October 1, 2008

I didn’t really know anything about this when I started it other than the fact it starred a mini-vampire and was by Akira Toriyama, but it actually has a really cutesy monster/ghost-kinda theme to it.  It coincidentally fits in very nicely with the beginning of October, so much so that I was kind of surprised it came out earlier this summer.

This was way, waaay different from what I was expecting.  I thought it would be similar to Dr. Slump and the early volumes of Dragonball with a cartoony, whimsical sense of humor and a lot of random and/or naughty jokes.  This is actually another great all-ages manga.  While I can see how Dragonball and Dr. Slump would appeal most to little kids, I wouldn’t be all that comfortable handing those to them.  Cowa is different.  Cowa’s got the bizarre sense of humor along with a few really cute one-shots that wind up leading into a main story that lasts most of the volume, and the humor is very clean.  I was quite impressed.

The art style here is much different than I expected, too.  Toriyama mentions in the back that he wanted to try drawing in an illustration style, which is exactly what the book is.  There are no dynamic panels, but instead we get panels crammed full of the interesting things Toriyama usually puts in his villages, this time with a monster/Halloween theme.  Also, the first chapter is entirely in color, which was totally unexpected and a nice surprise.  You can tell flat colors are used to illustrate the entire manga throughout, but seeing them for an entire chapter in the beginning is great.  It adds to the cheery atmosphere.

The main character, Paifu, is a vampire and were-koala, which is awesome in theory and even better when he’s transformed.  His friend, Jose Rodriguez, is a little shapeshifting ghost, and they have a variety of other friends that range from tiny mummies to pig-people and large furry creatures.  There are also human children in their small village too, they take shifts with them at school where all the humans are out during the day and the monsters are out at night.  Paifu and Jose also befriend a standoffish and apparently very scary human on the outskirts of the village.  The first parts of the volume are, as I said, various adorable one-shots, but a story thread eventually picks up and the kids wind up on a road trip with the human (named variously Maruyama, Marumaya, Makoleen, and Volcano) to go get some medicine to save their villiage from the deadly monster flu.

There are little morals scattered throughout.  In an unusually somber chapter, Maruyama admits to the children he was a professional sumo wrestler who retired early when someone he was fighting landed wrong and died.  During the course of their road trip, Maruyama sees more and more good in the monster kids, and winds up standing up for and taking care of the three little kids he travels with.  He grows very fond of them in the end.  Also, Paifu learns a handful of lessons too, about lying and… trying hard and stuff like that.  None of these lessons are heavy-handed or over done in any way, they just happen during the normal course of the story, and once the lesson happens, there is no pause for discussion or anything like that.  The characters learn and move on.

At first, I wasn’t entirely sure I would like it, but I was totally won over by the cuteness and my love for Paifu and Makoleen.  Like I said, I wanted to read it because it was by Akira Toriyama, and normally a story like this wouldn’t be my kind of thing, but it really is a wonderful little book, and it was a good way to kick off the Halloween season for me.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.