Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Maybe I've been picking too much on older adaptations.  Maybe in the intervening decade and a half (give or take) the manga world has figured out how to properly adapt a TV show to a manga.  At the very least, it might be picking better subjects for just such a treatment.

TIGER AND BUNNY (Taiga Ando Buni), based on the series by Sunrise, written by Masafumi Nishida, character designs by Masakazu Katsura, and adapted by Mizuki Sakakibara.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2013.


In Sternbelt City, superheroes fight not in the name of justice, but in the name of the corporate sponsors that support them.  Their efforts are aired live on TV before an ever-eager audience and the heroes themselves are ranked like contestants on a reality show.  Some heroes have become incredibly popular under this system, but then there are others like Wild Tiger, a.k.a. Kotestu Koburagi.  His superpower is a short-term burst of super strength, but he's one of the few who cares more for saving people than looking good for the camera.  To improve his image, his producers decide to pair him with Wild Bunny, a.k.a. Barnaby Brooks Jr.  Barnaby is a newcomer with powers similar to Kotestu, but he chafes at the idea of a partner, much less one that teases him at every turn like Wild Tiger.  Nonetheless, the two must learn to work together to save the city from a fate far worse than any publicity stunt.


Tiger and Bunny might be the first time I've seen a TV series adapted so smoothly into a manga.  I suspect the biggest reason for that is its unique premise.  After all, it's a series about superheroes fighting crime.  It's already like a comic book, albeit a Western one, so there's not a great deal you have to do to make that work on the page.

Kotetsu endears himself to the reader right off the bat.  He's snarky and a little fumbling in his ways, but he's also incredibly noble and selfless.  He's a rebel in a world where public image means everything, but he's also a good-hearted goofball when the costume comes off.  This makes him both incredibly easy to root for, a lot of fun to read about, and weirdly attractive to boot.  Of course, like any good comedy pairing or any good buddy cop drama (which this story basically is), Kotetsu needs a good foil.  He needs a straightman, the good cop to Kotetsu's bad cop, and Barnaby is a perfect fit for such a role.  He's more than a little vain and rather prissy, but he's also smart enough to think up strategies on the fly and do good detective work.  Putting these two together turns them into a fairly well-balanced pair that have plenty of potential for future drama as well as comedy.

Outside of these two, we don't see much of the other superheroes of this universe.  At most, we get to see some of their battles in passing.  While we do pick up a few bits and pieces of how superpowers work in this universe (in short, it's basically what you would get if you blended X-Men and The Incredibles), we don't really get to see what the other heroes are like when off-screen.  We've seen more of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that surround the heroes than we do of their own lives.  They have to deal with contracts, negotiations, promotional fluff like music singles, and even producers trying to affect ratings through their choices of when and where to focus the camera.  That leaves the obvious satire of these parts feeling a little empty, but maybe later volumes will do better on this front.  Still, it's off to a damn good start, as it gives the reader a good sense of who Kotetsu is, the world he inhabits, and the problems he will have to overcome, and it makes me want to watch the original to see how well the two match up.  It's doing precisely what a TV-to-manga adaptation should be doing and doing it quite well.


Sakakibara's artwork also does a good job of translating the show's look to the page.  Sakakibara is unusual in that while her background is primarily in animation (including working as a key animator on this series), she also has some experience with comics.  She not only did a manga adaptation of the Bayonetta movie, but also worked with Marvel for a while.   That means she's able to find a happy medium, incorporating the fluidity of animation with the ability to visually tell a story in comic form.  Of course, she did have the advantage of having some really good character designs to work with.  Masakazu Katsura is a name that's well-known to old-school manga fans, having created works like Video Girl Ai, I"s, and Zetman.  He's always been known for his fine (if rather fanservice-filled) artwork, and it's clear that his skills have not waned with the years.  All of the character designs here are handsome, well-rooted in reality, and positively stylish, right down to Kotetsu's snappy signature wardrobe or Barnaby's delicately winged hair.  The superhero costumes/mech suits are also fantastical and unique, ranging from Gatchaman-style suits to futuristic mech suits.  All of this looks great in action, as the fight scenes are nicely drawn and easy to follow.  When you put all of these elements together, you get a great looking manga that's fun and thrilling.  It's hard to tell how much of this is due solely to Sakakibara and how much of it is due to the rest of the production crew, but it's hard to argue with the results.


