With E3 having come and gone, it feels appropriate to look at a manga about games. Alas, like a bad E3 trailer this one promises one thing and offers something else (and something worse) entirely.
POPO CAN, by Masakazu Iwasaki. First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2003.
Yasuharu Koizumi was only looking for a weird new video game to play. What he got was the game's heroine, Popomi, popping out of his TV on a vague quest. In the mean time, she's content to hang around Yasuharu's house, eat his food, get fawned over by his grandfather, mess with Yasuharu's childhood friend Miko, and generally sow chaos wherever she goes. That's not even counting the robot housekeeper and the ineffectual villainess that follows after Popomi!
Iwasaki has a lot of mistaken notions when it comes to comedy. He thinks that 'loud and abrasive' makes for a good joke. He thinks that pelting the audience with gags like a Gatling gun is a good idea. He thinks that a vague premise and a lot of random nonsense is good enough for a story. He is deeply mistaken.
The initial premise was clearly meant to be a video-game themed take on Video Girl Ai, but in short succession he abandons what little plot there and from that point onward the only point is for Popomi to be as annoying as possible. To Iwasaki's slight credit, he clearly means for Popomi to be as aggressive, vain, and random as possible. The problem is that he also thinks that these qualities are absolutely hilarious. There's no real point to Popomi's awfulness other than to make Yasuharu uncomfortable and without a point it simply doesn't work as a joke.
It's not like her awfulness is balanced out by anyone else in the cast. Most of them are paper-thin nobodies who have a single gag (at best) to their name. The only character with any real comedic potential is Hiropon the villainess. Her intro is probably the funniest portion of the entire book, as her attempt to sneak up on Popomi and instead is given a welcoming party in her honor. It's not only a pleasantly unexpected swerve, it's delivered with great timing and without a lot of loud nonsense. If the entire book could have been this good, it would have been a delight. Hell, even if it had stuck to the 'video game characters come to life' premise more frequently, it might have felt more focused. Instead it's nothing but a lot of loud obnoxiousness pretending to be humor.
Iwasaki's art is well-suited for comedy. He favors big broad expressions, lively poses, and heavily chibified characters. It's almost a little nostalgic to see all these short, squat, and pleasantly thick proportioned people. He makes the most of them through some well-framed bits of flailing and action. Normally this sort of comedy is just as chaotic visually as the jokes are, but Iwasaki is good at keeping all the events clear and easy to follow. It's just a shame that it's all in service to such terrible material.
Popo Can's Game Over happened right from the very first page. Its comedy is forced, irritating and pointless and it's a disservice to the competent and lively chibi art.
This series was published by Infinity Studios. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes. One volume was released and is currently out of print.