Sadly, they can't all be winners. Today's review is a perfect example of that: one that takes a premise rich with potential and mostly whiffs it until the end.
ONCE UPON A GLASHMA (Hajimari no Glashma), by Kumiko Suekane. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2007.
One day, the women of the world disappeared and a few select men began to develop magical powers. It's the duty of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication to take a census of the known wizards of the world. Thus, it's up to investigators like Nippori and his eyepatch-wearing, bat-wielding Sempai to go out and confront unregistered wizards and keep their powers under control. During the course of their work, Nippori discovers that Sempai knows more than he lets on about what caused all the women to disappear, and it's a secret that threatens to destroy what's left of the world...
How do you take a premise like "all the women disappeared and now men are becoming wizards" and make it boring? Why, you do what Kumiko Suekane does and fill half of your story with largely pointless fluff and the rest with a conflict that leaves more questions than it answers.
The first half of this manga fails because it would require a truly colorful cast of characters to work. Most of the comedy in this section is dependent on what are meant to be a bunch of different personalities clashing with one another over the backdrop of Nippori's latest case. There's just one problem: Nippori is virtually a one-note nervous nelly, while Senpai and the rest of their office staff are even less distinct. Without any strong personalities to latch onto, the jokes falter and the whole thing falls flat. That's a shame, as some the cases are at least conceptually interesting. I particularly liked the one about the old man who inadvertently creates a garbage golem to replace his missing wife, as it managed to strike just the right tone between ridiculousness and pathos.
The second half of this manga fails not because the resolution is bad, but it is far, FAR too rushed. There was barely any time to introduce concepts like "Sempai literally keeps the last woman in the world in a cage in his office, transformed into a toy" or the family ties between Sempai and the person who caused all this magical nonsense in the first place, much less let them make an impact. It wasn't until I read the notes after the story that I realized there were supposed to be allusions to Cinderella in this story! Maybe if this story could have been extended over another dozen chapters or so, Suekane might have had the time she needed to establish these twists and make them work. As it is, it reeks of failure, the rushing of editors trying to wrap up an unpopular idea and shove it out the door.
Much like the story, Glashma's art occasionally shows flashes of brilliance, but only occasionally. There are some nicely laid out panels here and there, but for the most part it's a pretty pedestrian looking book. Suekano's art is lively, but the character's faces are too similar for their own good and it's clear that she likes drawing the ladies versus the many, many dudes on display. It doesn't help that her notion of magic leans heavily on screentones and explosions instead of something more fanciful. In a series full of literal wizards, that's a problem.
Alongside the usual omakes, there's a brief essay not from Kumiko Suekane, but instead from Tow Ubukata. Apparently the editors at Newtype had him pick this manga's title, and the mental stretch he undertook to get to Once Upon a Glashma is stunning. There isn't much to say about the translation, other than to note that there are seven different translators credited. I guess Newtype USA had a different person working on each chapter, which ends up giving the whole thing a murky, middle-of-the-road quality.
Suekano has since gone on to make more than a few other, more notable manga series (with the best known being Afterschool Charisma). That later talent is apparent here, but it never quite comes together in the right ways and the right places to turn Once Upon a Glashma into anything other than a curiosity.
This book was published by ADV Manga. It is currently out of print.