Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: Geobreeders, vol. 01

(All rights reserved by their owners. Images used here for review purposes only. Clockwise from bottom: Taba, Maki, Eiko, Yuka, Yu and Takami.)

I seem to have this habit of starting reviews of series halfway through, and then going back to the beginning and entering some kind of a loop. My initial thought was to just comment on the volumes of Geobreeders that had come out in the last couple of years and leave it at that. If anyone wanted to know about the first half of the series they could get used copies of the CPM Manga books off of Amazon. As for the books in the middle that weren't translated, if there were requests for it, I'd consider tackling them then. However, I got to thinking that there had to be some kind of a hint somewhere foreshadowing the ultimate ending, and if I could get the first 10 books as a set from a used shop it'd be about $1/book. Naturally, when I started hunting for them I couldn't find the first 3 volumes used, so I ended up getting #1 new at K-Books in Akihabara just to have something to read on the trains to and from work.

My above comment still holds, if you want to learn about the story in volume 1, I'll let you buy the English translation. My intent here is to just write down some notes for stuff that amuses me. Volume 1 initially came out in 1995. My copy is reprint number 26, published in 2009.

Geobreeders, vol. 1, by Akihiro Itou - Grade: A-
In retrospect, the character designs here are very crude and inconsistent. Everyone is still recognizable, but often they are rendered to look a little too cartoony, compared to the much slicker artwork of the later volumes. Shouldn't be surprising, though, since Itou had 15 years to perfect them. The backgrounds are very detailed, and the action sequences look like they were torn straight out of a Hong Kong action flick. The first few chapters have pop culture in-jokes scattered throughout. The only reason I don't give this book an A+ grade is that the character designs aren't perfect.

(Yuka, Kagura company president, at your service.)

Taba first meets Maya in October of 1984, when she was a stray kitten sitting in a box in the rain in front of a temple.

(Taba encountering Maya for the first time.)

The story picks up April, 1995, in some kind of alternate timeline. The hint is that Itou uses "showa year 70", but the Showa Era ended in year 64, which was 1989. Taba is a salaryman who's been job hunting, and is responding to an ad placed by Kagura Total Security. He arrives right in the middle of a battle between Yuka Kikushima and a were-cat. Which leads to his wanting to quit the company a few seconds later. From this point on, the women of Kagura fight over who gets to keep him. Taba does prove his usefulness to the company as a strategic battle planner.

The first were-cat (bake-neko, or "ghost cat") to appear in the story, the one Yuka is fighting, tells Yuka that his kind comes from a mirror world to that of normal humans, one where they live in numbers and concrete. He then adds that he misses the era of Shigeru Mizuki (note that "numbers" here probably means that they exist within data streams inside of electronics).

(Yuka and Maki fighting over who gets to keep Taba. Eiko and Takami, standing, to the right.)

Yuka describes were-cats as soul-bodies, able to travel in power cables and take over electronics systems. When Kuro-Neko ("black cat") shows up, he states that his kind are the real were-cats, and that the violent ones that Kagura is chasing after are just "victims".

(Kuro-Neko on the job.)

Yoichi Taba and Yuka Kikushima both show up in chapter 1. Eiko Rando and Maki Umezaki both get introduced in chapter 2, but Maki is the main character there. Eiko doesn't get to demonstrate her brass knuckle fighting skills, or her talent at gathering money, until later.

(Red Shooting Star Maki, at your service.)

In chapter 2, Maki and Taba are on the same subway train, as Maki tries to capture another were-cat. When she shoots madly into the ceiling of the car, Taba calls her "Omawari-san" from Tensai Bakabon. In the same chapter, she says that hell is her workplace, and the were-cat asks if she's a Keiichirou Akagi or an Akira Kobayashi fan (the answer is "yes").

(Maki trying to mimic a scene from an Akagi movie.)

At the end of chapter 2, a Kuro-Neko henchman tells Maya to target Taba, who is now their "new opponent".

(Butterfly knife girl Takami entering "escape reality mode".)

Takami Sakuragi shows up at the beginning of chapter 3, being one of the few people that really seems to like Taba. She's killer on roller blades, a computer genius, and a master of the butterfly knife (which she often uses to throw grenades at opponents). Taba asks her where she gets her grenades from, and she says "Umezaki". The only problem is that Takami goes into "escape reality mode" when panicked.

(Kagura company logo, on car number K-3.)

Also in chapter three is Irie, who initially is just an unnamed guy in a black suit who rides around the city spying on Taba and talking to an unnamed person on the phone. He's especially interested in meeting Taba, going so far as to put bugs in his apartment and on Takami. He gives his business card to Taba at the end of the volume. At one point in chapter 3, both Maya and Irie are using phones from the same location, but Irie fails to notice her. (There's a hint as to who Irie is talking to - Yuma Kikushima is shown on a splash page next to the table of contents at the front of the book.)

