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Sgt. Frog

It’s probably not the best point in history to admit that I’m a shameless supporter of an invading force. I should keep my head down and stay in lockstep with pro-Pokopen jingoism. But I’ve fallen victim to the charms ofSgt. Frog and its cast of deliriously incompetent amphibian aggressors. And honestly, they don’t stand much of a chance of succeeding. Or do they?

Cowardly, egotistical Sgt. Keroro, leader of an invading force of Jim Henson-esque aliens, is captured by the Hinata siblings. Big sister Natsumi is horrified when Aki, her mom and a manga editor, decides to keep the invader around as a pet and source of inspiration for her work. Little brother Fuyuki, an occult-obsessed dweeb, is fascinated by Keroro and his ever-expanding circle of alien associates. Fuyuiki and Keroro bond as Natsumi keeps a watchful eye (and well-placed boot) on the scheming frogs. Chaos of every variety ensues, and creator Mine Yoshizaki keeps things hopping.

So, without further prelude, here are Ten Things I Love About Sgt. Frog:

1. Volume One. This was the very first tankoubon I ever purchased, so sentimentality might be overwhelming critical discernment. I don’t think so, though. A lot happens here, much of it very outsized, absurd, and funny. My favorite bit, though, is when Keroro decorates his room in the Hinatas’ suburban home. It looks like he went through an Ikea catalogue, and he’s built himself an IMac and a tricked-out stereo system. Keroro is listening to J-pop and enjoying a refreshing beverage as the suspicious Hinatas burst in. “Oh, hello, everyone… I’ve just come to a good stopping point!”

2. Volume Two. For Keroro’s ineptitude to have real comic bite, it helps to have someone notice it. The introduction of battle-ready Corporal Giroro brings some punch to the proceedings. A hardened soldier, he all but weeps at the Sergeant’s fruit-fly attention span and craven laziness. And yet, he’s underestimated Pokopen’s first line of defense, Natsumi. The sassy schoolgirl smacks him down and steals his heart in their first, decisive exchange. Office politics and star-crossed romance add spice to the mayhem.

3. Volume Three. Momoka, a schoolmate of Fuyuki’s, harbors a secret crush on the clueless lad. She also harbors a violent alter-ego, Dark Momoka. When a particularly ill-conceived amphibian invention splits Momoka into two bodies, frogs and humans must join forces to put her back together again. It’s all a precision set-up for one of the most hilarious sight gags in the manga’s run. I can’t bring myself to spoil it, but I will say that it represents one of Yoshizaki’s strongest skills. He can lay out an entire chapter of seemingly random elements, herding them all towards a single joke with absolute panache.

4. Volume Four. While Sgt. Frog could comfortably ride on cheerful sci-fi parody and I’d never complain, Yoshizaki occasionally conjures a more wistful, reflective mood. On allowance day, Keroro and Fuyuki head off to a toy shop to feed the frog’s Gundam model habit. The store turns out to be one Fuyuki and Natsumi used to visit with their now-absent father. The owner informs them that he’s about to close it down, finally bowing to the wobbly economy. It’s a surprisingly sentimental chapter, but it doesn’t stray too far from the title’s antic tone. It isn’t a “very special episode,” though it is special.

5. Volume Five. With their rather dire success rate and utter lack of momentum, one can’t help but wonder why the frogs would feel they need a break. They take one anyway in one of the chapters here, setting aside their regular pursuits for simpler pleasures on a particularly nice day. Keroro and Fuyuki take a walk. Most of the cast finds sunny spots for naps. Even if the frogs don’t need the respite, it’s a nice change of pace for readers, an ambling, slightly abstract chapter that’s a break from the carefully constructed comedy.

6. Volume Six. Private Tamama is the manga’s answer to Four-Eyes. He’s Keroro’s disturbingly devoted sidekick and cheerleader. But, like his good friend Momoka, he’s got a dark side. Under his affable and cuddly exterior lurks boundless destructive energy and seething jealousy of anyone who earns the Sergeant’s approval. In this outing, Tamama is promoted to the rank of Captain. Given his tendency to over-react and the old saw about power corrupting, you can guess where this is going. But you might not guess how funny (and freakish) the sight of a frog dressed up as General Patton is.

7. Volume Seven. Yoshizaki peppers the manga with digs at other manga and anime tropes, from shôjo to shônen, sci-fi to fantasy. This time out, readers are introduced to a pair of freelance cosmic detectives who are, let’s just say, between engagements. Their search for meaningful employment in a tough market dovetails nicely with one of Keroro’s insane schemes (he wants to launch an evil pharmaceutical conglomerate with his “find a job tablets”). It’s a sharply satirical piece, no less so because Yoshizaki takes on about a dozen targets in as many pages.

8. Volume Eight. What’s an ill-fated invasion force to do when their efforts seem to stall? Conduct a recruiting drive, of course. This being Sgt. Frog, they concoct the most absurd methodology imaginable, developing a gun that turns animals into people. A trip to the zoo yields terror, insight, and an object lesson on the perils of anthropomorphizing, but little in the way of success. It’s pretty nervy for a book about talking frogs to take that stance, but Yoshizaki gets away with it.

9. Volume Nine. I have only two words for you: weaponized afros. If you can’t see the sheer comic beauty of that, please don’t tell me. I have little enough faith in humanity as it is.

10. The Cumulative Effect. It’s amazing to me that Yoshizaki has been able to go nine volumes with so little repetition. The gags are still fresh and funny, the characters are still engaging, and the central concept still works. While Sgt. Frog is very much its own creation, the feeling I get when reading it reminds me of early Saturday morning viewings of classic Looney Tunes cartoons. The chaotic, anything-goes energy and enthusiasm, the twisted imagination, and the underlying sweetness behind the insanity are all there, and they play just as well. It’s a rare thing to find a comic that makes you laugh out loud; Sgt. Frog does that more often than any other title on the shelves.

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