Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Seven Little Sons of the Dragon

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Ryuu no Kawaii Nanatsu no Ko (7 Little Sons of the Dragon, Beam Comix, 2013), by Ryoko Kui. Grade: A
Ryoko doesn't really have a big back catalog yet. Baka-Updates just credits her with three books total (including The Terrarium in the Drawer, and The Dragon's School is on the Mountain Top). Her work is classified as seinen (young men's) fantasy, but Comic Beam, the magazine this collection originally ran in, has more of a shojo or josei vibe. You can see what her artwork looks like for yourself, below. There's a lot of detail, and several of the set pages are really well-done. The title of this collection refers both to the fact that there's a dragon, and that there are seven different, stand-alone short stories.

Ryuu no Shoutou (The Dragon's Small Tower). This is a fantasy setting in what looks like medieval Europe. Two towns are at war, but they're separated by a gate in the middle of the road where a griffin has set up its nest. Yuruka is a serving girl at the castle inland, and her father is the leader of the guards. Her side captures a prisoner, and Yuruka keeps trying to taunt him. However, he's a merchant, and her father lets him go because both towns really want to maintain trade (one side needs salt, while the other needs furs and meat). Eventually, Yuruka softens and tells the merchant that she'd like him to show her the ocean. One day, the two sides prepare for battle again, at the gate. This time, though, the griffin has hatched a chick and its failed attempts to fly are preventing the war from starting. The general for the mountain side orders his men to shoot the chick with arrows, but they refuse, so he grabs a bow and readies to shoot it himself. Yuruka comes running up and hits the guy in the back of the head with a broom handle; the arrow narrowly misses the chick, causing it to panic and fly back up to its nest. This is taken as an omen, the two sides sign a peace agreement and Yuruka is able to see the ocean for the first time.

Ningyou Kinryouku (Mermaid Sanctuary). Jun is a high school boy who finds a female mermaid passed out alongside the road near the ocean. He calls his friend, Hama, for help, but the other boy tells him to leave it alone. The mermaid does get saved and returned to the ocean, but that evening, Jun finds it trying to cross the road again, and it almost gets hit by a truck. The next day, Jun gets a wheelbarrow, a bucket and a parasol, and hand-carries the mermaid in the direction it points to - which turns out to be the school. Seems that Hama, who is on the baseball team, had hit a ball out into the water, and now the mermaid wants to return it to him. However, Hama can't stand mermaids (neither can his abusive father), so Jun takes the ball and throws it back into the sea, to her shock. The mermaid wants to show Jun the ocean and puts a bucket on his head before trying to drag him into the depths. Jun panics and swims back to shore, but he eventually understands what the mermaid was trying to do, and decides that he's going to be a marine biologist when he grows up. (Note that the mermaids can't speak, but they are highly intelligent.)

Watashi no Kami-sama (My Private God). (Note that in Japan, there are supposedly 1 million gods, called Kami, some of whom only occupy specific hilltops or valleys.) Yukie is a young girl that is having trouble getting good grades, so she searches for her own Kami so she can pray to it to pass her tests more easily. She locates a fish god, and brings it back home to put into an aquarium. It fades away, and Yukie goes into a blind panic. However, her father helps her raise several smaller fish in the aquarium, and the Kami returns - the size of a small guppy. Unfortunately, even with the Kami's blessing, Yukie fails her entrance exams and has to go to a lesser school.

Oogami wa Uso wo Tsukanai (Wolves Don't Lie). The story starts out like an artist autobiography piece, with very simplified artwork. The main character is a woman that has found herself raising a baby with some very strange traits, such as growing facial hair. Turns out, she has a baby wolf-human.

