Calling Manga Island: Issue #31

Thu, February 2nd, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Tony Salvaggio, Columnist

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This week on Manga Island we take a look at two radically different tales of killers, sociopaths and the families and friends that love them. Both of these titles were unexpected hits here on Manga Island, "Anne Freaks" because its story ended up shattering the expectations I had for it, and "Cantarella" because of the quality of the books that GoComi! is producing, as well as how enjoyable a historical drama can be in the hands of an author that so obviously enjoys what they are writing.

One of ADV's latest books, "Anne Freaks" has me really taken aback. Reading the first volume of Yua Kotegawa's psychological crime drama had me wanting to re-read it immediately as it went places I had no idea it would go. After reading a few shocking comics lately, I was not sure if "Anne Freaks" was going to really enthrall me after reading the first few pages. However, by the end I was turning pages almost as fast as when I read "Death Note" and other tight thrillers.

When Yuri Kitawa is aided by a complete stranger in his attempt to dispose of the body of his mother he recently killed, his life becomes even more complicated than he had imagined. With blood on his hands and a complete stranger showing up to teach him the ropes of getting away with murder, Yuri's former life as a complacent, abused mama's boy is thrown into turmoil as he gets mixed up with the seemingly sociopathic Anna. Yuri's journey with Anna starts a body count that grows exponentially, as she seems to have no problem taking care of anyone who suspects Yuri of being a murderer. Yuri falls into a role as Anna's tagalong partner in crime. Having been browbeaten into dance classes and the like by his mother, he falls right into the subservient role to Anna's psychotic personality.

What really struck me about "Anne Freaks" is that the first issue alone goes places that I never expected. It starts as a gut wrenching tale of rebellion and murder, and then heads into what I thought would be a Japanese teen "Natural Born Killers" story, from there it heads into the realm of revenge and organized crime syndicates. Only hinting at what connection Anna has to Yuri and their eventual accomplice, Mitsuba Maezono (whose family was murdered by the same criminal syndicate that Anna has sworn to fight), each chapter ratchets the action at a steady pace. Just when I thought the story was going to fall into a formula, a new curve is thrown into the reader's lap. Mixing murder, mayhem, forensic science, mission based drama, shadow conspiracies, and organized crime in with a fugitive story may seem like almost too much for one volume. The enjoyable and disturbing rollercoaster ride of "Anne Freaks" is well told and very taut.

Yua Kotegawa's clean and concise art style is an interesting mix of realism and typical high school character designs. The frequent action shots are well rendered and handled dynamically. Kotegawa even throws in some typical manga caricature to represent the characters remembering when they were younger. This cartoony style of the scene plays out nicely for manga fans familiar with this visual shorthand, and works quite well in the context of the scene. Kotegawa mixes these elements in with some great toning and pages that are very light and airy next to pages of intense detail and violence. He is also a master at hinting at violence without actually showing it. On re-reading it, I realized that there is not a lot of actual gore, but my mind had filled in a much gorier story than what was on the page, simply through what the words and art imply. This much more psychological approach to the story definitely sets it apart from other action and horror books in a similar vein.

"Anne Freaks" delivers in many ways that I hadn't expected. Even though the characters seem despicable at first, as more is revealed about their pasts they become somewhat sympathetic because of their circumstances. There are some touching moments between the characters and their personalities develop well. Mitsuba and Yuri are more than vengeful pretty boy, complacent murder/foil respectively. Their moral choices, strengths and weakness juxtapose nicely against Anna's seemingly callous nature. If you are looking for a twisted buddy movie, are a fan of "CSI," "24," and the like, this might be the manga for you. It is an R-rated manga through and through, but is just Hitchcock enough in some of the cut-away scenes that it is worth a chance for people who want something a bit under the excessiveness of "Battle Royale." The character drama and in combination with Kotegawa's draftsmanship makes this a book well worth a second or third glance and certainly re-readable from start to finish.

A totally different vein of killers leads us to the more shojo oriented tale of You Higuri's "Cantarella." The intrigues of the Borgia family, one of history's most famous clan of poisoners are rendered with a bishonen (pretty boy) almost shonen-ai (boy's love) edge. You Higuri creates her own version of the Borgia family saga, rooted in history but with enough artistic license to make a lively story full of plot twists and a little bit of the supernatural. Oh yeah, and did I mention lots of hunky anime guys holding, staring at, fighting and crushing on each other?

I haven't read much shonen-ai manga lately, and the manga I have been covering lately have been more action oriented and with less pretty boys, but "Cantarella" is a welcome addition to my manga collection. I'm a sucker for historical fiction and the tales of the Borgia family their infamous poisonings and the political intrigue of Rome in 1475 provides a great backdrop for a manga tale.

Cesare Borgia (the illegitimate son of a prominent Cardinal) takes center stage, surrounded by his hateful brother Juan and younger sister the infamous Lucrezia (seen in the early volumes as young, sweet and innocent). "Cantarella" portrays the notorious family in a very romantic light, and uses the politics of the time to show how an otherwise loving family could be twisted into the monsters that we know they are to become. From the womanizing Cardinal Rodrigo (Cesar's biological father), the dual personality assassin Michelotto (in reality, the attractive boy Chiaro), they all have a part to play in what the events that shape the future of the Borgia family.

You Higuri has an excellent flair for rendering the costumes and the fantastic architecture of Rome and Spain in the late 1400s. The notes from the author in the back of the book discuss how she went to Italy to research the architecture and feel of Rome. Judging by the art and attention to detail, this trip must have really paid off. As much as "Cantarella" is about the cute bishonen guys, the architecture and settings add to the over all feel of authenticity from the palaces of the royalty to the slums of the poorest classes. You Higuri is also a master of toning special effects. Since one of the plot points of "Cantarella" revolves around Cesare's unearthly (and seemingly demonic) aura, Higuri frequently employs toning and ink techniques to render these demons and the a black smokey haze that often represents Cesare's otherworldly presence. These touches make for a varied and interesting manga over all.

While "Cantarella" is more entertainment than historical fact, it is still a great read for anyone who doesn't mind a little sexual tension between the male characters. It is more than just a shonen-ai, shojo, or historical drama, due to the sum of its parts. GoComi! has done an excellent job handling the art reproduction, translation, and touch up of the sound effects (most are left untouched and translated where appropriate). The translation notes, historical notes, and messages from the author are well presented and make are a welcome addition to an already polished book. After reading up on GoComi! they are very keen on developing relationships with their manga-ka beyond just getting the book and some notes from them. Even though they have only a few titles out, the commitment to quality present in "Cantarella" and their other books shows on every page.

Until next time, keep your friends close, and your manga closer, and be on the lookout for intrigue past, present, and future. I'll be here watching my back as I await another trip to this dangerous area of Manga Island.

Anne Freaks
Publisher: ADV


Volume: 1 of 4


Rating: 16+ (for violence, gore and some sexual situations)

Cantarella
Publisher: GoComi!


Rating: OT (older Teen) 16+ (for violence and some sexual situations)


www.gocomi.com
Preview and information at: http://www.gocomi.com/series/cantarella/

Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.

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