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Of Mice and Men

As you may have guessed judging from my first few posts here in this little blog, the write-ups I’ve made look like clear-cut reviews of certain manga/anime that have tickled my fancy. All they needed were traditional rating systems–either going from the minimum of 5 to the maximum of 100. Add in fancy markers such as stars or whatnot, then the whole site would really look like a genuine review site. I didn’t actually plan on making the site that way, but things just happened to fall in that direction.

I don’t actually feel really confident in my skills as a reviewer, and at times feel like I’ve made wrong judgments somewhere. Looking back, some of the points I’ve tried to make sound stupid to me now, and by extension made me feel stupid as well. My capacities in translating my thoughts into coherent statements aren’t really things I have so much confidence about, and for that I ask for a degree of forgiveness. Hopefully, from now on I’d be able to steer this little thing I’ve got going into the direction I preferred.

Now, after all that nonsense, I’m back with a little something I’ve done and caught up with while again struggling with a near-useless network connection.

 

The Hour of the Mice – Kei Tome (Afternoon Magazine, Kodansha)

 

After a very long hiatus from manga–just recently broken–I’ve looked through some of the ones I’ve gotten in some binges in the past and tried to complete all of them (as you may already know). Some of them were excellent, while some were just good. I haven’t come across a definitively bad series yet, and after reading yet another one I feel pleased to note that the streak hasn’t been broken yet.

In my relatively short immersion into the world of manga, I’ve seen a plethora of different stories and different personalities. The world of manga is one where anyone with a speck of talent and a wide imagination can enter, and it has given birth to its own cast of icons from past to the future. Naturally, with a world as diverse as that, people of both genders have gone and made the most of their skills. This manga is an example.

I’ve read my share of manga from female manga-ka before, and they have proven themselves as imaginative, as skilled, and as diverse as their male counterparts. Normally they would be typecast as writers for the shoujo and josei demographics, but some of them have reached beyond that and made names for themselves. Artists such as Urushibara Yuki (Mushishi), Kouno Fumiyo (Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms), Arakawa Hiromu (Fullmetal Alchemist; also perhaps the most renowned of this small list), and even Hayashida Q (Dorohedoro) have made strides in showing that talent and imagination are the only basic things someone needs in order to be successful.

This time around I’ve delved into a little piece by Kei Tome, someone whose work I’ve only gotten a little taste of in the past. I’ve read bits and pieces of her earlier work Kurogane back when I idled around bookstores looking for something to kill time. It was a long time ago, but I still remember liking how simple and laid-back her style was. It was an action story first and foremost, but her more serene moments were equally given focus. Though I could never give a fair judgment based on what little I’ve read and remembered from that, all I know was that Tome had a little delicate touch to her work, which made it easily memorable.

Her artwork back in Kuro was a little sketchier than the one shown in Hour, which clearly indicates how her drawing skills have matured since then. She displays better draftsmanship in Hour, drawing appealing yet simplistic characters amidst the usual backgrounds and conventional paneling. Kei Tome’s artwork here actually strikes me as a bit of a blend among other talented artists, namely Hiroki Endo (Eden: It’s an Endless World, All-Rounder Meguru), Hiroaki Samura (Ohikkoshi, Blade of the Immortal), and Masayuki Takano (Blood Alone). It looks as if she was the sketchier version of Endo, the cleaner and simpler Samura, with her art bearing most similarity to Takano’s. A healthy combination of the three styles was a treat.

Given that, even the most by-the-book panel composition and action choreography can be made a treat to the eyes. I liked the way the characters were posed, how they were moved, and how they were drawn. Tome’s design work in the manga was fun to look at, and was definitely one of the points I’ve enjoyed a lot in Hour of the Mice. It didn’t have the kinetic pace, brutal action, and dynamic choreography Samura boasts of in his works–action or not–but Tome did a well enough job in the art department.

Hour of the Mice also deals with something that has also been a fascination of mine. Such things as government conspiracies and suspense thrillers have been done in manga before, and Hour is no different. The ones I’ve read prior, however, take the conspiracy/suspense part and put it in stark focus, but in Hour the case is a bit contradictory. In here the characters and the philosophy, morals, and motivations take center stage, and lets the suspense serve as mere backdrop for them. Reading this won’t make you as tense as say, Battle Royale, but it works in its own different purpose.

