Monday, March 05, 2012

Confuse-o-Vision Week, #1: Sumomomo, Momomo, Vol. 11

It's hard to jump onto a moving story, particularly when it's been moving for a while -- that's why most of us begin stories at the beginning, and work our way through them. But what if we read the beginning, and wandered off for a while, and wanted to see if we could catch up? My reading project this week examines exactly that situation: what it's like to read a late volume of something I saw at the beginning and lost track of along the way. If all goes well, I'll read one manga volume each day and post a review that night -- making as much sense of that volume as I possibly can.

Starting off is the eleventh volume of Shinobu Ohtaka's Sumomomo, Momomo -- I read the first two volumes of this when they came out and really liked them, though I worried that even in the second book, it was sliding away from the original boy-who-will-never-be-a-martial-artist premise into something more generic and bland.

The main character of Sumomomo, Momomo -- Koushi Inuzuka, who started off the series wanting to be a great prosecuting attorney, even though he's the sole heir of one of the greatest families of martial arts -- is only really in two of the seven chapters -- the big ending, where he's dragged into a duel yet again, and a more interesting earlier bit, where he joins a family of gorillas [!] to fight a giant tiger [!!] to escape from a hidden valley [!!!] as part of a training mission.  So, as far as I can tell, Sumomomo, Momomo is yet another manga that's been taken over by its supporting cast -- even Momoko, the subtitular ("The Strongest Bride on Earth") character and the first of the harem that's apparently formed around Koushi, doesn't get much page-time here.

Instead, the focus is on another one of those secret-martial-arts-groups-trying-to-take-over-the-world plots, which has gotten to a level that requires a lot of this book to be made up of scenes in which characters I don't recognize -- several of this series's plethora of nice-and-spunky girls, the mean-girl nemesis of at least one of them, darkly smoldering young men with hair in their eyes, and the blocky fathers of several of the above -- emote loudly at each other about their plot, until I could just about figure out what was going on, and come even closer to caring. (Ohtaka has a light touch, so Sumomomo, Momomo is still not completely telling its story straight -- but it does seem to have drunk its own Kool-Aid.)

This volume was fun and zippy, but I have to admit that it disappointed me -- at no point does Koushi protest the role of punching each other as a method of settling disputes, or quote a single legal codicil. In fact, mid-way through this book, Ohtaka shockingly and completely abandons what I thought was the point of the series, and declares that Koushi is no longer "the man incapable of learning martial arts." I may have had unrealistic expectations, but the first volume of this series was a wonderfully funny parody of the kind of story that it now wants to be. And I'm afraid I can't see that as an improvement.

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