The test subject: My brother Noah Brady, a teenager from the wilds of Oregon.
The review material: My stack of manga volumes that I've received for review (including a few other books from my shelf), many of which I haven't had a chance to read yet.
MJB: What's your experience with manga and anime? Have you read/watched much of it? What are your favorite series?
Noah: I wouldn't say I've read/watched a lot, but I have read a fair amount, and I'd have to say I guess some of my favorites would be anything by Osamu Tezuka.
MJB: How much of Tezuka's work have you read or are familiar with?
Noah: I've read some of Dororo as well as the first two volumes of Black Jack, and I've seen a fair deal of Astro Boy episodes.
MJB: And those would be the black and white cartoon from back in the 60s (I think)?
Noah: No. It was colored and animated and happy and joyful. [Editor's Note: It appears to be the 1980 remake]
MJB: So it seems to mostly be the stuff I've given you to read.
MJB: Cool, I love that stuff. Tezuka is one of my favorites as well. Let's talk about Black Jack. I've read a little bit of the series, but not these two volumes yet. What would you say you like about them so much?
Noah: Well, I'd have to say that I like the character Tezuka created; he's very mysterious, and he doesn't reveal al lot about his feelings, but thorugh the course of the volumes, you kind of see his character come out and develop, and a lot of different things happen and it just shows you a depth to his character.
MJB: Yeah, Tezuka is good at defining characters through their actions. And he also comes up with some really off-the-wall stories. There are some pretty goofy examples of crazy medicine and surgery here, wouldn't you say?
MJB: Any that you liked in particular?
Noah: I lked a certains tory about how he operated on a killer whale multiple times, and they became friends, because it seemed kind of really random.
MJB: In what way? Because he just randomly happened upon a whale that needed surgery, or because it's weird that he became friends with a whale?
Noah: Well, it was kjust kind of odd because you have a bunch of stories about him saving rich people who gave him a bunch of money and then out of the blue it's like, "Oh, look, it's a whale, and I'll save his life, and we'll become friends, yay!"
MJB: So it was kind of an odd departure from the formula of the other stories.
MJB: So, how about the artwork? I like the way Tezuka uses a really cartoony style, but manages to do some serious stuff with it. And he's pretty dynamic too, coming up with really cool action, don't you think? [Editor's Note: This was a poor question. Objection, Your Honor, the interviewer is leading the witness!]
Noah: Yes, I would have to agree with that.
MJB: Did you see any examples of that sort of thing in this series?
Noah: Multiple times. In fact, all the time. I mean, for every one frame of peaceful, not-action-intense situations, he has about 32 frames of dramatic action-packed, um, drama.
MJB: Yeah, I love that sort of thing. How about the surgery scenes? Did you find them suitably grotesque?
Noah: Yes, in fact there's quite a few moments of intense gut-ripping found throughout.
MJB: What did you think about the sidekick/wife character? Was she a good addition, or just an annoyance?
Noah: Well, she was kind of pointless, because every once in a while she would come in and actually be part of the story, but for the most part it was, Black Jack, go save somebody; Black Jack, go defuse this bomb; Black Jack, go stop the army of invading aliens, and then she would show up and it was like, "Oh, hey, let's talk about me going to school!"
MJB: So you thought she detracted from the action?
Noah: Pretty much.
MJB: Do you think she helped develop his character, since you mentioned that he was kind of mysterious?
Noah: She did a little bit, because multiple stories that she's in she'll ask a simple question that leads to a humongous story about his past, and it'll be like oh, geez, she's actually worth something! Good thing she asks questions.
MJB: What about her origin story? That was pretty weird, right?
Noah: Yeah, it was.
MJB: But the series might have been better without her?
Noah: It probably could have been.
MJB: Anything else you want to mention about Black Jack before we move on?
Noah: Not really.
MJB: Okay, how about Dororo? I myself really like the series, but what did you think about the volume that you read?
Noah: I thought it was good.
MJB: Compared to Black Jack, did you like the action and adventure?
Noah: Yeah, I did. Where Black Jack offers kind of a suspenseful, "oh my god, what's going to happen?" outlook, Dororo puts more of a, I don't know, I just feel it's more fun to kill people with swords than scalpels (although Black Jack doesn't really kill anybody, but whatever).
MJB: Yeah, swords are cool. Speaking of weird origin stories, what did you think about Hyakkimaru's? [Editor's Note: See more about said origin here]
MJB: Yeah, it's pretty crazy. Tezuka was great at coming up with insane ideas and making them work to tell cool stories. Did you like the idea of the guy hunting demons to regain his body parts?
