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Good Comics For Kids
Inside Good Comics For Kids

Good manga for kids, February 2009

Katherine Dacey

Welcome to the first installment of Good Manga for Kids! Each month I’ll be highlighting three or four new titles for eight-to-twelve-year-old manga fans. Though my reviews will cover the basics—plot, characters, overall quality—I’ll also address issues of special concern to parents and librarians, noting any objectionable content and identifying the most likely audience for each series.

This month’s column examines three recent releases: Happy Happy Clover (Viz), an all-ages title about a plucky rabbit and her forest friends; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Viz), a two-volume series based on the popular video game; and Nui! (Broccoli Books), a comedy about a teen whose stuffed animals come to life.

clover Good manga for kids, February 2009Happy Happy Clover, Vol. 1
By Sayuri Tatsuyama
Viz, 192 pp.
$7.99
Publisher’s Rating: A (All Ages)

Like Beatrix Potter’s most famous books—The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin BunnyHappy Happy Clover features a mischievous rabbit whose curiosity lands her in the soup. (Figuratively speaking, of course!) Clover, the title character, is exuberant, talkative, and impulsive, a natural leader and risk-taker whose best friend Mallow is just the opposite. The two attend Professor Hoot’s Academy with their pals Kale and Shallot, two male rabbits whose personalities mirror Clover and Mallow’s. (Kale is adventurous; Shallot is bespectacled and cautious.) Their circle of friends include Cinnamon, a cunning fox; Hickory, a flying squirrel; Blackberry, a young cub; and Rambler, a peripatetic rabbit who occasionally stops in Crescent Forest to sing songs and share tales of the road.

Volume one is divided into twelve stand-alone stories, each about fifteen pages long. Though the chapters follow the same basic template, author Sayuri Tatsuyama avoids the twin pitfalls of repetition and didacticism. In “Lucky 4-Leaf Clover,” for example, Clover boldly saunters into a vegetable patch despite Professor Hoot’s dire warning about humans, only to encounter a pitchfork-wielding farmer. “Sextuplets Alert!”, another standout, puts Clover in charge of Kale’s six younger brothers for a day. Though Clover imagines herself as the sextuplets’ "cool big sister," their quicksilver moods and destructive antics quickly test her patience. Both stories are neatly resolved through a judicious mixture of suspense and humor, offering young readers a gentle lesson about exercising good judgment.

Much as I would like to recommend Happy Happy Clover for everyone, the artwork is far more likely to appeal to girls than boys. The animals are drawn in a cute, stylized fashion with big, expressive eyes and tiny noses, while the backgrounds abound in the sparkling screen tones and floral patterns associated with shojo romances. Though its G-rated content makes Happy Happy Clover an OK choice for first or second graders, younger readers may struggle with the vocabulary and tiny typeface.

The bottom line: Happy Happy Clover is a cute, fun read that’s most likely to appeal to girls who have outgrown Beatrix Potter but aren’t quite ready to graduate to Shojo Beat. Recommended for ages 8 and up, though tweens may find the stories a little too pat for their tastes.
 
zelda Good manga for kids, February 2009The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Parts 1 & 2
By Akira Himekawa
Viz, 192 pp.
$7.99
Publisher’s Rating: A (All Ages)

The Legend of Zelda unfolds in the kingdom of Hyrule, where Link, an elfin boy, lives with the Kikori. After years of feeling like a misfit among his adopted tribesmen, Link discovers that he is, in fact, a nobleman with a greater purpose: to defend Hyrule’s subjects from the evil Lord Ganondorf, who covets a sacred object known as the Triforce. Link sets out to locate this magical object before Ganondorf can, lest Ganondorf use the Triforce’s power to plunge the world into a state of permanent darkness. As he searches for the Triforce, Link must also locate Princess Zelda, the future leader of Hyrule and steward of another sacred object—the Ocarina of Time, a flute that plays an essential role in unlocking the Triforce’s powers.

Given its origins as a videogame, it’s hardly surprising that The Legend of Zelda traffics in cliché. The characters are stock fantasy types, from the hero who prefers impulsive action over careful planning to the villain bent on world domination. Though the script contains several speeches about the Triforce and its powers, Zelda’s cosmology is surprisingly shallow; we never learn much about Hyrule or its enemies, nor do we learn much about the magical places, characters, and objects that play a pivotal role in the story’s conclusion. Even the geography of Hyrule remains something of a mystery; it’s never entirely clear where its various regions lie in respect to one another, a problem compounded by the unimaginative background illustrations and murky action sequences. (Most of the swordfights and magical showdowns register as mud, thanks to a proliferation of speed lines and dark screentones.)

None of these flaws will matter to young Zelda fans, who will likely find the series’ mixture of monster-fighting, magic, and adventure irresistible. The pace and length of the book are well-suited to the ten-and-up crowd; younger readers may find the script just beyond their reach. Content-wise, Zelda merits a PG rating for mild fantasy violence (in the form of bloodless monster-slaying) and fleeting T&A (in the form of busty warriors in midriff-baring costumes).

