Monday, October 12, 2009

Manga Review: Kuru Kuru Kurin

Kuru Kuru Kurin, by Tori Miki, Grade: A
I'm definitely going to look like a stalker here, and it's not going to look good that I'm recommending an older series that isn't in English for the U.S. market, nor has been fan scanalated. But what the heck - I like the Parallel Girl.

"Kuru Kuru Kurin" is a 6-volume gag series that ran in Weekly Shonen Champion from 1983-84, and was made into a TV drama on the Fuji channel. It followed an earlier 6-volume gag series called "Runrun Company" (1980-82, Champion). I became aware of both titles when Tori Miki resurrected them for a one-shot special for Champion's 40th anniversary, which appeared last Spring and which I just finished running on Nihon-go Hunter. By accident, I found the first 3 Kurin volumes at Mandarake in Nakano, but haven't seen any of the Runrun books yet. I'll comment on those three books here.

When Kurin was young, she went to play at the research lab where her father worked as a scientist trying to make the ultimate robot. He had over 100 personalities of various women programmed into the computer as part of the project. That day, there was an explosion in the lab and the computer chose to save the personality data by transmitting it into Kurin. Fast-forward a few years and Kurin has entered Haitoku high school as a first year student. There, her classmate, Io, discovers a strange thing, something that's never happened before - that Kurin switches personalities when given a strong physical or mental shock. Another shock can change her to a different personality, but only a kiss from Io can return her to her normal personality. Kurin's father is now a chemistry teacher at the school, to keep an eye on her, and he tasks Io with trying to protect her from shocks, or at the very least, to return her to normal if and/or when possible.

The artwork is a bit crude, and certainly a little dated since the books are over 25 years old. But, the humor remains biting, and some of the scenes border on the sukebe (changing clothes in the locker rooms, visits from the school physician for annual physical exams). Best of all are the in-jokes and hidden references. Fortunately, we're blessed with wikipedia in this day and age, so looking up most of the references is relatively painless.

Example stories include a school talent contest that pits Io's band against the principle's, with Kurin in rock star form on vocals for the principle's group; several run-ins with street thugs, where Kurin either turns into a small child, or the leader of a girl's gang; and Kurin getting worried that there are stretches of time when she can't remember what happened and all she knows is that the scenery has changed and Io is always standing next to her when she recovers - could she be a sleepwalker? One of the running gags is Tori Miki himself, who appears as a little bald guy with black sunglasses and wearing a green tablecloth. Miki tries to sign anything that looks like an autograph pad (and gets beaten up for it), or tries to sneak into the panel at a critical scene (and gets beaten up for it).

The cast includes:
Kurin Higashimori: (a play on clint eastwood, i.e. - "kurin to eastwood", where east = higashi and wood = mori). Our heroine, the ultimate multiple personality disorder.

Gentaro Higashimori: Kurin's father. A highly strung, irrational genius.

Io Matsumoto: (A masculine version of "Iyo Matsumoto", pop idol). Kurin's classmate and bodyguard. Not very motivated or strong, but fairly quick on his feet, and attracted to several other girls in the class.

Jupiter Matsumoto: Io's father, and a top model. Both of Io's parents are models, and they seem to like to cheat on each other fairly often. (With his son being named "Io", you can guess why the father is named "Jupiter").

Bouken-go: A robot created by Kurin when she took on a robotic researcher personality, intended to help turn Kurin back into a normal girl. The name is a play on Bouken-oh, one of the characters from Runrun Company, which in turn is actually part of the slogan for Shonen Champion magazine.

James Yoshida: A tall, blond man that usually wears a black suit, with glasses and a mustache. He's the principle at Kurin's school, and generally acts like a flake. In one story, his secret identity is an insect-themed crime fighting hero that has a car like the bat mobile.

Summary: "Kuru Kuru Kurin" is a gag manga about a school girl that takes on a variety of personalities that are only sometimes related to the situation she currently faces. Along with the hapless Io, who invariably fails to keep her from switching personalities at the wrong time, they muddle their way through their lives. Highly recommended.

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