It's hard to believe that Tiger and Bunny never took off here in the States.  It's good looking, it's got a premise that would be familiar to a lot of comic-reading Americans, and it's got a humorous, charming hero.  At least it can boast one of the best TV-to-manga adaptations you'll find on the market.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 9 volumes currently available.  7 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


This one is kind of personal for me.  El Hazard: The Magnificent World was an OVA I watched fairly early in my days of being an anime fan.  I enjoyed it then and still consider it a favorite now.  Hell, I wrote an entire article on the franchise!  I just wish this wasn't just yet another middling entry into the El Hazard franchise.

EL HAZARD: THE MAGNIFICENT WORLD (Shinpi no Sekai El Hazard), adapted from the OVA by Kidetomo Tsuburu.  First published in 1996 and first published in North America in 2002.


Makoto Mizuhara is your average high schooler.  He's nice, he's popular, he's not bad at chemistry, and when he first meet him he is being chased around his high school by former student council president Katsuhiro Jinnai.  Jinnai is ruthless, ambitious, and egotistical, and he blames Makoto for pretty much all his failings in life.  The only witnesses to this ridiculousness are Jinnai's sister Nanami and Mr. Fujisawa, a teacher and professional drunkard.  The chase is interrupted when a massive earthquake swallows them up and transports them to the magical world of El Hazard.  Most of the gang end up teaming up with the lovely princess Rune Venus and a trio of elemental priestesses, all of whom are trying to defend the land against the large, insect-like Bugrom who fight under Jinnai's command.  Now both sides are fighting to be the first ones to reach an ancient weapon known only as the Demon God Ifurita.


Even more so than my review of Escaflowne, it's going to be really hard for me to be impartial here. The original OVA works in part because it takes a lot of common elements, shakes them up with a vaguely Arabian theme, and makes it all work in a harmonious manner.  It's a sort of alchemy that's hard to recapture (as the many sequels demonstrate), and that goes double for a comic version.  This doesn't even have the excuse of being a previous concept like Escaflowne's manga; this one came out between the release of the final episode of the original El Hazard OVA and the premiere of The Wanderers TV series.  That means that it's in a bit of a no-man's-land as far as continuity goes and is free to pick and chose whatever bits from both it likes, and that pick-and-choose quality leaves the adaptation as a whole feeling muddled.

I don't mind that they tried to condense the story; lots of TV-to-manga adaptations do that, and I'd sooner have it condensed than stretched out with filler.  He doesn't mess too much with the events of the story as a whole and he even managed to capture some of the humor of the show, which is always a plus.  I definitely don't mind that they went with a version of Makoto that's closer to the TV show than the OVA, as the show did try a bit harder to give Makoto something resembling a personality by making him a bit of a science geek and a bit more aware of the harem-like hijinks going on around him.  It's just a shame that Makoto's tiny bit of development comes at the cost of the rest of the cast. 

Some simply get shorted on screentime like Mr. Fujisawa does.  Others get overly simplified, as Jinnai is turned from a well-balanced comic villain to a Snidley Whiplash-esque buffoon.  Sadly, it's the supporting female cast that gets the worst of it.  It seems Tsuburu decided to stick with the show's interpretation of Princess Rune Venus.  That means she's little more than a wibbly little damsel there only to become Makoto's love interest.  Even Diva, Queen of the Bugrom, gets a similar treatment, as she becomes little more than Jinnai's ditzy sidekick.  Tsuburu might have had his choice of what bits and pieces of characterization he wanted for the cast, but most of the time he chose very poorly and it really damages what is otherwise a fun adventure story.


Again, Tsuburu doesn't mess too much with the look of El Hazard, save for the fact that this is one of the last works Viz released flipped.  Most of the character designs are in line with the ones used on the TV show, and he gives them a rubbery sort of broadness that works really well with the more comic characters.  The panels are surprisingly large and spacious, but Tsuburu tends to settle for halos of speedlines instead of actual backgrounds.  El Hazard is supposed to be a vast and exotic world, but you can't really tell that from this adaptation.  The action is crisply rendered and the only thing that gets in its way are the huge, translated sound effects.  Overall, the art is consistent if not terribly remarkable. 