The story then jumps a few years and the boy is having trouble fitting in with normal society. He can't eat rice balls (onigiri), hates being around other people, and needs to take medicine all the time. He ends up going on a date with a girl, and at the restaurant passes out from malnutrition. He dreams of running with the pack, and when he recovers, he's in the hospital and his mother is holding on to him hard. His mother reveals that her son is a wolf-man, and the girl falls over herself rubbing the back of his ears and asking for his hand. His mother comments that her son has finally found a good trainer.

(Byakuryoku, and some of his paintings, after he wakes up in his son's house.)

Kane Nashi Byakuryoku (The Penniless Byakuryoku). Byakuryoku is an Edo-era master painter. He's also broke. He has a special skill, where his paintings come alive when he finishes adding the pupils of their eyes. He creates a samurai and horse, but puts in clumsy eyes so that both creations turn out weak and awkward. He tries to get them to capture his next creations - a tiger and a Chinese Fu Dog - but the samurai is just not up to the job. Byakuryoku then puts the finishing touch on his masterpiece, a dragon mural that takes up the full length of a hallway. The dragon comes to life, creating a lightning strike that fries the old man. But, in the ashes is a dragon scale, so the samurai attempts to carry the old man and the scale to the house of the nearest doctor, who happens to be Byakuryoku's son. On the way, it starts raining and the horse dissolves into a puddle of ink. The samurai himself is almost unrecognizable, but he still fights with all his strength to save his creator. Later, the old man wakes up in a bed in his son's house. With him in the room are the dragon and Fu Dogs. On the wall, is an earlier painting Byakuyoku had done of the same samurai, but the eyes haven't been painted in. The story ends with him saying he's glad he drew this one, and he starts to cry.

Ko ga Kawaii to Ryuu wa Naku (The Child is Cute, and the Dragon Cries). Yoh is a young woman, dreaming of the time her son had almost been trampled by a cow while trying to pick a flower for her. She wakes up to the yelling of the Prince of the country. The Emperor is sick, and the Prince is looking for a guide to a dragon's nest at the top of the mountains in order to obtain a scale that will save the Emperor's life. Yoh accepts the job and the party heads out, including a number of soldiers. As they proceed, though, the men slowly disappear one at a time. Two of the soldiers try to confront Yoh, pulling back her jacket to reveal a dragon tattoo on her left arm. The Emperor had killed her husband and son and now she wants revenge as a member of the dragon tribe. She easily defeats the two men, and finally it's just her and the Prince who reach the dragon's cave. Yoh drugs the prince, but he still manages to get a bow and arrow and crawls to the cave mouth. The arrow goes wild, easily missing the dragon as it flies by. Next, he tries to take the one lone egg in the nest as hostage, and in the struggle, Yoh accidentally knocks the egg out over the cliff edge. She gives up and leaves, as does the dragon. The Prince's men recover and discover their leader safe in the cave, along with a scale hidden in the nest. Yoh descends to where the egg landed, and is about to bury it when it hatches. The dragonlet immediately bonds to her, and she sets out for a new village to live in.

Inutaki-ke no Hitobito (The People of the Inutani Household). Arisa and Yurika, twin sisters, arrive home, where the rest of the Inutani family congratulate them on the awakening of their powers. The story is basically a running gag where each member shows off their psychic abilities, which are generally kind of pointless. Such as the ability to turn invisible when asleep. Yurika can warp space-time, and Arisa can change people's clothes into pajamas. No real storyline this time.

Comments: All of the artwork is good throughout the book, while the stories kind of meander a bit. I especially like the baby griffin in the first chapter, Yoh in the 6th, and all of the Byakuryoku chapter. I kind of skipped over reading parts of the other chapters. Still, this is a good book and I highly recommend it. Note that the artist puts little character sketches at the end of each chapter that are either cute, funny, or both. She also has 4-panel gag strips on both the front and back inside covers. In one gag, Byakuryoku and the Samurai are out camping, and the Samurai suggests the old man use his powers to create food for their dinner. He paints some meat on a piece of wood, but it only becomes real when he adds eyes to it and neither of them want to eat meat that is staring at them.

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