>> Saturday, July 30, 2011
To continue from the original review of Tokyo Crazy Paradise by Nakamura Yoshiki here, let me tell you some of the reasons why I liked it.
First, I obviously like the characters because I've already started to gush over them and I'll probably have to write a post specifically on the key characters (to me). I have to say Nakamura-Sensei has a real gift for crafting characters that appeal to me.
Part of that is that they're smart, capable, and creative. Part of that is they are emotional critters reacting in ways that I, at least, can understand. Not necessarily what I might do myself, but in ways that, as I get to know them, make sense to me from a character standpoint. As a character writer myself, my hat's off to that kind of ability.
Our heroine is tough and strong without being stupid or unemotional. In fact, she's both laid back and friendly, while also being hot-headed and readily excited. Her cross-dressing rationale makes more sense than most cross-dressing rationales, raised as a boy with her three brothers by cop parents who didn't want her to be a target in a world where women walking alone are considered fair game for rapists and muggers. True, the story ends up being more complicated than that, and, in fact, that's another part of the charm. With a character so complex and strong, it would be easy for the hero to be overshadowed, but Ryuuji holds his own and then some. Just as tough, just as capable, he's a quiet foil for Tsukasa's excesses, a rigidly controlled individual living up to an impossible standard he set for himself. So impossible, in fact, that he allows himself only one passion, and that just happens to be Tsukasa. A fact that has not escaped his fiancee.
As each chapter unfolds, we uncover layers and facets of characters, which I, of course, love, but also layers and facets of the story. More and more side threads get woven in, with allusions to the past, even legends, that frequently don't manifest until volumes later. I don't know whether it's planned or serendipity, but it's a pleasure to read. Over time, threads and strands weave together into a cohesive whole that (despite the standard plot absurdities of shoujo manga) makes the eventual resolution of so many diverse stories fit tidily together and leave one feeling satisfied. And that, my friends, is not always the case with a story that carries on for more than a hundred chapters.
In fact, though I've never had the slightest interest in organized crime, I found the yakuza element very effective, coupled with the futuristic elements because it enabled us to make a mini-society that worked quite well in the lawless future and allowed us to play with different versions of morality, duty, honor, etc. Fascinating, actually (and not unlike my society within a society from my first novel). I found the dichotomy (cop's child/yakuza heir) quite interesting and thought it was all handled with superlative skill with minimal clumsiness.
But, wait, there's more. It's hilarious. I mean, Skip Beat! is funny as hell so I'm not surprised, but many of the jokes are just a little more off-color, a little more over the top, and over and over, laugh worthy, as funny the tenth time as the first. How often does that happen? Part of it is the interaction between Ryuuji and Tsukasa. The Ryuuji is the penultimate straight man just makes it funnier.
But it isn't just that's there are sight gags and double entrendres and bits of funny spread here and there. Nakamura-Sensei frequently seasons her most dramatic and powerful scenes with this same humor. She manages to do so without diluting the pathos or drama or action or power, even the complexity when she does so. Quite the contrary, with the humor adding humanity to the scene, increasing the power. Meanwhile, the humor is all the more delicious for its surprise, because you don't see it coming. That, my friends, is a talent that should not be discounted, an achievement that really makes this story compelling (and an ability I'd really like to be able to use with my own writing.
But wait, there's still more. There are action scenes as good or better than any I've seen on paper. Most of the time, action leaves me cold in a manga, lost in the stillness of the medium. Exceptions include Shinobi Life and some of the sports scenes in Hana Kimi. I like it here where the action is frequent and immediate, like below where Tsukasa uses her signature chain to ward against bullets (yes, I know it's impossible - folks, it's a cartoon). I love how Ryuuji makes no move to protect himself (though he and Tsukasa frequently dodge bullets easily), completely confident that she'll protect him. I just love that.
Action is actually a big part of this manga, unlike many of the shoujo types: gunfights, fist fights, explosions, rescues, even torture. Normally, I'm not a huge action junkie but not only do I find it really works here, I think it's one of several reasons why it's very accessible to potential readers of either gender.
Then, there's the very effective renditions of drama and pathos, the kind that pull the heartstrings or gets the blood pumping. I don't want to put any examples up this so I don't give anything important away. Suffice it to say, I found moment that touched me, scared me, and even made me cry all through this manga (though there were far more toward the end, so there's seriously a climactic arc over several volumes near the end).
One other little thing that appealed, made more confounding given the youth of the protagonists, despite any real sex and the emphasis on action and drama: this is a very sexy manga.
The relationships between the two main characters, not to mention the complex relationships between the many side characters (particularly Kamojima) really make this fascinating and appealing. Villains in this manga are not quite as complex or interesting as the ones Nakamura-Sensei coughed up in Skip Beat!, but that makes it easier to take them down here with extreme prejudice (with a couple glaring exceptions).
That's what makes the whole thing so interesting, so compelling. Additionally, again, Nakamura-Sensei knows how to dress her characters, including Tsukasa ("in drag") and, in particular, Ryuuji. She creates not only appealing clothes, but characters who wear them very very well. In fact, though the artwork is frequently a bit less polished than it was in Skip Beat!, I generally found the main protagonists as appealing largely because the proportion thing was less pronounced here (though still present). Some of the sets and scenes are truly gorgeous and the inhabitants even more so.
What I Didn't Like: Not much. I love this manga. Did you catch that? Some of the throwaway characters tend to all look the same and not be polished. Tsukasa's eldest brother didn't appeal much to me nor Ryuuji's fiancee, but I'm not sure they were supposed to. Some of the things that bothered me about the artwork in Skip Beat! are here, too, but to a lesser degree. Many of the plot twists are absurd, but it's futuristic and Shoujo so that's kind of par for the course. I'm not much for gansters, but I couldn't have cared less here because I loved the story and the people, in fact, I liked the society within a society thing as I mentioned above. Then there's the ridiculously youthful age of the protagonists which brings me to....
The one real issue I have with this is that it's not being published in this country in English. I have read the scanlations (repeatedly) that fans had translated from Japanese and I have most of them in Japanese (despite the high cost). But I'd love to see them published here and think they would be quite successful here if we made one teensy weensy little change...which I'll discuss next time.