Noah: Yeah, it was pretty cool.
MJB: And how about the goofy prosthetics that he had?
Noah: They were pretty goofy, but there's nothing much cooler than watching a guy throw off his arms to reveal swords and slash people. I mean, come on, how's that not fun?
MJB: I certainly agree. And on another similar note to Black Jack, how did you like the sidekick in this series?
Noah: Um, he was much more helpful, instead of being just the character that kind of just illuminated the past of the main character. Even thosugh he did that as well, he added his own conflict into the story and gave it some depth, while the sideckik in Black Jack was just "Oh well, my background's pretty lame."
MJB: I liked the relationship between Hyakkimaru and Dororo as well, the way they were kind of antaogonistic, but still seemed to like having each other around.
Noah: Yeah. They seemed to be like foils for each other.
MJB: And how about the action in this one? Even cooler, right?
Noah: Yeah, definitely. Demons are much more fun to kill than tumors.
MJB: And the demons were all weird and strange too.
MJB: One thing I like about Tezuka is the way he puts some goofy jokes and gags into the manga, like having characters make funny faces, or talk to the reader, or make anachronistic references. Did you like that sort of thing, or did you think that it detracted from the story?
Noah: I enjoy when he does that kind of thing. For example, in the front couple pages of the second volume of Dororo, they encounter a mysterious wall, and the sideckik is like, "It's the back side of a medicine billboard", and the main guy says "What?!", and he responds, "I'm just kidding, it's blank."
MJB: Maybe you have a similar sense of humor to mine, because I love that sort of thing, but I've read reviews where people complain about it. I think it's a good way to balance out the heavy drama. Plus, it's just something Tezuka liked to do, and it makes his personality shine through.
Noah: Yeah, it'd have to agree with you; I can see where some people would be more into the book for the action and would want to read it for the samurai, not for the jokes and fun. Some of us just need a little comic relief once in a while.
MJB: Well said. Anything else you want to mention about Dororo?
Noah: Not so much.
MJB: Okay, I saw that you read volumes 33 and 34 of Naruto. How familiar are you with the series?
Noah: I haven't read very much of the manga series, but I've watched a crap ton of the anime. I mean, I've watched the whole thing and all the filler season, and I started watching the new series and got bored with it, and I noticed that you had these two that seemed to jump in right were I left off, so I thought, what the hell, might as well.
MJB: Now, I have very little experience with the series, having read only the first chapter of the manga and watched a couple episodes of the anime. Would I have any idea what is going on in these if I tried to read them?
Noah: Only barely. The common premise of these two is that the main group of characters are trying to rescue their friend, who doesn't really want to be rescued from the bad guys, having gone to join them. That's basically been the premise for a lot of the series.
MJB: But given a brief summary, like the two-paragraph one that is on an early page of volume 33, would I be able to jump in and give it a go? Or would it be better to go to Wikipedia and read the entire plotline up to this point?
Noah: You probably could get by from where it's at reading just the summary, but if you really want to know what's happened, you should probably wiki it.
MJB: All right, I was curious if I should try it out. But how about you, did you dig the story here?
Noah: It's a pretty all right story. It's just it seems kind of repetitive after a while. The first 100 or so chapters do show character developments as all the people learn new skills and become stronger, but by the time you've gone through all of them they just seem to do the same thing over and over, but the main character never changes, and he always seems to do the same things, and it's like come on, really?
MJB: So the series seems to have stretched past the breaking point. That seems to happen with some of the really successful series, since the creators (or editors) try to keep them going. Do you think this series could have ended at some point, or should it have gone onto a different type of storyline or something?
Noah: I think that there wasn't really much of a point in the story where you could have just cut it off and be done, but I feel that the way that they've taken it is just boring. They don't add much new content. They add new characters every once in w a while, but once they do their new stuff, they all just pull the same moves over and over again, and it gets old.
MJB: Is the action still dynamic and exciting, or is it just more of what you've seen before?
Noah: It can be pretty deynamic and exciting, some of the time. Other times, it's just, once again, he seems to follow the same sequence of events.
MJB: So it sounds like the earlier volumes of the series (or anime) might be worth checking out, but it does suffer a drop-off in quality.
MJB: Anything else to add about Naruto?
MJB: I guess I shouldn't bother asking that question. Here's one that I haven't read, although I did read the first chapter at some point: Heaven's Will. Can you explain what that one's about?