The bottom line: Kids who love videogames, fantasy novels, elves, fairies, monsters, or magic will find Zelda an entertaining, fast read. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

bbnui01 Good manga for kids, February 2009Nui!, Vol. 1
By Natsumi Mukai
Broccoli Books, 196 pp.
$9.99
Publisher’s Rating: E (Everyone)

Kaya Yamase is a shy teen who cherishes her stuffed animals with the same intensity that she did as a child. Through a series of comic mishaps, Kaya discovers that her beloved toys Gray (a dog), Aqua (a fish), and Purple (a monster with jester-like ears) can walk, talk, and transform into cute—albeit slightly odd-looking—boys. She also learns that her “boys” have been silently tailing her to school, the park, and the store in an effort to protect her from harm. Kaya’s life takes a turn for the stranger when she meets Shinri Harihara, a teenager who makes unique stuffed animals for A-list celebrities. Shinri intrigues Kaya, but his cold demeanor and evil sidekick Bianca (a stuffed animal with dual personalities) immediately arouse Purple’s suspicion. Purple then teams up with Gray and Aqua to uncover Shinri’s true interest in Kaya.

I’m on the fence about recommending Nui! On the plus side, the artwork is sharp. Manga-ka Natsumi Mukai’s stuffed characters have surprisingly expressive faces that can register the full gamut of emotions from jealousy to jubilation. Another plus is the script, which yields some surprisingly funny moments as Purple scuffles with cats, dogs, and toddlers in his misguided efforts to defend Kaya’s honor. There are also scenes of genuine pathos, as we learn what happens to stuffed animals whose owners have outgrown their attachment to toys. On the minus side, Mukai seems awfully fond of stalking as a plot device. At least three different male characters take an unhealthy interest in Kaya at various points in the story—and that figure doesn’t include her posse of self-appointed bodyguards. There’s also some very mild fan service: a brief glimpse of Kaya in her skivvies, a brief exchange between Purple and Kaya about a revealing bathing suit.

The bottom line: Nui! will appeal to slightly older tweens, especially those who have just begun to explore the world of boys, malls, and make-up but aren’t quite ready to abandon their favorite childhood possessions. Recommended for ages 12 and up. N.B. The second and third volumes are on hold until another publisher acquires the license from the now-defunct Broccoli Books.

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Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

Comments

  1. Laura says:

    I’m so glad I found you! I have a ten year old son who has just discovered Manga and has dived in head first. Thanks for the informative reviews and guidance! I’ll be checking regularly!

  2. Laura says:

    I’m so glad I found you! I have a ten year old son who has just discovered Manga and has dived in head first. Thanks for the informative reviews and guidance! I’ll be checking regularly!

  3. Katherine Dacey says:

    Thank you for the positive feedback! I’m delighted to know the column is helpful. The March edition should be up in about a week.

  4. Yumi Zou (10 years old) says:

    Ive been reading manga all my life! You should display Yotsuba&! also known as Yotsubato!

  5. Yumi Zou says:

    I’ve discovered a lot of good manga series here! thank you! Theres also a series of the bibla published as a manga!

  6. Katherine Dacey says:

    Yumi: Thanks for your comments–it’s very helpful to hear from younger readers! I promise that I will review the next volume of Yotsuba when it is released in September.

  7. Kabukihousewife says:

    A really great series is Sugar Sugar rune. It’s rated 10+, published by Del rey and is about two young witches competing to become queen. These books are great around Halloween. It’s very cute with great art and an interesting story. I would recommend it for October.

    There is also The First King Adventure from ADV. It’s rated 7+ and can be enjoyed by both girls and boys.

    There is one that I’m not too sure about though. One of my younger friends bought one called +Anima in the elementary book fair, but it recently got a T rating. I’m on book two and everything seems fine. You’ll have to look into that one.

  8. Katherine Dacey says:

    Thanks for your suggestions! My column focuses on new releases, but you’re right: SUGAR SUGAR RUNE is a terrific manga for younger readers, with appealing art, great characters, and a very engaging story. It tops of my list of all-time great manga for kids. I haven’t seen FIRST KING ADVENTURE. Is it still in print? Many of ADV’s releases are very hard to find now that the company folded.

    As for +ANIMA, I don’t know why it earned a “Teen” rating; from what I’ve read, it seems pretty tame. (Maybe one of the other SLJ bloggers can help here?) Tokyopop tends to be more conservative with its ratings than their competitors.

  9. kabukihousewife says:

    I didn’t know if you had seen sugar sugar rune or not. I was just wondering.

    I didn’t know that ADV is gone. I thought they were doing well. I’m sure you could find First King Adventure cheep on amazon. It’s a very cute story.

    Happy Happy clover is originally from Chao magazine. All of their releases are for young children but most of them haven’t been translated into English.

    I looked up Nui and I love it to death. I love the articles, keep it up the good work.

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