Felipe Smith – Vertical – 2011 – 3 volumes
I knew that we would get to see Morimoto Rockstar act out his ultimate gangster fantasies before the end of the series. He meets up with Jody and takes him along for the ride, using his looks to decide that he is a “real American gangster.” Jody is both amused and confused by Morimoto Rockstar, and there are some truly choice scenes in their brief, but beautiful, friendship.
The youtube dance videos.
The gang signs that Jody is slightly horrified by.
The tattoos. Jody’s tattoo, sure, but Morimoto Rockstar’s tattoos are a thing of beauty. Seriously. There will never be better yakuza tattoos.
Morimoto Rockstar is a terrible person, but I love his character.
That was really the highlight of this volume for me. The plot of the series… felt slightly wrong, given that all the best parts were based on cultural misconceptions. Gill is still on the killing spree, and we find out what his eventual target is, which is a little expected, and a bit of a surprise given his… roundabout way of getting there. As much as I liked Morimoto Rockstar, this part of the plot, the reason for everyone being in Japan, just felt wrong to me. Though it does fit in with the extreme nature of the rest of the series.
The bigger theme in this book is finding out who you are and being yourself, I suppose. I loved that it got this theme across without being too cheesy about it, and as much fun was made of geek tendencies, even in a yakuza kingpin… well, Morimoto Rockstar has no problem being himself. And Reiko’s transformation from being unhappy with life to finding her niche was a really nice story, as was the way she ultimately got along with Milton. Even Gill got to be himself, in the end, and that was unexpected and awesome, even with a scary guy like Gill.
The series does have its downsides… it’s a little loud and obnoxious, especially through the Peepo Choo cartoon parts. That is the point, but all the same, sometimes it can be hard to read. As I said earlier, the yakuza killings are a strange thing to have mixed into the plot. That never quite washed the way the rest of the random connections did.
But still. It’s social commentary is very funny and probably spot on (though I have to take it with a grain of salt since one of the messages here is don’t get your cultural literacy from comic books). The sense of humor was perfectly suited to the characters and everything else that was going on, and in the end, I liked a lot more of the loud, obnoxious characters than I thought I would. Even Reiko, who I was very much against when I first laid eyes on her, wound up being one of my favorites.
I think there are quite a few people who could read the first volume and miss the point a little, and I think there are a lot of people that would be put off by the “loudness” and the way the characters and plot are rather disconnected at first. And that’s a shame, because this is a nice little series, and I think it might have some trouble finding its way into the right hands. I loved it though, and Morimoto Rockstar will probably always be one of my favorites.
Felipe Smith – Vertical – 2010 – 3 volumes
Hmm… the plot thickens. Some of the blatantly satirical elements from the first volume fall to the wayside as the characters all seem to fall headlong into their fantasy worlds, with varying degrees of success.
As embarrassing as Milton is, it’s nice to see he found a friend in Japan. He’s hard for me to deal with, because on one hand, I don’t want to see his dreams crushed, but on the other hand, his dreams are so crazy that I just want him to shut up and face reality. But these things have to happen slowly, and I thought that Miki and Reiko would do a good job explaining things to him. That situation blew up though, then I felt bad about wanting Milton to accept reality when Jody abused him so harshly when reality hit.
Elsewhere, Morimoto Rockstar’s dreams of being a gangster go on uninterrupted. Mysteriously, reality doesn’t catch up with him, even though he indulges in the same caliber of fantasy life as Milton. The last page suggests that someone more well-acquainted with the lifestyle might be ready to coach him, though.
I do like Reiko, Miki’s friend who is fluent in English. I thought she was a stuck-up pretty girl in volume one that hung around with Miki to make her feel bad, but we learn she’s really self-conscious about her looks, and her attempts to learn conversational English by approaching foreigners has backfired due to her large breasts.
One of the best scenes in the book is from her perspective this time around. She gives a detailed account of just what American men are “really like.” There’s a lot of gold across these three pages, but my favorite panel is one where she suggests that “Americans eat T-bone steaks every single morning before going to work.” with an accompanying image of an enormous, table-sized steak with a man eating it while yelling “Good fucking morning! Fucking breakfast, motherfucker!”
