Off the Shelf: Mangaman

MangamanMangaman by Barry Lyga

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Worlds collide when Ryoko Kiyama is transported to a new land through an inter-dimensional rip created by kaiju. This new world (the “real world” to its inhabitants) looks like Western cartoon Mary Worth & works very differently from the manga-sphere that Ryoko comes from. While the government of Maryworth-land figures out how to send Ryoko back, he tries to assimilate & attends school, where he meets Marissa Montaigne, a pretty, popular girl whose trying to figure out who she is & what she wants. A romance quickly blooms despite the hostility of the community around them & Marissa eventually learns that the world around her is not what it seems.

First off, I have to express my swoony admiration for illustrator Colleen Doran. She does a fantastic job of creating the visual styles of both Eastern & Western manga/comics AND the iconic movie costumes that she recreates for Marissa’s wardrobe are jaw-droppingly awesome. Seriously, when Marissa shows up in a Cleopatra costume that looks like she stole it from Claudette Colbert–I kind of lost it a little. The Western comic art, as I mentioned before, evokes older comics like Mary Worth or even figures on the packaging of sewing patterns. This is fitting because the plot hinges on an older comics trope where verisimilitude is steadfastly adhered to. Ryoko, the Mangaman himself, comes to represent not just a playful, genre-savvy attitude, but also allowing room for the weird & fantastic to take over the story. I’m not sure if this is a comment on the history of cross-pollination between the two medias, but this book has certainly got me curious enough to find out.

Altogether, Mangaman is more of a fun exploration of style & format. The story has a few odd choices that keeps me from giving the full 4 stars. The rip that dumps Ryoko into Maryworth-land & how it relates to the rogue kaiju is never fully explained. Also, apparently manga exists in Marissa’s but it doesn’t seem that Western comics are even a blip on the radar in the manga-sphere. And I guess very few people have even read manga or seen an anime because Ryoko confounds them, yet they live in enough of a contemporary time to ours to have smartphones & communicate in text speech? Ooookay. Ryoko also mentions that Maryworth-land moves too quickly, which is confusing to me since the older comics I’m aware of (ones that Maryworth-land are stylistically evoking), like Gasoline Alley or The Contract With God trilogy have spanned generations. But my knowledge of comics isn’t extremely deep so I’m probably totally missing something here.

Mangaman was recommended to me by a friend because I was starting to explore the manga genre & she thought I would enjoy the mash-up. I would do the same for those who enjoy comics in general as well as those who like meta-fiction & genre fusions.

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