Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Merry Month of Shojo Review #8: FLOCK OF ANGELS

 I'm sure that the mangaka had nothing but good intentions with this one, but good intentions only get you so far with metaphors handled this badly.

FLOCK OF ANGELS (Tenshi no Mure), by Shoko Hamada.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2007.


Over 100 years, a strange meteor fell to earth bringing with it the angeloid virus.  When infected, it would cause people to sprout wings, leading to years of persecution and abuse.  The disease had all but slipped from memory until a high-school boy named Shea spontaneously grows wings and his story goes public.  He soon becomes a spokesperson for angeloid awareness, which leads him to encounters with rich weirdos, a bigoted uncle, paparazzi, and the world's most popular boy band, just to name a few.


You don't have to dig deep to figure out what Shoko Hamada was going for with Flock of Angels.  They wanted to make an allegory about societal acceptance and understanding for those with different bodies and/or chronic illness.  Instead of using any real-world condition, she uses angel wings which allows her to tap into the trend of 'sad, pretty boys with angel wings' that had been all the rage in Japanese media during the late 1990s.  It's an ambitious idea that requires skill and delicacy to pull off.  Unfortunately, Shoko Hamada was not that person.

The big problem with Flock of Angels is its wild mood shifts.  The first chapter is a fairly serious one, as Shea grows wings, goes public, but finds affirmation through his siblings and a state agency created specifically to support those with the angeloid virus.  The second one has him getting literally kidnapped by a rich weird who literally throws him in a giant bird cage who literally wants to breed him like a dog.  It keeps ping-ponging like this throughout the whole volume.  Shea has to deal with a bigoted uncle...who threatens to lock up his grandson in a tower after he grows wings too!  He has to go schmooze with boring rich people who treat him like a circus act...and also saves a random kid from falling off a high railing!  The escalation is so fast and so ridiculous that it almost verges upon comedy and it always serves to undercut whatever moral is trying to impart

The other big problem is Shea himself.  He's so milquetoast that his own personality ends up shifting wildly to whatever the plot requires.  One moments he's calm, the next he's upset over the injustices of the past, and shortly thereafter he's happy because he learned that it's nice when people are nice to one another.  He's not terribly bright (to the point that he doesn't figure out that the three guys he's always hanging out with at the agency are also clearly posing at the boy band) and he's completely adrift in his own plot.  The only reason his lack of personality doesn't stand out is that everyone else around his is equally tissue-thin.  It's a common failing when a writer's goal is to moralize instead of just telling a story.


Hamada's art has big "bargain-bin How To Draw Manga book" energy.  The problem is that Hamada created these rather ornate character designs, complete with changing fashion, detailed hair styles, and absolutely enormous eyes.  Clearly it was a bit too visually ambitious and they struggled to keep those designs on-model the whole time, and when it goes off those eyes are the first thing to go.  It doesn't help that their paneling is too cramped to really show them off.  These sorts of fine-lined, elaborate designs demand equally loose and breezy paneling to accommodate it all.  It also might leave some room for some proper backgrounds instead of relying upon faint, queasy-looking screentones.


This volume has possibly the most stiff spine I've experience in all my time blogging on here.  It puts even some of the stiff Volume Ones of early CMX to shame.  There's no way to properly open this book up to read it without breaking the spine.


Good intentions can only carry Flock of Angels so far.  It's not enough to get past its ham-handed morals, its unstable mood shifts, its empty protagonist, and its awkward art.

This series was published by Aurora Publishing.  This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes.  All 3 volumes were released and are currently out of print.

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