Friday, August 20, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 198 (8/20) -- Ratman, Vol. 1 by Inui Sekihiko

Sometimes genericism can be a surprisingly good thing. Take Ratman, for example, which is, to be high concept about it, very much like the recent comic and movie Kick-Ass translated into standard Japanese shonen tropes. There's a boy whose obsessed with superheroes -- in Kick-Ass's case, it was purely through comic books, but Ratman has a wider, more open world, so there are actual superheroes (mostly corporate-backed spokesmen) running around -- who becomes one, and a girl whose vastly better at it than he could ever dream of being, and the requisite amount of violence.

The big difference is that Kick-Ass wants to both pander to and insult its readership -- which it declares is made up entirely of people just like its hero -- but Ratman is more traditional, making its hero the usual shonen yearning, incompetent dork but still having affection for him. Ratman also isn't satisfied with "realism" of any kind, so its hero -- Shuto Katsuragi, notably short and still in elementary school, besides being the kind of kid who breaks into long speeches about how awesome some random corporate super-type is -- gains actual superpowers, and a super-sentai-ish suit to go with them.

Shuto wanted to become a superhero in the worst way -- and so, as the old joke goes, that's just how he does become one, falling into the middle of a plot hatched by a secret organization. (The organization is ostensibly evil, as well, since it's against the superheroes, but there are enough clues to the heroes' corruption to leave that as an expected plot point for future volumes. As often happens in a book like this, they force him to sign a contract with them -- and he's too honest to break it.) And, as usual in manga, his superhero life is inextricably tied up with his school life -- his classmates include the tough daughter of the head of the superhero association and the femme fatale who lured Shuto into the Ratman suit.

Ratman has a clean art style and a sense of humor about itself -- the minions of the evil organization (Jackal) are the main comic relief -- which elevates it somewhat from its generic origins. It doesn't aim terribly high, but it has a clear eye for where it is aimed, and hits its target solidly and entirely. It may be a guilty pleasure, but it definitely is a pleasure.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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