Monday, February 22, 2010

Manga Mondays - Nightschool: The Weirn Books Vol 1 & 2

Nightschool: The Weirn Books is an Original English Language manga series from Yen Press, which is serialized in their Yen Plus magazine, so I was familiar with it before I checked out these two volumes from the library and that familiarity was the reason why I decided to so. The issue of Yen Plus I bought included the 12th chapter of this series and I didn't particularly care for it at the time, but I did hear some good things about the series and, after reading these two volumes, my opinion on the series has definitely changed. Hit the jump for my reviews and find out why.

Written by Svetlana Chmakova
Art by Svetlana Chmakova

The series centers around Alex Treveney, a witch whose older sister, Sarah, disappears one day. Alex discovers that she is the only one who can remember Sarah and goes to the Nightschool (which is a school for witches, vampires, demons and the like) where she works to investigate. As you can guess, the main plot is a mystery with a conspiracy component to it.

The other main plot is that Alex seems to be connected to an end of the world prophecy. It is not a large part of the story in this volume but it is significant and does connect with several of the other plots in the series. These other plots move in and out of the story's focus and most of them connect back to Alex in one way or another, as already mentioned. This helps the comic to feel less scatter brained than it should since each plot moves the overall story forward while advancing their own story as well.

There is also a nice humor aspect to the series that Chmakova does very well. This helps to balance out the dramatic aspects of the story and Chmakova does manages to work them together pretty well but there are one or two times that she awkwardly switches from one to the other but it's never a major problem.

Like a lot of other comics that I have been enjoying lately, Nightschool has a strong world building component, though there are some minor problems with it. In fact, the problem stems from one of the series strengths - Chmakova rarely uses exposition to do her world building. Overall, this is a really great thing about the series since it makes the story feel more organic and Chmakova does do a solid job of making the world of Nightschool very accessible to the readers but there is this sense that minor details are being left out here and there. Everything you need to know is in the story but there this sense of something being left out on occasion. Again, this is just a minor annoyance and all of the good things that Chmakova does more than outweighs it and the feeling generally lessens as the series goes on.

The characters are also a part of the series success. In addition to there being a nice variety among the large cast of characters, all of them generally manage to stand out from each other. While some of the characters work better as part of a group dynamic, most do well on their own and the ones that don't stand out generally stay a part of whatever group they belong to. It is also easy to get a handle on the various characters since Chmakova does a fantastic job of getting their personalities across. Part of this is because of the art and part of it is because Chmakova does such a good job of defining the characters in a short amount of space, concentrating on the distinct parts of their personalities when introducing them and then fleshing them out as the story goes on.

Chmakova has an artistic style that is a wonderful blend of manga and American comic art, much like Amy Reader Hadley, both of whom put out work as part of Tokyopop's Original English Language manga program. While Hadley's art mostly emphasized a manga influenced visual style, Chmakova mostly uses techniques that are often associated with manga, particularly the exaggerated facial expressions. She uses these to bring many of the comedic moments in the story to life and, like Hadley, her influences are just that, influences. She combines them with her own artistic style instead of just copying them which is why her use of standard manga techniques are some of the best I've seen. She is also a highly skilled artist in other areas, including fight sequences. The first volume has a particularly well choreographed fight that was very enjoyable.

There is a major problem that I had with this volume though - aspects of it are, well, very amateurish. Specifically, Chmakova use of emoticons in the dialogue at times. And the "written" ones like "=)" or "=P" and, to make matters worse, she uses ones I've never even seen before. And, at one point, she uses "=" instead of "equal" in an otherwise perfectly fine sentence. If this were a webcomic, and not a comic put out by a professional publisher, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But, since it is in a print comic that was not originally a webcomic, I do think it is an issue since print isn't the web and there are different standards that apply to each. Now, this isn't as big of a problem as I make it out to be since it doesn't detract from the overall quality of the comic because the rest of Nightschool is very strong but it did keep taking me out of the story whenever it did pop up. In fact, I thought the first one I saw was a typo of some sort.

Verdict - Buy It. Although there are some problems with the series's opening volume, the overall package is very strong and Nightschool Vol 1 managed to thoroughly entertain me and change my opinions of the series based on my previous experience with it.

Interested in Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Vol. 1? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

Written by Svetlana Chmakova
Art by Svetlana Chmakova

+ The problems that I had with the first volume are either drastically reduced or just gone from this volume. Mainly, this has to do with the emoticon issues from the previous volume but there are also no awkward transitions between the dramatic and comedic aspects of the story either.
+ The story gains a lot forward momentum in this volume as Alex becomes a student at the nightschool, which connects several plot threads together, mainly Sarah's disappearance and Alex's part of the doomsday prophecy. Many of the other subplots make headway as well and many are connected to the nightschool as well. In addition to making sense given the series title, it also gives it a nice focal point for it unfold around.
+ Everything that I found enjoyable and made me like the series in the first volume is found in this one as well. In fact, Chmakova's work is more refined and stronger than in the first volume. While it is not a significant improvement, it is still noticeable and definitely makes a difference.
+ The 12th chapter that I mentioned in the introduction is in this volume and, having read the previous 11 chapters, it reads a lot better than when I read it all on its own. Kind of obvious but I just felt like mentioning it.
- There is a scene in which one of the supporting characters explains that she is reading a Korean comic as part of her "homework" to her stoic teacher, who eventually gives his approval. This type of scene is one that I've seen in some other comics and it's something I absolutely hate. Essentially, it's attempting to prove/show/whatever just how awesome comics are. Now, I completely agree with the sentiment but I ALREADY READ THE DAMN THINGS! Stop preaching to the choir comic creators! We already know how great comics are or we wouldn't be reading them! And, for the record, my biggest offender with this kind of thing would be Dan Slott's She-Hulk run where actual Marvel comics are considered legal documents.

Verdict - Buy It. Nightschool Vol 2 successfully builds on the strong foundation set in the first volume while also showing a marked improvement in the series already high quality.

Interested in Nightschool, Vol. 2: The Weirn Books? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Flip The Page said...

I can't say that I've heard of these series, but you've got me interested and the art on the covers seems enticing. that combined with a general faith in yen press for some reason means I'll probably check them out.

Though I DO hate emoticons

great reviews!

Kirk Warren said...

I hadn't heard of this series until now. Art style from the covers looks interesting. Going to have to try and track down some scans to see what some interiors look like. Might haveto add this to my next manga order.

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