Club 9, vol. 1
by Makoto Kobayashi
Club 9 is the story of Haruo Hattori, a cute but klutzy country bumpkin who comes to Tokyo to attend college and ends up working as a ginza at Club 9, the hottest hostess bar in the city. Kobayashi imbues Haruo with a charming combination of naivete and pluckish enthusiam, making her a likable character. The ginza profession is made to seem glamourous and exciting, though one suspects that the reality is far from that, as putting up with the leering and pawing of middle-aged leches is something that most girls would do only for the money. However, Kobayashi does take advantage of the scenes in Club 9 to poke fun at manga-ka, even including an analogue of himself as a drunken lout. The art is strong--better, I think, than in Kobayashi's What's Michael--the backgrounds are well-detailed, the storytelling flows nicely, and Kobayashi knows how to draw attractive women with realistic proportions. I find his faces though to be overly cartoony; they work well in a gag strip like What's Michael, but they seem out-of-place amidst the more reliastic suroundings here. I'm also put off a bit by the translation, specifically the dialect given to Harou which reads like she is an American back-woods hick. I know the effect they were going for, but it comes off like a low-rent Daisy Duke.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
IWGP, vol. 1
by Ira Ishida & Sena Aritou
Take one part young adult drama, one part sex farce, one part detectice story and one part gang comic, mix them all together, and you may get something like IWGP. Based on a popular novel (that also spawned a Japanese television series) IWGP tells the story of a group of young adults who meet in Ikebukuro West Gate Park on New Year's Eve at the turn of the millennium, then follows them as the flirt, fall in love, have sex, and get imbroiled in the case of a serial killer who rapes and strangles escorts. There's sex, violence and melodrama, all in nearly equal amounts (at at times rather graphic), and the various elements of the story don't ever quite mesh together; it's as though there are three different types of stories being told, all vying for the limelight. Still, despite the fact that it really shouldn't work, I find myself drawn to the characters. The art is 'standard manga' style, but manages to keep the various characters delineated and tell the story clearly, even as Aritou changes his style around slightly depending on the mood of the story at a particular point. It's all a bit of an uneven package, but it's better than I thought it would be.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
(A review copy of IWGP was provided by the publisher.)