Monday, February 15, 2010

Manga Mondays - Jormungand Vol 1 & 2

Jormungand is another shoot-'em-up series from Viz's Signature imprint that I picked since I was impressed their two other similar offerings – Black Lagoon and Dogs. The series follows a group of arms dealers and mercenaries and, fortunately, isn't a retread material or themes found in either Black Lagoon or Dogs. Hit the jump to see what I thoughts of the first two volumes.

Written by Keitaro Takahashi
Art by Keitaro Takahashi
Adaption by Joe Yamazaki and Stan!

Jormungand centers around the arms dealer Koko Hekmatyar and her band of mercenaries that act as her body guards and business associates, including a child soldier named Jonah. The stories follow their various business dealing and misadventures. The volume includes three chapters, two of which are stand alone stories that introduce the cast and premise and the volume is finished up with a three chapter story.

As just mentioned, the first two chapters of the volume deal with introducing the cast, particularly Koko and Jonah, who are the main characters. Koko is, well, peculiar, putting it nicely. A more apt description might be crazy but she's not full-on, insane crazy so that doesn't really work as a descriptor. She is very interesting though and plays off Jonah very well since, when he does show some personality, he is very stoic. This is not to say that Jonah lacks personality but that he rarely displays one.

There is one problem with the character though. He hates anything to do with war or weapons so his teaming up with Koko and her group doesn't make a lot of sense but, it isn't really touched on and, when it is, Koko is involved so it leads to some interesting moments at least, given that she is an arms dealer. Still, Takahashi never really addresses the problem so it flaw, but a minor one. This also isn't really a problem since Jonah is often teamed up with Koko, who has more than enough personality to spare, so his lack of personality and contradictions are covered up, as it were.

In fact, Koko to tends to steal the scenes that she's in but that's a good thing since she is pretty much the driving force behind the comic. This works well since, while she isn't the most complex or deepest character out there, there is something to her. She is also helped out by her personality quirks, which tend to be on the absurd side but it works well with the tone of the series.

The rest of the cast is also introduced in the first two chapters. There are eight additional members to the group so Takahashi never has anytime to really cover them except for some basic introductions but a couple of members do get fleshed out a little bit.

One thing that Jormungand really has working for it is that there is a lot of humor in the series that is balanced well with the drama. Koko provides a lot of the humor of the series, either directly or indirectly, and is usually playing off one of the character as well, mostly Jonah. The drama aspects of the series tend to be the gun fights that Koko and her group get into but there are also some ethical and philosophical discussions that pop up as well. Takahashi never dives too deeply into the subject but the discussions are in service of the story, generally trying to flesh out Jonah and his place in the group, so I have no problem with the mostly surface-level nature of the discussions.

The thing I like best about the series though  is its off beat nature. Jormungand, by and large, lacks that serious element that many similar stories have. Whether it is an actually serious tone to the story that brings some depth to a story or a faux-serious tone that tries to add some weight to the story without getting in the way, Jormungand lacks both of those and, instead, relies mostly on the humor. Yes, the story does have it's dramatic parts but those are mostly to either move the story along or give the characters some depth, most of whom are odd balls, similar to Koko. This is what makes Jormungand enjoyable while differentiating it from other series like Black Lagoon or Dogs.

The one real downside to the volume is that it seems kind of light on content. The stories are enjoyable but they seem to be missing that something extra. The characters are also on the light side as there isn't much to Jonah and most of the rest of the cast are generally background characters without distinguishing traits. This isn't really fatal though since Koko is a strong character and the stories are still enjoyable on their own right.

Takahashi's art is also very enjoyable. He has a loose and scratchy style that suites the series very well. There is a lot of energy and fluidity to his action sequences, which are very easy to follow and add a lot to the story. He also a does wonderful job with the characters, and their facial expressions in particular. This really helps bring the characters to life and does help to make up for the lack of strong personalities in the minor characters at times as well since he manages to convey a lot with his facial expressions. There are a lot of nice details to be found in his work as well, which is just another plus on top of all of the rest.

Verdict – Check It. A fun, quick paced thrill ride that, although it is a little light on the content side, still has plenty to offer to fans of the genre.

Interested in Jormungand, Vol. 1? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Keitaro Takahashi
Art by Keitaro Takahashi
Adaption by Joe Yamazaki and Stan!

+ Jormungand Vol 2 has the same qualities that made Vol 1 enjoyable while improving the overall packing making this volume a stronger product.
+ Most of the book is taken by the five chapter long Musica Ex Machina. The story is about a massive shoot out between Koko's group and The Orchestra, a hitman group that likens gun fights to music. The actual gun fight takes up about half of the space of the story and is very well done. Takahashi does a good job of setting it up and bringing it to an end while providing a very enjoyable thrill ride along the way. It is also a well choreographed fight and is brought to life by his art.
+ The non-shoot out aspects of the story are also well done. In addition to highlighting two of the supporting character, Valmet and Lehm, Takahashi continues to develop Jonah and does some work to flesh out the character by giving the reader some more insights into him.
+The Orchestra were also solid antagonists. They are from the same peculiar/crazy mold of Koko, which helps to add with the off kilter tone of the book and Takahashi get some nice comedic mileage out of them. They also clash philosophically with Koko's group which is what helps make them work well as the stories antagonists.
+ Musica Ex Machina and the final chapter of the volume, which starts the Vein storyline, introduce some new, long term characters. First, Musica Ex Machina introduces the Scarecrow, a CIA operative who seems determined to bring down Koko. Again, he is another one of those peculiar/crazy characters that seem to populate the series but that isn't a problem. The odd ball characters are one of the reasons why I like the series and he definitely more crazy than odd so he does a good job of standing out. Vein introduces Koko's older brother, Kasper, who also has a connection to Jonah's past since he tried to kill him.
+ The volume continues with the lighter and more humorous, odd ball tone of the first volume. It also lacks that "empty" feeling that I had with the first volume. All in all, the minor problems I had with the first volume are gone from this one and it looks like volumes will continue this trend since Takashi addressed the problems instead of ignoring or pass them over.

Verdict – Buy It. The second volume of Jormungand improves on what made the first volume so enjoyable and produces a fun and engaging shoot-'em-up action romp.

Interested in Jormungand, Vol. 2? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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AstroNerdBoy said...

Silly question, but did Viz include the Japanese honorifics in their adaptation?

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