01/11/2010. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Banzai Girl Volume 1 by Jinky Coronado and Wilson Tortosa. Arcana Studios. 160 page graphic novel softcover. Price: $9.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-9763095-2-9.
check out websites: www.arcanacomics.com and www.BanzaiGirls.com
One of the remarkable things about manga is its popularity among teen-age girls as well as teen-age boys, something that sets it apart from American super-hero comics, for example. To those outside that demographic, the appeal can sometimes seem mysterious. While manga comics do feature strong male and female characters, a lot of the artwork is aimed presumably at a male audience. In other words, there's much about modern manga comics that is titillating in a laddish sort of way. There's even a phrase to describe such artwork, ‘fan service’.
Rest assured, 'Banzai Girl Volume 1' delivers fan service by the bucket-load. From tight-fitting school uniforms to voyeuristic vantage points that would make Robert Mapplethorpe blush, the female characters in this little comic book are certainly displayed to their best advantage. But while 'Banzai Girl Volume 1' tends towards the broad even ribald when it comes to humour and visual presentation, it would be unreasonable to call the book unsophisticated and that's the key to its appeal. The lead character isn't a meek Asian schoolgirl but by far the strongest person in her city and the threats she faces, while fantastical, are keyed into traditional Asian myths and legends. So the end result is something that manages to be both in-your-face and knowing at the same time, a tricky feat to pull off.
The title character, Jinky Coronado, is in a reality a twenty-something model from the Philippines, but in this comicbook she's a schoolgirl. The artwork and presumably much of the storyline were created by an American artist, Michael Kelleher. It's an interesting combination and the result has a more American-manga feel to it that the traditional Japanese or Korean stuff. For a start, the comicbook is read from front to back rather than the other way around. Purists might balk at this, but for Western readers at least it's perhaps the easier way to do things.
The whole Asian schoolgirl kick may tap into Western perspectives as well and it has to be admitted that there's a fine line between the sexually provocative presentation of an adult model in a school uniform and actual sexualisation of teenage girls and whether a reader decides Kelleher has crossed that line will depend on their particular point of view. At times, this reviewer at least feels Kelleher crosses the line, as with sketch 7 in the Sketchbook section where the lead character is perched uncomfortably on a much older man's lap.
On the other hand, the artwork is first rate and the storyline both interesting and well-paced. It's not the most original storyline ever written, but then few manga comicbooks manage that and if anything, heroic conventions and all-out fight scenes with magical monsters do seem to be at the heart of the manga tradition. Besides the story itself, about one-third of the book consists of special features. In this section there are short essays, the artist's sketchbook, photos of the real Jinky Coronado and drawings of her by notable artists and fans.
Bottom line, 'Banzai Girl Volume 1' is what it is and if you like this sort of thing, you'll probably enjoy it a good deal. But others may find the style and approach troubling, even accepting the central conceit that this is an adult model pretending to be a schoolgirl and in her imagination fighting monsters in tight-fitting and often fragmentary clothes.
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