Staff: Jer Alford, Willie Jimenez, Amanda Garman, Bar-1
An earnest attempt by non-Japanese to do manga.
I am not really just what I’m reading. Once again, I’m a bit out of my typical wheelhouse, but I soldier on. The first page looked promising at first until I realized that the artwork in the background was stock art of a high school. Well… let’s not judge a comic by it’s cover and jump into “High School Hikinks”.
The first page here tells us there are three stories. Gaijin HI, Furry Ninja H.S., abd H.S. Sweethearts. I’m going to play a game and try to guess the plots of these before I read them based on the teaser panel. (lets see how I do). One is about a weird foreigner in a typically japanese high school who has a bizarre twist, the second on the list will have little to do with actual high school and more to do with ninja bunnies, and the third will be a rather emo one about two students falling in love.
The first comic, “High School Sweethearts” starts with a piece of artwork drawn on line paper and is by someone named Willie Jimenez Aka “Idest”? (Seriously, couldn’t tell what it said.)
The art style looks like someone tried to adopt the manga art style but had little to no formal training in art. The opening dialogue and scene was painful to read and watching the two main characters awkwardly pose while they talked was even more so. Lines like, “…but girls are watching me.” “Yea yea, quiet… here comes one now!” or “I’m sure you know me as Jessie. The coolest kid in school.” show a lack of understanding the fundamentals of writing. We know there is a girl. People don’t refer to girls as a gender, but the individual (It’s like having your dad walk up and your brother say, “There is a father”). And some of the reactions from teachers… it’s bizarre. We also get a very bizarre set of facial expressions in this comic where, even for a comic done in manga style, their reactions are totally overblown and at time inappropriate for the panel. I understand trying to portray sadness or loneliness but subtlety is the name of the game. In this comic we are beat over the head with it. The art in this comic suffers from a lack of understanding anatomy. Manga is stylized and this one is too, but proportions need to be maintained between panels and relative size should established early on and continued.
In short, it was a kind of a mess, the plot was a contrived romance between two high school students, and the art was poor. 1/1 in my predictions!
The second one is “Furry Ninja H.S”. (It’s a little weird that they are out of order). The first panel says that this is based on “Ben Dunn’s Ninja High School”. I had to look it up. Apparently it is a comic series I haven’t read so I am going to excuse some stuff on this comic as a result. Now, I’m not a huge furry fan, but I can get it. Different strokes for different folks and by the end of the first few pages this already looks a lot better the “High School Sweethearts”. I know well enough that this isn’t my area of interest, but the comic is cohesive, they don’t waste much time on exposition (something even professional comic writers have an issue with) and I can tell the characters by their introductions. Then we jump into some random robot fight without much explanation, but it fits with the tone of the comic (and I don’t know NHS so I assume it’s a “thing”). A crazy furry… ninja… alien… fight ensues (just roll with it) and then it descends into complete and wonderful chaos to the point that we need a 1 panel continuity reset after some bad pop culture references and a 4th wall break.
This one… well it gets a pass because it’s crazy. Art is half way decent, just shy of pro level, and is looks good even if it’s not my thing. (2/2!)
The third one starts off with a good ol’ fashion rustling of my Jimmies. This ones features some terrible lettering and the name “Gajin”. Even when played for parody, Japan’s zenophobia (stemming for it’s long isolationist period) is never something really that needs to be highlighted. I feel it’s somewhat akin to naming a comic, “Jiggaboo High School” in some respects. It’s a slightly derogatory term (ok Jiggaboo is a really offensive term… I just like the way the word parts sound) that gets used with an almost positive connotation.
Anyway, the comic has the footprints of someone who isn’t from Japan trying to write a story set in Japan in a Japanese style. It would be like if someone from Japan tried to remake Boy Meets World or the Little Rascals (Topanga would of course be a busty space alien ninja cat girl with a crush on the unassuming shy geek Cory who has a special power). I’m not saying that an American can’t write stories set in Japan but you need to write from a place you know- not try to imitate something you don’t. This results in a world that is neither here nor there. The dialogue is childish and formulaic, the characters are stock, and the plot is the plot from every harem anime you’ve ever seen. The art is a painful attempt to imitate drawing a style they were not trained to draw. (3/3!)
Also, the last page looks like Lisa Frank threw up all over a manga.
As a whole, this book was really schizophrenic. It had some decent parts (Oddly enough, “Furry Ninja H.S” wasn’t bad to my surprise) but the other two were straight up painful to read. It feels like some friends who liked anime got together with these “three really cool ideas” and tried their hand at making something they had no business making. The failure in tone, story, and character development permeates so many levels of these comics but it’s magically how they manage to make it cohesive. If this is your thing- go for it. You are going to like it either way. It really seemed like a lot of passion and effort went into this comic. They really are passionate about what they do and I salute the hell out of them for that… however, anyone reading this will be hard pressed to wipe the armature fingerprints off this one.