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Manga Round-Up

Reborn Volume 1
Written and illustrated by Akira Amano
Viz Media
192 pages, $7.99
ISBN-10: 1421506718
ISBN-13: 9781421506715

Reborn has one of those high-concept premises so weird, you'll want to read a volume just to see if the results live up to it: A teenage boy in Japan turns out to be the last surviving heir to an Italian Mafia don, so to prepare him for his eventual life at the head of the clan, an elite assassin is sent to train him in the ways of crime. That assassin is Reborn, a toddler in a three-piece suit with a lizard that turns into various firearms at his command.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. The toddler assassin sets the plot in motion yet again, in this sequence from Reborn Volume 1, ©2004 Akira Amano.

 

Yes, I just said "a toddler in a three-piece suit." Wait, it gets weirder. Reborn's principal means of giving backbone to Tsuna, the typical manga loser he's been sent to train, is to catch him at low points in his existence and shoot him in the forehead with "deathperation bullets" — bullets that strip him down to his underwear and give him the life-or-death courage to do what his heart demands he must. Essentially, it means that in each chapter, Tsuna gets humiliated, then gets shot, which turns him into an amped-up maniac who resolves the situation in wacky cartoon fashion, only to leave him standing in the aftermath clad only in his boxer shorts, humiliated all over again.

More wacky characters pop up along the way, their main purpose being to add a few extra possible plot complications to the procedings. The basic set-up, however, remains unchanged: Normal life is warped along predictable lines by a memorable but one-note character. Whether Amano can sustain interest in this series' endlessly repeated single joke remains to be seen. By the end of this volume, I'd already decided that I'd heard the joke enough times to hold me for a while. Reborn Volume 1 is an entertaining little comic, but I'm not sure I need to buy a second one.

 

Mail Order Ninja Volumes 1-2
Written by Joshua Elder and illustrated by Erich Owen
Tokyopop
96 pages, $5.99 each
Vol. 1 ISBN: 1598167286
Vol. 2 ISBN: 1598167294

If Reborn is an exotic premise that does pretty much the same thing again and again, the children's OEL manga Mail Order Ninja is a simple premise that carries itself as far as it can and stops before wearing out its welcome. The title pretty much says it all. Boy orders ninja by mail, remakes scholl over in own image. Popular girl dislikes not being center of attention, orders own ninja. Cartoon mayhem ensues. Kurt Russell used to make films like this for Disney.

 

Daddy vs. ninja — Daddy wins! Sequence from Mail Order Ninja Volume 2; ©2006 Joshua Elder, Erich Owen and Tokyopop, Inc.

 

The results aren't brain surgery, but they don't need to be. The point of these books is to turn a school and its surrounding community upside-down as the average boy leads the battle against the annoying princess and her minions in epic fashion, ninja proxies front and center. Weapons fly, things get wrecked, heroes act bravely with aces up their sleeves while villains cackle and look menacing. Further analysis is pointless. Anyone past junior high school will get at most a chuckle or two out of these two books; they aren't great kids literature by any means, but they are adequate to the task at hand, and will entertain young boys sufficiently to justify the cost of purchase and the time spent reading. Any parent will tell you that under the right circumstances, an afternoon of relative quiet while the boy reads his comics is a bargain for twelve bucks.

The only real complaint I have about these two volumes is their design, which suck rotten eggs like rotten eggs have rarely been sucked before. Dull green-and-beige motif? Check. Unimaginative use of arbitrary fonts, including a less-than-readable pseudo-cursive for body text? Check. Jaw-droppingly stupid mistakes? Well, the artist's name was omitted from the cover of the first book, so check. You can practically hear Tokyopop chief Stu Levy throwing this and a dozen other books against the wall to see if it sticks. The world wasn't really waiting for Mail Order Ninja to come along, and probably won't notice its passing, but the book at least deserved a little better than this.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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