By Akira Toriyama
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: All Ages
As this title opens, we meet Paifu, a half vampire-half were-koala, walking home from school with his other monster friends. Paifu is a bit of a troublemaker, for both his friends and adults alike. Jose Hernandez is his best friend, and they are always playing or walking to school together. Jose tries to keep his friend out of trouble, but instead gets pulled along by Paifu. The two boys meet Mr. Maruyama, a human that lives at the edge of their village, Bat Ridge. Maruyama isn’t very friendly, and is considered scary by the other monster children, because he is so big and mean-looking. But when Monster Flu hits the village, affecting the adults and children, Paifu enlists Maruyama to help him on the long trip to the Witch that has the cure.
Cowa! is one of the few all ages Viz titles that isn’t tied into a video game or tv show. Instead, it relies on a famous name to sell the book. Fortunately, Toriyama’s fame is well earned. Cowa! is an adventure tale aimed at younger ages. Many situations and scenes are written for younger sensibilities, such as Jose’s propensity to fart when he’s nervous. Paifu has all the virtues and failings of young boy. He’s very gung-ho and wants to help, but has the tendency to lie and brag. There is a lot in this volume for kids to relate to as well as enjoy.
The story is an adventure quest, with three monster boys, Paifu, Jose, and Arpon, Paifu’s "rival", traveling with the human former sumo wrestler Maruyama to get the medicine needed to save the monsters of Bat Ridge. They must travel for several days through human towns and cities to reach Horned-Owl Mountain, where the witch who makes the medicine, lives. Along the way the boys see many of the strange sights of human cities. A building with a large neon light sign enchants them, and they get their first taste of cotton candy. They also get to know Maruyama better. To the monster kids, Maruyama was scary, with rumors going around that he was a murderer. But as they spend more time together, Maruyama starts to open up to the kids, Paifu especially, and we see a bond start to form between them.
The art is very kid-friendly. Toriyama’s style has always had a cartoonish look, but for this title it has a more simplistic feel. The monsters are more cute than scary. Even when Paifu transformers into a were-koala, he still looks cute. The action scenes aren’t overly complicated (as manga can sometimes get), and it’s easy to follow. It’s also in the art where Toriyama shows himself to be an accomplised story teller. There are several times during the trip that he tells the story through just the art, usually just to show time passing. But his art is such that no words are needed.
This is an action adventure story, so there are some fight scenes. It’s mostly physical, as Maruyama is a former sumo wrestler, he takes on the villains that get in the way. His reputation does proceed him, and even avoids one confrontation because of it. There is also a gun used, but no one is seriously hurt by it. There is no blood shed, and most of the bullets are used against a monster in the forest at the base of Horned-Owl Mountain, where they just bounce off. It’s very cartoonish violence, with no one really getting hurt.
In the end, Cowa! is really a tale of friendship. By the end of the journey Maruyama and Paifu have become friends to the point that Maruyama isn’t angry that Paifu lied about him getting paid for helping the village. It has a typical happy ending, but it doesn’t disappoint. Cowa! is a great all ages title that kids will love and parents and teachers shouldn’t mind their kids reading.
This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. Cover art © 2008 Viz Media