Noah: It's about a girl who can see ghosts, and she's afraid of everything that she doesn't understand, so she freaks out and runs away, and she meets this cross-dresser guy who can exorcise ghosts, and they go on adventures, and she finds out that he cross-dresses so his sister's spirit can come back and enter his body, because she died because of him and he feels really bad about it.
MJB: Weird. So was it worth reading?
Noah: I didn't really think so.
MJB: This is in the shojo genre, aimed at girls. Do you think that's why you didn't like it that much?
MJB: Shojo is usually about drama and emotion, with lots of panels of characters faces and less in the way of dynamic action. Would you say that description fits this volume?
Noah: Yeah, pretty much.
MJB: It's only one volume long; do you think it could have lasted longer, or did it tell it's story and end at the right time?
Noah: It didn't tell it's story. It had a letter from the author saying, "Sorry I couldn't finish this, nothing I really wanted to happen happened, my bad." It kind of dropped off in the middle of the story.
MJB: Oh, huh. I was going to ask if you thought girls might like it, but given an ending like that, it might not be worth recommending to anyone. Do you think the sudden ending was the major fault, or did you just not like the story anyway?
Noah: I think the sudden ending was the major fault. There was a lot of character development that needed doing.
MJB: Okay, well that's probably all we needed to know about that one. Next : Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom. This one might be more up your alley. Is it any good?
Noah: It's all right. I mean, it's kind of dorky. It's about this demon guy who ends up being forced into a contract with a human guy, and they have to fight off rebel demons and outcast demons, and all this stuff.
MJB: It looks like an action series; is that the case?
MJB: Cool action?
Noah: Kind of cool action.
MJB: So what's the dorky part?
Noah: It's just, I don't know, I suppose it kind of reminds me of Inuyasha, just lamer.
MJB: What's lame about it?
Noah: Well, where Inuyasha was kind of, the character developed along the line and became stronger and more powerful, and over time he grew, this one just seems like, Mr. Demon Guy says I want to get into a fight, now I'll just turn into a humongous monster and just kill everybody, yeah, that was really hard.
MJB: So it starts out at too high a level, and there's probably no room to develop.
Noah: Yeah, pretty much.
MJB: Is it funny, or are the characters interesting? Or is it just kind of bland?
Noah: Kind of bland.
MJB: I see that the rating is "Older Teen". Do you think that's because it's violent, or is there some naughtiness or something?
Noah: Probably violence. There's a supreme lack of naughtiness.
MJB: Maybe some panty shots would have livened it up or something.
MJB: So it sounds kind of generic, at least judging by this first volume.
Noah: Yeah, pretty much.
MJB: Okay, I guess that's enough for that one. One final book: Death Note. How did you like this one?
Noah: I enjoyed this.
MJB: It's a series that I really dig, although it reaches a peak around volume 7, and the rest of the series is only okay. Did the first volume make you want to read more?
Noah: Yeah, it did.
MJB: What did you like about it?
Noah: Um, I liked that it made you think. It wasn't just, here, let's go bash everything in sight.
MJB: So the plot conflict was interesting and unique. How did you like the characters?
Noah: They're pretty cool. Everyone seems to be slightly eccentric. And by eccentric I mean crazy.
MJB: So do you mean just Light, or other characters too?
Noah: No, pretty much all of the main characters. For example, Light is crazy, Ryuk is crazy, L is crazy. Most of the other charaecters are not as crazy, but everyone seems to have delusions of righteousness. Well, almost everybody.
MJB: Who doesn't?
Noah: Ryuk is crazy in that instead of trying to be righteous, he's causing chaos for the hell of it.
MJB: I like that the plots and schemes are so dense and convoluted, even in this first volume.
MJB: Just wait until you read more of the series. I also thought that it was exciting, even though so much of it was just characters talking or thinking to themselves. Do you think that was mostly due to the art?
Noah: No, I think I was more interested in the plot itself than the art. I'm trying to think of a movie that would be similar, but I can't think of anything. The manga is just so unique.
MJB: Yeah, it is. Me, I think the art helps, and the panel-to-panel pacing really amps up the tension.
MJB: So, yeah, it's pretty cool. Anything else you liked about it?
Noah: The artwork was good.
MJB: Okay, I guess that's the last book. Any other comments on manga, or comics in general, or what you want to read next?
Noah: I think I want to read the rest of the Dororo series next.
MJB: All right, I'll let you get to it. Enjoy.