Tamio Baba – CMX – 2010 – 3 volumes
Ooh, this breaks my heart! I didn’t realize this was one of the June titles that got cut short! What a shame, it was so close to having the whole series published.
Honestly, the second volume leaves off in a very good place. Makoto and Mr. Big find out what’s causing the flare-up of bizarre behavior in the classroom, they settle the matter, and all is well. Apparently, the next volume dealt with a different kind of conflict and Mr. Big getting to be a heroic police officer. I would’ve liked to see that, but again, the two volumes leave off in a satisfying, if slightly underwhelming, place.
We see more and more of the “flare-ups” among the students in Class 5-2, and we are given some pretty blatant hints, then an explanation and a resolution. This was so painless that it felt a little strange resolving things so easily, with just a talking-to, basically. It’s very after-school special, and it fits in with the younger age range of this title (a shame it’s rated T+, I would feel comfortable giving this to a 10-12 year old, but I’m also not a very good judge). One of the best things about CMX was titles like this, where they were clearly for a younger audience, but were still readable and enjoyable by someone older like me.
Why was this so much fun? I couldn’t tell you. It does fit nicely in with a lot of manga rules, and there’s even a sports festival and some misunderstandings and stuff like that. But there’s a lot of interesting things going on, too. Mr. Big, the teacher, is a fun character. He’s a go-get-‘em police officer undercover, and doesn’t have any trouble maintaining his secret identity or getting along with the kids. He’s their friend as well as their protector, and I like the way he resolves a lot of the situations, even if it’s nothing flashy or impressive. The problems that the students deal with in their “flare-ups” can be either by-the-book or something else, too. The sports festival event deals with a student who contemplates setting a fire in order to get out of their events, which is borderline disturbing, but definitely saves it from the usual boring sports festival story. Another is a great little original story about a misunderstood student with a terrible home life who winds up getting along with one of the main characters and his grandparents. I love the spotlights on all the students in the class, and while none of them are terribly original, there’s something vaguely interesting about most of them. Enough to keep you reading, anyway.
So this is a nice little title, good for a young reader and an older one looking for a fun, light read. It is missing the last volume (CMX closed down before publishing it), but the two that are out read like a complete story. It’s a cute mystery and a nice action title, so pick it up if you are so inclined.
Tamio Baba – CMX – 2009 – 3 volumes
It was the character designs that compelled me to read this. They have an old-school, mildly unattractive look to them, and something about the covers made me keep looking at this series. This was another I pounced on after CMX closed shop, but it’s yet another I found to be strangely appealing and charming in unexpected ways.
The main character, nicknamed Mr. Big by the students, is a police officer posing as a teacher for a year in order to solve the mystery of a teacher’s suicide, and to prevent any violence from spreading to members of the teacher’s former class. He’s a big, uncouth fellow that embarrasses himself immediately in front of the fifth graders, and has no problem standing up to the petty injustices at the school and for students who are getting a raw deal at the hands of others. His “sidekick” is a boy named Makoto who can “see” evil auras around people when something bad is about to happen, and is ostracized as a liar by the rest of the class. With Makoto’s power, Mr. Big helps stop all the bad stuff from happening.
It’s a simple formula, but it works. All the characters are likable, and it stays just on this side of the freshness line. It’s never stated that the students are necessarily going to commit suicide, but their bad auras cause them to act out in any number of ways – with violence, by skipping school and becoming someone else, by paralyzing them in dangerous situations, et cetera. The implication is that someone is somehow causing all these bad things to happen, usually by fanning the fires of bullying by playing pranks on the students. This person is not addressed in this volume, but we see him a few times.
As unappealing as the characters look on the cover, inside the art works, and there are decent character designs that are unique enough from one another to make the story easy to read. I also liked the way the “auras” were depicted. The mystery of what’s happening to the class is an interesting one, the incidents in each of the chapters are unique enough that it doesn’t get repetitive (and it has thus far stayed clear of things like the school play or culture day, though bullying is usually the topic du jour), and it’s got a wonderful sense of humor. Its strengths are simple ones, and it makes for a relatively quick and uncomplicated read, but I did fall in love with it by the end of the volume. It’s rated T+, which seems like a pretty high rating for me, but other than a handful of dark topics (the teacher’s suicide, obviously, and a chapter with a cutter), it seems pretty kid-friendly to me, and best suited to a preteen-early teen audience. Then again, I’m not the best judge of content, so take that with a grain of salt.
Two of the three volumes were published, and I’m curious how far this little story gets in the second volume.