Friday, July 11, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #192: Is This a Zombie? (Vols. 1-7) by Sacchi

It is absolutely not the case that every manga is based on some other media -- light novels, or animated movies, or animated TV shows, or breakfast-cereal mascots, or humiliation-based live action TV. But it definitely does seem that way sometimes from this side of the Pacific, with major franchises rolling over us in multiple media, like well-orchestrated invasion fleets softening us up with big battleship guns before the waves of planes begin carpet bombing and the infantry hit our beaches.

(In this metaphor, anime will play the role of the battleship, manga the airplanes, and poor, half-neglected light novels have the thankless role of the foot-sloggers. Any live-action manifestations will be declared to be marines.)

So it can be difficult to judge a manga all by itself, when it's an adaptation of someone else's story into a second (or third) medium, and the fans are already familiar with it from its other incarnations. But judging things is what we're here for, and no one ever promised it would be easy, so....

The manga version of Is This a Zombie? follows the original series of light novels -- written by Shinichi Kimura starting in 2009, with illustrations by Kobuichi and Muririn -- and slightly precedes the first anime series (from 2011), which inevitably is better-known at this point. (Give people one thing they have to read and another they just have to look at, and you get no points for guessing which one is more popular.) From what I can glean online, the three versions have the same characters and most if not all of the same events, but small details are different among the three formats -- probably just enough to give the trufans things to argue about.

The artist/adaptor of the manga is a cartoonist who goes by Sacchi -- as far as I can tell, he/she (my very strong guess is "he," but I have no proof) -- who did a couple of short works in a similar genre before being tapped for this series. As is typical for the form, Sacchi provides groveling afterwords for each volume where he abjectly thanks Kimura, Kobuichi, Muririn, and the editors of the light novels and manga for all of their hard work and time helping out his unworthy self. (I'm exaggerating, but only very slightly.)

The story itself is a mixture of a gender-reversed Haruhi Suzumiya and a standard harem story: ordinary teenage lecher Ayumu Aikawa gets three housemates in rapid succession -- all apparently attractive young women of his age -- with added supernatural complications. First, he's killed (by a local serial killer, whose identity isn't clear for a few stories) but brought back to life by a necromancer, Eucliwood Hellscythe (Eu), who always communicates in writing because her words are massively powerful. Then, Ayumu is present when the "magikewl girl" Haruna arrives on his world, and accidentally steals her magical powers -- so she has to live with him, and he has to transform into the usual frilly "magikewl girl" outfit, wield a chainsaw, and battle the "megalos" (which mostly appear like gigantic stuffed animals, though I think they're supposed to be real animals) that are a magikewl girl's sworn enemies.

The third girl, Sera, just shows up one day: she's a vampire ninja, sent on a quest to recruit Eu to raise her group's dead master. She doesn't give Ayumu any additional complications directly, and doesn't (at least in these first seven volumes) get involved in Ayumu's love triangle -- she's just another pretty girl around to jiggle, another piece of the complicated cosmology, and the combat-ready piece of the group with her sword and its inevitable special technique that must be shouted out on every use.

The plot proceeds in two directions: firstly and most obviously, to work out the rules of this world -- more on that below -- and secondarily to provide sex comedy and romantic entanglements in ever-proliferating complications. Ayumu has a crush on Eu -- a spectacularly not-based-in-reality crush, driven by his internal visions of her that we the readers get to see (though I don't think we're supposed to think he's as delusional as I do). Haruna develops a crush on Ayumu over the course of the first few volumes, primarily, I think, because he's interested in someone else. As usual for a shonen manga, this all takes place against a school backdrop -- Ayumu occasionally has to do homework, or attend classes, and a few other students in his school are important characters.

Since this is a harem manga, there need to be more girls than you can keep track of (or at least than I can keep track of):

Dai-sensai (sometimes called Ariel, especially later in the series once I've finally gotten straight who Dai-sensai is) -- Haruna's homeroom teacher, who looks even younger and cuter than her student.

Tomonori (almost always called that in the manga, though her name apparently is Yuki Yoshida, and she consistently tells people not to call her Tomonori) -- another vampire ninja, from a faction opposed to Sara, and who becomes Ayumu's "wife" for the usual we-just-accidentally-kissed-and-so-we're-automatically-married reasons. She's also a student at Ayumu's school, because otherwise she'd never show up in the plot, right?

Saras  -- yet another vampire ninja, Sera's boss.

Chris -- Dai-sensai's boss, head of the magikewl girls, a massive schemer, stuck in the body of a middle-aged teacher for much of the story but really yet another cute young girl.

Kyouko -- at first a classmate of Ayumu's, but revealed quickly to be more important and sinister than that.

Taeko Hiramatsu and Kanami Mihara -- two more classmates who are still completely normal as of volume 7, and who mostly serve to have yet more pretty girls bouncing around.

Sacchi helpfully re-introduces many of these girls in many of the volumes -- at least the main three -- which is useful, since they all have pretty much the standard pretty-girl face, so we're meant to tell them apart by hair color (difficult on the black-and-white pages), their distinctive accouterments (reasonable until the numbers of girls start mounting), and...well. Ayumu distinguishes them -- over and over again in the introductions, as well as in the body of the stories -- by their breast sizes, which he is obsessed with as only a fifteen-year-old boy living with three pretty girls could be. One could argue that this is sexist, which would be true but also like pointing out that the sun sometimes emits light -- it's pretty much the point of the whole exercise.

Ayumu is not nearly as much of a helpless spazz as the heroes of some other harem stories, which is a relief. He's actually pretty good at fighting megalos, when the plot untangles from boobs and panty shots long enough to give him an excuse to do so. And, for a hormone-raddled manga hero, he's a pretty good guy, focused on keeping his "family" together and happy and working towards their various aims.

It's not as farcical as I prefer in my sex comedy -- this is sex comedy by and for and about people who probably haven't actually had sex yet, and aren't all that sure what it is, so that takes a lot of the edge off -- but it's silly and fun. And it does have a lot of jiggling, accidental nudity tastefully presented, and panty shots, which are definitely of major interest to a large audience of boys not very different from Ayumu.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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