Sunday, January 31, 2010

Manga Mania Month prelude: King of RPGs: I want to be the king of ChoroQ, the caRPG

Elsewhere: I reviewed Ultimate Comics Enemy #1 at Comics Bulletin, and it's a pretty negative one, so hopefully that's enjoyable.

Links: This Jim Rugg ninja picture is pretty great.

But there's little that can compare to these Jack Kirby drawings of God.  That is some incredible awesomeness right there.

So here's the plan for the immediate future: I've got a bunch of unread manga piled up, so I'm calling February "Manga Mania Month", and I'm going to try to read and write about as much of it as I can.  We'll see how that goes, or if it ends up lasting longer than one month.  To kick things off, here's a book that's not really manga, but is kind of close:

King of RPGs, volume 1
Written by Jason Thompson
Art by Victor Hao

King of RPGs 1

Jason Thompson certainly knows his manga, having read and reviewed thousands of volumes of it for his book Manga: The Complete Guide.  So if there's anybody that can replicate the manga experience in a Western-originated comic, this is the one.  And while it does seem to take a little longer introducing things than a lot of its Japanese forebears, once the story starts rolling, it becomes clear that Thompson loves the shonen style of storytelling and is having a great time grafting it onto another of his favorite subjects, role-playing games.  It works quite well, with Thompson's characters falling into the established genre types: the pure-of-heart kid who wants to be the best at something, the driven jerk who puts victory over everything else, the selfless best friend, the average achiever who is astonished by the protagonist's acuity at their chosen endeavor, the villain who competes for the wrong reasons, and probably plenty more to come in future volumes.

If there's any weak point here, it's probably Victor Hao's art, but that's really only in comparison to its Japanese influences.  He doesn't quite nail the clean, easy to follow stylings of most Japanese artists (although he gets better at it as the volume goes on), and characters' expressions can be kind of odd, with mouths usually represented by open shapes, but he makes up for any perceived deficiencies by packing in tons of detail and transitioning smoothly between the real-world and what is happening in the games being played.  It's easy to read, and his art complements the humor of Thompson's script quite well.

Thompson's subject matter is surprisingly broad here; he gives mentions to just about any sort of role-playing game, whether computerized (online or offline), collectible card games, board games, Dungeons and Dragons-style tabletop games, dice games, live-action role playing, and others.  He does seem to favor the classic tabletop games though, with a good portion of this first volume dedicated to our hero's initial experience with them.  First comes the establishing conflict though: Shesh Maccabee has an addictive personality, having nearly killed himself with a week-long session of "World of Warfare", so now that he's heading off to college, his best friend Mike is dedicated to keeping him away from temptation.  Mike has his own quirks though, being a total weeaboo, obsessed with anime, cosplay, Japanese console RPGs, fan-fiction, and so on.  The two of them end up checking out the school's RPG club, where they meet Theodore Dudek, another obsessive personality who wants to be the world's greatest game master.  They all get caught up in a session of Mages and Monsters that ends up seeing Shesh releasing a hidden facet of his personality that becomes his character fully, forgetting about anything outside of the game.  This, of course, makes him the greatest game player of all time, and Theodore becomes obsessed with playing games with Shesh, which leads to increasingly hilarious conflicts, and plenty of chances for Thompson to throw in references, in-jokes, and just plain goofiness.

It ends up being tons of fun, with manga-style tropes jumping to the fore, like a character thinking "Could this be true role-playing?" when Shesh gets so deep into his character that he refuses to acknowledge information that his character wouldn't be aware of, Theodore wearing a golden twenty-sided die around his neck because his mentor gave it to him when he was a child, or characters making dramatic, speed-line-encircled proclamations as they perform an important move.  And while things might seem based in a setting fairly similar to the real world early on, as the story goes on, it becomes clear that this is not the case.  Rather, things here are over the top and crazy, with roommates that are sub-literate vampire wannabes, and campus cops that are so fanatically against the very concept of role-playing games that they'll toss a kid's collection of "Gothemon" cards into an incinerator or arrest gamers for disturbing the peace.  Shesh's multiple personality disorder has him carjack a vehicle and crash it into a Renaissance Faire where the attendees want to give him leeches.  Theo is so dedicated to creating an authentic experience that he brings fog machines, smell synthesizers, and live animals to the gaming table.  It's all a bunch of crazy fun, and about as good of a shonen manga experience as you're likely to get originating on this side of the Pacific.