September 16, 2013

Caravan Kidd #3 (Comic Review #2)

Here at www.kdvan.blogspot.com, Mondays mean one thing: bargain bin comic book reviews! All comic book stores seem to have at least a few boxes dedicated to cheap comic book rejects. Whether these are little known indie comics, one-shots that didn't stand up to the test of time, familiar faces in embarrassing crossovers, or forgotten heroes who've simply been passed over one too many times, there's always the opportunity for the occasional dumpster dive to reveal a treasure among the trash. Its time to give this week's book a read, a review, and a rating so you can either add this steal to your reading list, or know to pass over a mounting catastrophe.



Quick Specs:
Title: Caravan Kidd
Issue: Part 1, #3
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Publication Date: September, 1992

Staff:
Story and Art: Johji Manabe
Translations: Dana Lewis, Toren Smith
Lettering and Touch-Up: Wayne Truman
Edited by: Chris Warner, John Weeks

Alright, so for today's bargain bin comic book review, we'll be taking a closer look at an early issue of Caravan Kidd. Issue #3 to be exact. I picked this up at a comic book store in a neighboring town, quite literally from an actual bargain bin, so it's bound to be filled with cheap thrills.

To kick things off, let me take the liberty of saying that before today's reading, I was not familiar with this comic book series at all. Not in the slightest. Typically what I see sold for close to nothing are not-so-super-hero comics and one-shot indie forgottens. Manga in general is a bit rarer to find as it's considered widely popular to many. I used to be quite the manga authority, but had never once heard of this book before now. 

As it turns out, my ignorance was a blessing in disguise.

Judging by the cover art, this book is chock full of stereotypical manga style artwork. Look at this chick's eyes--they're huge. Unruly, unnaturally colored unisex hairstyle? Check. And her outfit? Skimpy. Perfect. Looks like we've got a classic 90's manga on our hands. If it weren't for her eyelashes and the sliver of cleavage,  I would've mistaken her for a man...Yikes. The art in itself however is crisp, clean, and the colors are extremely fresh and vivid. Classic copic marker style coloring technique seems to have been used to great effect. Next time though, I'd like to see a few more lines describing the texture of her hair, and less highlights in the fabric covering her crotch. Could you do that for me, Manabe?

Let's get right into our synopsis here. Wataru seems to be a normal kid.. Err, pre-teen? Tween? 17 year old? Twenty something or other...? It's hard to tell with this art style, so let's just assume Wataru's just our average 12-22 year old nomadic guy travelling with his alien companion. Him and his alien friend, "Babo," are forcibly accompanied by a strange, headstrong part woman/part animal anime girl named "Mian" who possesses unknown strength, a mysterious past, and borderline risque costume attire. After Babo lashes out at Wataru for something that occurred in the previous issue, he storms out to literally "take a dump" outside his and Wataru's camp (a tiny tent in the middle of nowhere). Here, Babo runs into hundreds of armored soldiers while doing his business as well as dozens of military vehicles, an air ship, and a massive armed battle ship.The issue goes out with a bang when this mysterious woman manages to somehow take out the entire battle ship and unnamed military armada without the use of a single weapon and is then professed by the defeated general to be a "breaker," intent and capable of bringing down the very mechanism and workings of civilization as they know it.



Are you ready? Are you sure? Alright, let's do it.

So, before we start trashing the story line, dialogue and plot, we've got to take two things into account. The first thing is this: This story has been translated from its original language and form. The intention of the author was left in tact as much as was appropriate for American audiences I'm sure, but in the overall scheme of things, it makes no sense to nit pick and grumble over minor details that aren't the writer's fault (At the very least we must blame those who edited the story). Now the second thing to consider will be a bit of a shock to some of you: once you look past the obvious character stereotypes, poorly carried over dialogue translations, and pace-less mess of nonstop nonsense events, you'll realize the actual story and concept itself isn't half bad. The story is oh-so-anime, but there were details added to the plot that, while limited, that provided the necessary interest level to keep the reader turning the pages. For example, the general making a brief rference to his knowledge of exactly who Mian was and more importantly what she was. More often than not, however, it seemed I was flipping back through the pages so I could accurately piece together what in the world was going on, as the story was quite difficult to follow.

The art, now, is a whole other sack of potatoes.

Yes, the artwork is extremely reminiscent of every other manga artist in the history of manga artists. That aside, some of the artwork is truly gorgeous to look at, especially the elaborate machines of mass weaponry, intricate explosions, extensive clouds of dust particles and explosive action sequences. The characters were clean and tolerable, but don't feel at home in their finely wrought world of gingerly clipped detail and solidly employed design principles. The whole feel of the atmosphere illustrated gave off a very "Akira Toriyama" vibe, and I was keenly aware that I felt as though I were reading a not as well written, watered down Sand Land knock off throughout the entire story.


First, let's talk about the positive aspects of this mish-mash of mediocre story-telling and fairly decent artwork.

I really loved the art style when it was used to depict the precise angles and technological detail of mechanical weaponry, armor, and machines. Thanks to the artist's attention to detail, there were panels where even the dirt looked exotic and exciting...Man, I really wish I had more reasons to like this book.

Now let's take a few moments to get into what really, really bothered me about this comic as a whole.

There was an abundance of unnecessary swearing in the character's dialogue. What I mean by unnecessary is that none of the curse words were used in a way that added any sort of depth or meaning to the situations presented in the story. They were hollow, empty. Words used simply for the sake of using them. The dialogue between characters sounded too generic. There wasn't any sort of chemistry between the characters in a way that made you care about them or their relationships to one another, or their relationship to you yourself as the reader. Wataru's alien sidekick Babo was certainly intended to be comic relief of sorts, but was instead nothing short of repulsive both visually and verbally. Also, for obvious reasons, the female character's outfit is ridiculous. Oh, and to complete the circle of silly traditional manga stereotypes? SERIES SPOILER ALERT: she's a robot. You're welcome.



Final Thoughts?

I've got to learn to read Japanese someday. I've got the feeling that the original translations in conjunction with ideas and concepts native to the culture they were influenced by probably make a lot more sense than what we end up with here. All in all, decent art, but poor story telling.

Story: 2 stars
Art: 3 stars
Theme: 2 stars
Characters: 1 star
Presentation: 2 stars


Overall: 2 out of 5 stars performance.

If you're interested in authentic manga, give it a glance, you might like it, but don't expect too much. If you're not really into the Japanese art style, I don't think this is the one that's going to win you over. Just go ahead and give it a pass. 

Interesting fact: if you look this manga up on wikipedia, there's literally nothing there but a 4 sentence synopsis of the entire series, a fragmented description of 4 characters, and a few unreliable references.

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