(Yuma Kikushima is not actually in this volume.)

In chapter 4, Eiko demonstrates her mad skills on a bicycle, and with brass knuckles. Also, Taba is shown in a video game arcade with a friend named Shiroi. Taba forgets a book he'd bought and Shiroi returns it to him. The book acts as body armor when one were-cat attacks him with her claws. The book's title is "How to Write Resignation Letters".

Kuro-Neko actually drops by the Kagura offices in chapter 4, but Yuka tells him that Taba is out so he leaves before introducing himself. In chapter 5, Maki gets arrested for waving a pistol around in public, but then escapes jail and becomes a fugitive. Within the same battle, Kuro-Neko interrupts the action to introduce himself to Taba and ask him to become a go-between for the were-cats and Kagura. He says that none of his kind have names, but the others call him Kuro-Neko. He adds that Taba was selected because Maya is attracted to him for some reason. This is when he states that his kind are the true were-cats. He also says that when he'd first opened his eyes many years ago, he was an abandoned kitten sitting in a cardboard box (which may be a form of misdirection, to make us think that the kitten Taba met in 1984 was Kuro-Neko, and not Maya).

(Yu and Yuka. The explosion in the back is Taba getting his leg broken. The vehicle is probably the one that gets used in the end in volume 16. The cigarette probably also gets to make a reappearance then.)

The battle in chapter 6 is against the same female were-cat that had supposedly gotten captured in the subway in chapter 2. Yu Himehagi is the final Kagura company member to be introduced, showing up now. She's a master transporter, but useless otherwise. The two things she desires are a purpose to drive something, and cigarettes.

Hounds, the paramilitary branch of the Welfare Ministry that hunts were-cats, shows up now and makes the actual capture of the female were-cat, transferring her to a mini-disk. The minivan that Yu is driving gets badly damaged and is last seen hobbling back to the Kagura offices (the plate on the back identifies it as "K-4"; this is probably the vehicle that Yu discovers in the sewers below the offices in volume 16.)

In chapter 7, Taba has a broken leg, and Takami happily volunteers to cook for him and to clean his apartment. The reason he'd called her in the first place is because Maya has been positioned in front of his apartment for a couple of days in the rain and he doesn't know what to do about her. Maya is invited into the apartment, but Taba doesn't take to her. At this point, Maya is still nameless. Elsewhere, one of Kuro-Neko's henchwomen (she looks like Vashuka, from volume 14, but I need to confirm that) tears up some security guards at a power plant, and she joins her boss when the offices in one of the buildings blows up. At this point, Kuro-Neko's objective is to create "incidents" to attract a certain kind of attention. After Takami leaves Taba's apartment, Irie shows up to introduce himself as a member of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor; Health (AKA: Protection) Division 2. Maya recognizes him and races into a corner out of sheer terror.

(Maya doesn't like Irie.)

In the epilogue to chapter 5, which appears at the back of the book after chapter 7, Maki, in disguise, goes to a gun shop to re-equip herself after being disarmed by the police. While she's there, the henchman that had told Maya to follow Taba in chapter 2 shows up to pick up a new pistol as well. After he leaves, Maki throws a tantrum at being forced to take a Tokarev rather than a Colt, saying that her "Red Shooting Star" nickname is based on the Keiichirou Akagi movie entitled "Kenju Buraicho: Nukiuchi no Ryu" ("Gunslinger's Tale: Quick Draw Ryu"). She adds that she wants to be like Tony, which was Akagi's nickname, using the same guns he did.

The were-cats exist primarily inside electronics, and can move freely through data cables. This implies that they're a relatively new kind of life-form, coming into existence some time after mankind develops means of using copper wire for transferring signals. According to wikipedia, one of the earliest forms of telegraph was created in 1804, but was only good over short distances. A more practical version came out in 1832, and Samuel Morse's version in the U.S. came out in 1833. In 1861, the east and west coasts were connected by telegraph cables. But we don't really see electronics developing in a way sophisticated enough to support were-cat life until WW II. And even then, it's not until the 60's and 70's that things take off. Itou implies that Kuro-Neko and company were finally able to travel freely within high-tech jets at the beginning of the 70's. However, Kero-Neko doesn't make his presence felt until some years just before. There's no indication of how old KN is, but in volume 14 reports of a "ghost spy" begin circulating during the Cold War, a little after the first version Kagura Company is formed.

Summary: Geobreeders starts out very light-hearted, as an action comedy with a hapless salaryman entering (and then trying to leave) an all-female office of were-cat hunters. The action scenes are great, but the character designs tend to be uneven. Still, it's a lot of fun. Highly recommended. Buy a copy of the English translation and see for yourself!

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