Crunchyroll Manga Sampler Course Six
This might be the weirdest sampler we've looked at yet. It's time to plumb the bottom of Crunchyroll's manga page a little for our latest Crunchyroll Manga Sampler:
Course Six: Barom One, Takahashi-San Is Listening, & The Diary of Ochibi-San
Things start off innocently enough, when a fight between a couple of boys turns into a dangerous dare. Just as young Takeshi and Kentaro are about to drown, though, a alien force rescues them and commands them to fight another alien being called Doruge. To help them, the alien grants the boys the ability to transform into a single powerful being called Barom One when they link arms. The two boys will have to learn to work together fast, as their enemy can take on any shape and hide in any person...
Once again, I find myself look at another work by Golgo 13 creator Takao Saito. This is probably the most kid-friendly thing he ever did, and in spite of its age it might be one of his most approachable works. Mind you, back in 1970 writing manga for kids meant spelling out everything in long expositional conversations and making our heroes wholly good and our rather ephermeral villain wholly evil. Thank goodness, then, that Takeshi and Kentaro aren't completely obnoxious goody-goodies about it. The two are a well-matched pair of brains and brawn, and most of their time is spent trying to work out precisely how their newfound powers work.
Saito is mostly known for drawing lots of grim, stony-faced men, and while there are plenty to go around here, the character designs are far more rounded and cartoony than his fans may be used to. Aside from everyone's giant eyebrows, they don't look all that different from the other shonen manga of the day. The only character design that doesn't really work for me is that for the title character. Barom One has a goofy superhero-style unitard complete with these really distracting hair...horns? Wings? It makes him look more like Dilbert's boss than an action hero. He still brings his usual gritty flare to the backgrounds, which are nicely drawn and full of murky shadows. The action scenes aren't bad either. They flow nicely on the page, which surprisingly uncommon for shonen of that time. What surprised me was how creepy the art could get at time. The fact that Doruge can essentially take over anything living or inanimate that it wishes and the only tell is when their eyes turn dark and beady can be unnerving at times. It's a somewhat subtle touch in a genre not known for subtlety and I'll take it where I can get it.
I understand why this series is drifting around the very bottom of Crunchyroll's manga page. Old manga like this has a very limited audience and I can see a lot of people just writing Barom One off as hokey and weird. That's a bit of a disservice, though. It's old and hokey, but not without charm or quality and it certainly merits a look. RATING: 6/10
TAKAHASHI-SAN IS LISTENING
Ena Takahashi is a lovely idol singer, but she's got a secret. Her friends think that whenever she puts on her headphones, she's simply listening to music to cheer herself up. What Ena is actually doing is giving herself a cover while she overheads the bizarre yet ridiculous conversations between two of her classmates. She struggles to keep silent lest she be discovered, but she always feels better afterwards and sometimes finds the answer to her own problems in the process. This is a simple, positively formulaic premise, but not one without comedic potential. Why is it then that nearly every chapter left me without so much as a single giggle?
Part of it comes down to the jokes themselves. There are plenty of jokes here that I suspect that were based on homophone and lookalike kanji that are nigh untranslatable into English. It's not just about that, though. Good humor needs a certain ebb and flow to it. Even if the subject matter is purely random, that randomness needs to build upon itself until it reaches its peak with the punchline. The problem here is that the boys' conversations are pretty much a steady, low-key drip-feed of inanity. The randomness doesn't build upon itself so much as it tends to collide without warning. Worse still, Ena's mental commentary doesn't really add anything to the jokes. If anything, it just comes off as a subpar take on the old manzai routine of someone yelling “YOU ARE DOING A SILLY THING! WHY ARE YOU DOING A SILLY THING?” The one time one of these conversation streams worked as a gag was when a conversation about what is ostensibly Tokyo Disneyland led to Ena fearing Disney's legal team if one of the boys tries to draw Mickey Mouse. It's a bit metatextual, but it's one of the few times where there's some sort of internal logic to the joke and it actually lends itself to some tension, which in turn gives the punchline some actual punch. Plus, it's nice to know that the stereotype about Disney having crazy, scary lawyers is not an exclusively American one.
It's weird that this series did absolutely nothing for me considering how similar in premise this series is to My Neighbor Seki, a manga (and a series) that I really enjoyed. After a bit of thought, I finally figured it out. In Seki, Rumi is not just an observer and judge, but a character in her own right. She often gets just as swept up in Seki's games as he does, and the punchlines are not always in Seki's favor. His games also have a logic and procedure to them; they are not random for the sake of randomness. Takahashi-san Is Listening lacks that logic and character, and because of that the humor is as flat and appealing as a day old can of pop. RATING: 4/10
THE DIARY OF OCHIBI-SAN
Even by the standards of Moyocco Anno's career as a whole, Ochibi is a weird one. Most of her works are jaded examinations of deeply damaged young people. More youthful works like Sugar Sugar Rune tend to be the exception, not the rule. The Diary of Ochibi-San is even more of an exception than that, as it feels more like a children's book than anything else. It's about the titular Ochibi, a little boy who has simple little gag-driven adventures with the talking dogs Nazeni and Pankui. Stylistically, it's almost akin to a 4-koma manga, as each page is its own self-contained gag and the story (such as it is) follow the seasons and holidays through the year. They even include seperate pages explaining some of the holidays and traditions on display for Western readers as the story goes along. Yet Anno's sly sense of humor is still there, buried under the cutesy full-color artwork. It's not deep, but it's charming and eccentric enough win me over. RATING: 7/10