The Hour of the Mice tells a story about four kids sent in their early childhood to a secluded private school  in the middle of nowhere for the purpose of being educated and turned into valuable contributors to society. The students are all gifted, and they are nurtured into the mindset of being future leaders of their country. However, little do they know that their whole lives have been a part of a government deal with a pharmaceutical company for research purposes, and a returning student helps them learn the truth. It’s now up to them if they want to escape the comforts of the government facility  or to face the outside world which they know absolutely nothing about. It’s an interesting concept.

I didn’t find the execution and narrative all that good, though. At some parts I felt as if it was doing too little, and at others I felt it was doing too many things at the same time. Character philosophy and motivation were given a lot of focus, at times even sacrificing the more suspenseful bits a bit too much. I would have preferred there to be a bit more balance between the action and the introspection, considering the type of story the manga was going for. But that in itself doesn’t make everything bad. It’s just that in exchange for all the personal discoveries and questions being thrown around, there is little payoff to make them all validated. They’re supposed to be escaping from a government facility for medical experiments, yet the feelings of tension and anxiety are lacking–hell, the other side even followed genre conventions and had their own private army. The story was a straight line from start to finish, with only a few spikes and no climax. By far that’s my only complaint about the otherwise solid manga.

With all that said, the more serene and personal bits were really satisfying. Tome once again shows her delicate touch in showing the characters’ personalities, convictions, and motivations. I liked the little twists she put in here and there, too. Her characterization was the highlight of the whole thing, even if some of them were a bit insufferable. Tome shows quite skillfully the dilemma faced by people in the students’ position–the curiosity of seeing the outside world they know nothing about, and the feeling of dependency on the comforts of the life they’ve been used to. There’s also the awakening to new feelings and emotions undergone by the characters. One of them even goes so far as to disregard their whole objective, just because her immature jealousy got the better of her–without her being aware of it. And not surprisingly, their vision of love differs from the normal perception considering their upbringing, and Tome again does a good job of displaying it. There’s also the results of attempting to integrate into normal society after having been raised in such a closed environment. The inevitable disconnect between the old world and the new ultimately gives rise to a battering loneliness, one such feeling another of the main characters undergo.

For all the good things listed here however, I personally didn’t feel at ease at all with some characters. Tome made some of them stubborn–a little too stubborn for my tastes. The character I’ve mentioned above–the one who disregarded their goal–came off as a little too childish to me, yet she wasn’t as charming as I’d hoped. It could be said that the whole shtick was in-character, and I would agree, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. The central female character, Kiriko, was herself hard-headed, and ultimately turned the ending into one I didn’t expect–and liked, for that matter. Again, it was all in-character, but still. What irked me was Nagi. I had thought of him as the suave, cool character the kids would look to for support, but in the end he got shortchanged, and his ending was quite disappointing.

As with almost all manga/anime endings, this story had one which left me with a sour aftertaste. I accepted and liked the manga’s approach to the whole “government conspiracy” angle, but still the end was lacking. It felt as if it was just another day at the office, with no punch or excitement involved. This story definitely needed a convincing climax, but all I got was a straight line, as if the manga had only one set path to go into. The build-up was there, but there was little payoff to make it count.

The manga itself was an enjoyable read. I liked Tome’s art style here, and I sensed a bit of maturation and evolution in her drawings. I would like to see more of her work soon. This time she again proves that she does have a quiet, sensible, and delicate approach to her characters–even if I didn’t like some of them. She handles the various problems faced by people in the students’ shoes quite skillfully. Its lack of tension and straight-lined nature hurt its narrative, though, I think. Plus the ending was hardly special. It was as usual quite empty for me, but I guess it just comes with the territory. I’ve only encountered few manga/anime that pulled off exceptionally well-done endings, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Still, even if it isn’t really a keeper, Hour of the Mice is a brief, interesting, and enjoyable read.

 

 

 

 

*PS: For some time now, I’ve been playing around with the idea of doing a Best of- kind of post in the near future, seeing as the year and the current anime season is winding to a close. The task itself is quite daunting, as I have to look up again which show aired when, and work out some kinks with the qualifications and what not. I think it would be pretty fun, though, so I look forward to doing it.  The post would probably be up once the Winter anime season starts, and once all the shows I’ve kept an eye on have ended. I still haven’t decided whether or not to do it by season or by year, but whatever. I hope you keep an eye out for it too.




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