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Megatokyo and Boogiepop

Megatokyo and Boogiepop doesn’t laugh

Two publishers are dabbling in different market pools. CMX, DC’s manga arm that has thus far stuck to licensed product, just published its first volume of Fred Gallagher’s web-to-print hit Megatokyo (starting with the fourth installment of the series), while Seven Seas, one of the leading manga-inspired graphic novels, has published its first licensed work, Boogiepop doesn’t laugh.

It’s easy to see why these properties inspired CMX and Seven Seas to branch out in new directions. Megatokyo has a built-in audience from both its web-comic format and from three digests published by Dark Horse. The popular Boogiepop franchise offers Seven Seas a rich mine of manga and prose products and, again, an existing group of potential fans eager to see what the fuss is about.

Both are a bit confusing, though in very different ways.

Volume four is my first exposure to the Megatokyo phenomenon. It follows the misadventures of two Americans trapped in Japan and surrounded by a plethora of manga/anime archetypes (ninjas, robots, magic girls, angels) and otaku-comedy standbys (rabid fans, burnt-out starlets). The crowd can prove daunting, as Gallagher doesn’t modulate his storytelling for the convenience of newcomers.

There’s no reason he should. He’s clearly got a groove going, and it would suck up a lot of page space to clarify every story point for readers who are jumping on board with the move to CMX. But damn, an organizational chart would have been a welcome addition to the extras.

As the story begins, we catch up with amiably pathetic Piro and obsessive gamer Largo, the fish out of water. Piro is working at a game shop and crushing on a budding voice actress, Nanasawa. Largo views reality through gamer eyes, seeing everyday irritations as menacing challenges and bringing his “l33t skillz” (whatever those are) to bear on them. He’s also tiptoeing around his attraction to a retired starlet, Hayasaka.

The book has a solid emotional core. The lead characters are appealing, even if they aren’t entirely sympathetic. Piro’s self-doubt keeps him from expressing his feelings to Nanasawa, who’s understandably frustrated. (She’s also ambivalent of her imminent immersion into the often frightening world of celebrity and fandom.) Despite Largo’s often irritating and unwavering obsessions, there are moments of real punch as the reality of Hayasaka (guarded and brittle from her own emotional disappointments) threatens to intrude on his orderly insanity. (Largo’s nuts, but his worldview runs reliably on gamer’s rules that make perfect sense to him.)

But chaos dogs Piro and Largo. Tokyo isn’t just populated with ambivalent potential romantic partners. The aforementioned archetypes crop up frequently and without much explanation, from the ninja who views Largo as some kind of prophet to the animatronic game accessory who crushes on Piro. And there are dozens of other subplots darting in and out of the periphery.

Some of them are very funny, like the government agents who protect and manage celebrities and guard those who have either chosen obscurity or had it thrust upon them. Others are just baffling, partly because Gallagher’s character design can get a bit lazy. A lot of the peripheral figures, from angel to succubus to schoolgirl, look very visually similar.

There’s a lot to like about Megatokyo, but it doesn’t exactly welcome a reader with open arms. I haven’t quite decided if it’s worth cherry-picking through the clutter for the bits I like, but I’m intrigued enough by the characters to check out another volume.

(These comments were based on a review copy provided by CMX.)

Boogiepop doesn’t laugh, written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata, can be a bit bewildering as well, but that’s by design. Kadono has taken a non-linear approach to revealing the mystery behind the disappearances of a number of high-school students, focusing on the specific perspectives of a handful of players and revealing bits of the story as he goes along.

Volume one focuses largely on decent Kei, who is alarmed to realize that his pretty girlfriend is being possessed by Boogiepop, an urban legend who appears in times of crisis to alleviate human suffering. Instead of launching into the mechanics of the mystery, Kadono carefully examines Kei’s ambivalence over the bizarre turn of events. He wants his girlfriend to be healthy and whole, but he’s drawn to Boogiepop as well.

The later chapters introduce another intriguing protagonist. Five years prior to the events of the manga, Suema was targeted by a serial killer. She escaped unharmed, but the experience left her obsessed with abnormal psychology. Her piece of the puzzle is still emerging, but like Kei, she’s driven by curiosity rather than fear. As her schoolmates whisper and gossip about crime and legend, Suema looks for concrete answers.

It’s a very strong start to the story, at least partly because the story isn’t that urgent yet. It’s more of an intriguing backdrop to the nuanced character work. The book rewards close reading, and it builds suspense very carefully. Ogata’s illustrations draw the same nice balance between mystery and motivation.

Anyone looking for intelligent, inventive mystery should give Boogiepop doesn’t laugh a try. It’s an auspicious debut into licensed material for Seven Seas and I think it’s going to pay off very handsomely.

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