worse still, it taints everything else in the story by association. After all, it's hard to laugh at something when you're afraid Chris Hanson is going to start peeking over your shoulder at any moment.
Pandora In the Crimson Shell is so many things at once. It's awkward, pervy, lame, but more than anything it's a disappointment. Once upon a time it felt like Shirow actually gave a damn about his manga, even the lesser works. If this is anything to go by, though, he stops caring ages ago and is instead content to just throw whatever dumb ideas he and his friend can come up with on the page and call it a day.
Min you, I shouldn have been surprised about the lolicon content when I saw that cover art. It's a shame because Koushi is not a bad artist. The character designs strike a nice balance between moe-moe cuteness and something goofier and more expressive. There's plenty of fine detail in the tech and the backgrounds. It's just hard to enjoy it a lot of the time because the panels are packed so tightly with STUFF and sometimes it's framed kind of strangely. Even the so-called fanservice is drowned out by the sheer volume of STUFF in-frame, and it's clear that action is simply not his forte. Again, seeing his skills put to use here feels like nothing more than a waste of talent.
Shirow should have just let this idea die. In his author's note he explains that this was based on a failed TV series premise from 2008, a fact that's all the more ironic considering that the manga version is now being adapted into a series. It's just awkward and weird and gross and not terribly funny. Don't encourage these two to keep rolling around the gutter by purchasing this book. You'll be doing the world a favor.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is ongoing in Japan with 6 volumes available. 2 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.
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