It seems even the folks at Viz were aware of the confusing quality of the El Hazard continuity, as there's a character guide in the back that details some of the differences between the OVA, TV, and manga versions of the main cast. 


The El Hazard manga isn't necessarily a bad adaptation, just an uneven and uninspired one.  The few changes that are made are to the story's detriment and the artwork is merely ho-hum.  Even for a franchise that's mostly made up of forgettable entries, this one may be the most forgettable and unnecessary of them all.

This series was published by Viz.  This series is complete in Japan with three volumes available.  All three were published and are currently out of print.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


This month we're shaking up things a little and doing a little bit of spring cleaning when it comes to the themes.  That's why I'm dusting off an old theme for this month:

Now, for the sake of easiness variety we're going to open this up a little to include movie-to-manga and OVA-to-manga adaptations as well.  We're going to kick thing off with one of the rarer instances of movie-to-manga, one where the movie isn't anime but instead a Western movie.  In fact, it's one of the most popular movies of all time.

STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (Star Wars Episode 4: Aratanaru Kibo), adapted by Hisao Tamaki.  First published in 1997 and first published in North America in 1998.


In a galaxy far, far away, a young farm boy named Luke discovers that his two new droids are carrying a secret....

I'm sorry,but do I really need to summarize this one?  Honestly, the only way at this point you aren't familiar with the basic plot points of A New Hope is to be either a very young child or if you have purposefully removed yourself from the world, preferably by literally living under a rock.  Even if by some small miracle you haven't actually watched the film, you almost certainly have seen it referenced or parodied in various other forms of media.  This was just as true at the time of this manga's release as it is now.  The only difference is that the hype around Star Wars wasn't coming from a new film, but instead the Japanese release of the special editions of the original trilogy.  Honestly, though, the real reason that I don't need to summarize this manga is that this manga IS the film.

This might be one of the most literally movie-to-manga adaptations I've come across in my time.  Line for line, shot for shot, this manga is a match for the original film.  The amount of panels that feature something that wasn't originally in the movie (special edition or otherwise) could be counted on your hand with some fingers to spare.   If you have seen this movie, you know precisely what and when everything is going to happen in this manga.  It also takes its sweet time adapting that movie, as this volume only covers roughly the first quarter of the movie.  That means we get a few glimpses of Darth Vader, but most of our time is spent watching Luke, Obi Wan and the droids wander around the dusty wastes of Tatooine.  So if you want all the exciting stuff - Han, Chewie, Mos Eisley, the Death Star, the Battle of Yavin - you have to read the later volumes.  I just have to wonder why anyone would bother with a manga that's basically the same as the movie but stretched out over multiple volumes.  At that point, you might as well cut to the chase and just watch the movie.


I will grant Hisao Tamaki this much: he's a decent artist.  He does try to capture the actors' likeness as much as possible, although the closer he gets to the main cast the more the characters start to look cute in an anime-friendly sort of way.  What few action pieces can be found here are nicely captured, although his tendency to use speedlines does tend to obscure the action and dramatic angles a little.  Once again, though, Tamaki isn't really doing anything you couldn't get from the movie.  Many panels are a shot-for-shot recreation of a scene.  The only difference between them and the movie is that they were flipped because this is a Dark Horse manga from the 90s and that was simply what was done back then.  He also has the most generic artstyle ever.  He might be the first manga artist I've seen whose art actually looks like something straight out of those bargain-bin "How To Draw Manga" books.  It's all fairly appealing and competent, but it lacks any sort of personality or visual flair.  It's telling that the cover art (provided by Western comic artist Adam Warren, of Empowered fame) is more distinct and energetic than the artwork within the book.  Once again, you'd be better off just watching the movie.  Well, that or looking up manga-styled fanart on DeviantArt. 

I can't give this book a red light if simply because it's adapting a great movie and does a decent, if rather literal, job at it.  That being said, it's such a literal translation that it renders itself kind of pointless by merely existing.  Even hardcore Star Wars fans will likely regard this as nothing more than a curiosity.

This series was published by Dark Horse.  This series is complete in Japan with four volumes available.  All four volumes were published and all are currently out of print.