I don’t know, I liked it.
I’m still not entirely sure where this plot is going, or how the various plotlines may or may not intersect, but I’m curious to see how much farther it gets in volume three.
Felipe Smith – Vertical – 2010 – 3 volumes
I didn’t pick up this series initially because the cover of the first volume put me off so much, honestly. It says many things, none of which I’m interested in. But it got such consistently good reviews that I decided to pick it up when I found out all three volumes were out. Felipe Smith’s MBQ was also one of the few Tokyopop OEL series I was considering picking up when they did their Rising Stars of Manga competition, so I recognized him from that as well.
I loved this book. One of the things that I feel might go unappreciated by many is that it takes place in Chicago, and it makes good use of the city. Not even American comic books really use Chicago as a setting, so I was pretty excited when I figured out a good chunk of the story, at least in this volume, was going down in Chi-town. The comic store where much of the action takes place is in approximately the same place as the Graham Crackers comics off Michigan Avenue (and the exterior looks about the same, for what it’s worth), and I loved Milton’s transformation from south side to otaku extraordinaire at the beginning. There are also a lot of little details, like the completely accurate police uniforms, the tourist view of Buckingham Fountain… I’ve never seen a better representation of Chicago in comic form.
Also, I am totally biased because I live in Chicago. But my comments stand.
The other thing I loved about it is that it seems to be a story about what our hobbies say about us, and this is 100% why nobody I know in real life has any idea I have a massive manga collection. Granted, all the characters are taken to extremes, but even so, there’s a lesson in there for all of us about the face we show to the world. There’s Jody, the porn-loving virgin who yells at the geeks in the comic store all the time. There’s the geek war between the overweight middle-aged superhero crowd and the younger anime fans in the comic store. The ridiculous portrayal of both anime and the way Milton hero-worships it and believes all of Japan is like that. Gill’s hobby/side business as an insane hitman. Morimoto Rockstar’s love for American gangsta films and culture that turn him into Milton’s exact geek opposite. It took me a long time to figure out his deal, but when I did, I couldn’t get over how clever it was.
The actual plot of the series is secondary at this point, but involves Gill, Jody, and Milton taking a trip to Japan so that Gill can do a hit on Morimoto Rockstar. Jody is nonplussed until he finds out about Japan’s sex industry (the scene where he oogles the ads on the trains while in Japan is priceless), and it’s a dream come true for Milton, who believes everyone in Japan can speak “Peepo Choo.” There are a few characters who don’t quite fit in as of yet, but it looks like at least one of them will get a bigger role next volume, and I’m curious to see what their roles will be. To be fair, most of the characters are filling up a geek/terrifying stereotype (there’s a yakuza boss I didn’t mention in the above paragraph, only because being a yakuza isn’t really a hobby), but that’s the point of the story, and it illustrates the stereotypes so well that I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
I feel like there should be a handful of footnotes to explain some of the cultural nuances that might be missed by an American audience (there’s a great scene where all the characters are labeled with a neighborhood in Tokyo that matches them, but I was in the dark about what the implications of two of the neighborhoods were), but that’s a minor quibble. The only other problems I had were that the story is very… LOUD all the way through, and confusing at the beginning. Those two factors make for a difficult and frustrating first chapter. But what seems like scrambled and disconnected narratives at the beginning come together in very interesting and clever ways later on, so sticking with it quickly becomes worth it. I don’t know about the loud factor… many of the characters, especially Jody, shout and swear excessively, and the long and nonsensical Peepo Choo anime scenes are simultaneously hilarious for their complete insanity and excruciating to sit through because of their length. But that’s just the nature of this series. It wouldn’t be quite as extreme and interesting if it wasn’t so loud, and it blows my mind how verbally profane it gets in places.
I loved it. I love that it ran in Morning Two, and it makes me sad it didn’t last long, because judging by the first volume, it totally deserved more. It’s totally unique, and although I’m still trying to make sense of some of it, I’m really, really looking forward to what the second volume is going to offer up.