The latest installment of Good Manga for Kids focuses on two titles for the under-twelve crowd: Dinosaur King (VIZ) and The Lizard Prince (CMX). Despite their similar titles, Dinosaur King and The Lizard Prince couldn’t be more different. The first is a shonen (boys’) manga featuring time travel, talking dinosaurs, and evil scientists intent on enslaving those talkative t-rexes, while the second is a shojo (girls’) manga about a spunky princess who falls in love with a shape-shifting prince. Can you guess what animal he becomes?
Dinosaur King, Vol. 1
By Yohei Sakai
Rating: All Ages
2010, VIZ, ISBN: 978-1-4215-3253-0
184 pp., $7.99
Max, an enthusiastic if somewhat clumsy grade schooler, aspires to be a paleontologist when he grows up. While exploring an excavation site run by his mentor, the great Dr. Spike Taylor, Max stumbles across a mysterious object that unlocks a portal between the present and the Jurassic period, and presto! he’s transported back to the world of t-rexes and triceratopses. Max arrives just in time to rescue a baby dinosaur from the clutches of Dr. Z, leader of the Alpha Gang, a group of evil scientists who enslave dinosaurs by means of mind-control chips. Max and King, his new dino pal, must then hatch a scheme to stop Dr. Z before he unleashes pterodactyls and gigonotasauri in the modern world.
The spirit of Akira Toriyama looms large over Dinosaur King, from the exaggerated, cartoonishly rendered villains to the grinning tyrannosaurs and small flying saucers. That’s not a bad thing; as COWA!, Dr. Slump, Dragonball, and Sandland demonstrate, Toriyama is a terrific artist with an eye for telling detail and a knack for visual comedy. Yohei Sakai isn’t as distinctive a talent as Toriyama, but his spiky character designs and slam-bang action sequences have the same goofy, manic energy as Dragonball — minus the risque jokes that make Toriyama’s work so controversial in public school libraries. If anything, Dinosaur King might benefit from a little more of Toriyama’s subversive humor and a little less of the earnest, just-believe-in-yourself speechifying that prefaces every battle scene. (Max’s mantra: "You never know what you can do until you try!")
Objectionable Content: King is menaced by a t-rex and by Dr. Z; Ursula, one of the Alpha Gang villains, wears a revealing suit that barely contains her ample cleavage.
The Bottom Line: With a smooth, idiomatic translation and colorful trading-card extras, Dinosaur King should appeal to a wide range of grade school readers. (N.B. The series is based on a Japanese card game.) Though Dinosaur King is clearly pitched to young boys, girls will also find plenty to like, from the broad humor to the relationship between Max and the puppy-like King. My only concern is that the script may be a little beyond the reach of its intended audience; seven to ten seems like the right age group for a time-traveling dinosaur adventure, but the vocabulary and syntax sometimes skew a little older.
The Lizard Prince, Vol. 1
By Asuka Izumi
Rating: All Ages
2009, CMX, ISBN: 978-1-4012-2053-2
192 pp., $9.99
Seventeen-year-old princess Canary Dahlberg is a spunky, outspoken young woman who takes no guff from anyone. When her father promises her hand in marriage to Prince Heath Hyrangea, the handsome heir to the neighboring kindgom’s throne, Canary balks at the idea; Heath is a drunk, a gambler, and a philanderer. ("Prince Heath is famous for being a dolt, unparalleled in the history of royalty," she tells her father.) Unbeknownst to her, Heath has been scheming to get out of the marriage as well, arranging for his brother Sienna to impersonate him for his first meeting with Canary. There’s just one problem: the sweet, appealing Sienna is under a spell that only permits him to assume human form for a limited amount of time. What will happen when he reverts back to his lizard self and Canary discovers that the real Heath is just as awful as she’d imagined?
The answer to that question is neatly resolved by the end of the first chapter, allowing author Asuka Izumi to devote the rest of volume one to exploring the relationship between Canary and Sienna. Sienna retains his shape-shifting abilities throughout the series, turning into a lizard whenever the story demands a little comic relief, but the stories themselves place more emphasis on romance than magic. In one chapter, for example, the two spend the night in a haunted house, while in another, Sienna struggles to grant Canary’s birthday wish. If the plotlines are a little bland, the relationship between Canary and Sienna is not; Izumi portrays Canary as the stronger, bolder partner and Sienna as the more nurturing, accommodating one. Their banter has a pleasant zing that neither emasculates Sienna nor defeminizes Canary; both are allowed to be strong and vulnerable in equal measure.
Objectionable Content: Heath’s unsavory habits are mentioned in passing but never shown.
The Bottom Line: Each self-contained story begins with a recap of the first chapter, making The Lizard Prince a good choice for readers with short attention spans. Boys might find the tough, empowered Canary appealing, but the sparkly screentones, fancy costumes, and fairy-tale trappings are much more likely to appeal to tween girls who haven’t quite outgrown their interest in princesses. Some readers on the upper end of the book’s nine-to-twelve age range may find the book a little too pat (or, perhaps more accurately, "babyish") to sustain their interest.