Comic Picks By The Glick

How one title finally crushed the Vertical Halo.

November 24, 2013

I should’ve seen it coming through the boob window.

With a cover like that, how could I actually expect the first volume of “From the New World” to be any good?  Because it was being published by Vertical, that’s why!  For years the company has put out some of the most interesting non-mainstream manga and I’ve done my best to pick up everything they’ve put out.  After all, they’re the ones who have brought us the best of Osamu Tezuka in English with “Ode to Kirihito,” “Black Jack,” and “Buddha,” old-school shojo manga in “To Terra,” quirky sci-fi in “Knights of Sidonia,” and some titles that took their time but eventually won me over in “Twin Spica” and “The Flowers of Evil.”  Yeah, they’ve also given us some titles whose appeal was limited only to fans of the genre in “Limit” and some genuine crap like “Velveteen and Mandala.”  Yet the majority of their output for years has been such that I’ve been inclined to check it all out.  Call it the “Vertical Halo” if you will and it’s served me well.  Until now, that is.

So let’s go back to that cover of “From the New World” and its boob window.  The fact that you had this big-eyed, big-chested manga girl in low-cut hip-hugger pants should’ve been my first clue that we weren’t getting the second coming of “Ode to Kirihito.”  Yet I went and bought it anyway.  “It’s Vertical after all,” I thought, “Surely there’s something here that convinced them it was worth picking up.”

After reading the first volume I can only think that “something” was the desire to cash in on whatever fanbase the anime for this title has out here.  As presented in the manga, it’s a painfully generic work set in one of those far-future worlds where Japan has become some sort of rural fantasy land and all the important characters have telekinesis -- er, I mean “magick.”  We’re introduced to plucky protagonist Saki and her friends in short order before learning about some of the darker sides to this place.  Namely, that no one is meant to venture outside the rope that marks the village’s boundaries, and that something called the Dupe Cat comes to take away kids whose magick never awakens.  That almost happens to Saki, but since she’s the main character the awakening of her powers gets a scene all of its own.

She’s then sent off to the advanced school with her friends Satoru (the troublemaker), Reiko (the ditz), Saki (the proud one), and Shun (the potential love interest) with new friend Mamoru (the cowardly one).  Put together, there may be one fully-developed character between these individuals.  Sticking them in a blender to see if that would do the trick would be more interesting than spending more time with their one-dimensional selves.  Even when things go bad after they journey beyond the rope border, they remain stubbornly true to their archetypes.

This would be a real tragedy if these uninteresting characters were ruining a potentially fascinating story, yet there’s nothing in mangaka Toru Oikawa’s storytelling to suggest that he’s capable of giving us such a thing.  We’re told on the back of the volume that “From the New World” was an award-winning story by Yusuke Kishi and there’s nothing to indicate that here.  The tone shifts wildly from scene to scene in the first chapter alone.  One moment we’re dealing with sentimental friendship bonding, the other we’re in a horror movie.  You’ve also got plot holes like Saki suddenly remembering the other classmate she left behind at her old school before forgetting about her friend who is subsequently killed for the rest of the volume.  This could be explained later, but it’s presented really awkwardly here.  Less likely to be explained are Shun’s fluctuating power levels as he goes from building playing card towers to sinking a forest with the power of his mind.

Yet if there’s one thing that truly sinks my opinion of this manga, it would be the art.  It’s drawn in an aggressively “moe” style with the focus on the big-eyed girls who over-emote at every conceivable opportunity.  I’d like to think that even fans of this style would call it shameless pandering, but I think they’d save that for all of the fanservice.  Yeah, I’m coming back to the boob window in Saki’s outfit and while that doesn’t show up until later in the story, all of her outfits prior to that spotlight her chest in some way.  Her crotch too, at least with the initial one.  Then there’s the gratuitous lesbian bathing and sex scenes which only seem to be in the story to get the attention of male readers.  If I was still sixteen years old (the recommended reading age for this title) then that probably would’ve been enough to hold my attention.  These days, stuff like that just frustrates me.  Either have it BE PORN or BE PART OF THE STORY.  Instead, it just contributes to the overall trashy feel of the volume.

After I was done reading this, I immediately wanted to sell it off.  I can’t imagine ever reading this again as there wasn’t anything redeeming or interesting about it.  Writing about how much this story sucks has been the most entertainment I’ve gotten from it!  So if you’re shopping at your local Book Off in Westminster, California, in the next week or so and see a copy of the first volume of “From the New World” for sale, it may have been mine.

So keep that in mind if you want to own the volume which finally convinced me that everything from Vertical isn’t worth picking up.  Then this announcement came along and really sent the message home.  Even though the company has made its name publishing some of the most esoteric and non-commercial manga of the last few years, you also have to figure “non-commercial” factors in there as well.  Vertical is mainly a manga publisher after all and they have to make money to survive as well.  Viz is actually a really good example of how a company can use their profits (read:  Shonen Jump Money) to fund a very diverse line.  Even if they have yet to announce any notable seinen titles to replace the ones that they finished publishing (“Tenjo Tenge,” “20th Century Boys”) this year.

I certainly hope that Vertical can follow their route.  They may be going in a more commercial direction, but they’ve still got plenty of notable titles coming soon and in the new year.  Kyoko “Helter Skelter” Okazaki’s “Pink” arrives next week, while Fumi Yoshinaga’s “What Did You Eat Today?” and Myoco Anno’s “Insufficient Direction” both arrive next year and with nary a boob window in sight.  Though “From the New World” was utter garbage, Vertical still has enough on tap to show that their heart is still in the right place and they’re still a company worth paying attention to.  I’m just going to have to be that much more discriminating in deciding what I’ll actually be buying from them.

Jason Glick

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