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Kirby Manga Mania | Review

Kirby Manga Mania coverKirby Manga Mania
Writer/artist: Hirokazu Hikawa
Viz Media; $9.99

In the Kirby video game franchise, which kicked off in 1992 with Kirby’s Dream Land, the character is an adorable pink sphere of a hero, using his ability to inhale enemies and objects and either spit them out as projectiles or gain special powers through his “copy ability” to defend his home world from various threats and villains.

In the first installment of manga-ka Hirokazu Hikawa’s manga strip that appears in Kirby Manga Mania, Dream Land’s King Dedede is hosting a picnic feast beneath the cherry blossom trees when Kirby  inhales everyone’s food, gets drunk—or, um, “loopy”, I guess, given that the bottle he gulps down is labeled “Loopy Juice”—and proceeds to wreck the party, inhaling several picnic-goers, cornering King Dedede to give him heartfelt repetitive advice, badly singing karaoke, flipping a table, and ultimately collapsing into unconsciousness.

Obviously, there’s a bit of a disconnect between video game Kirby and manga Kirby. It’s an element that Kirby Manga Mania shares with Mario Manga Mania, a December release from Viz Media that was similarly a best-of collection of strips starring a Nintendo icon, in which the Italian plumber was ruder, cruder, cowardly, and generally more venal than he seems in his games.

The real protagonist of the Kirby strips, in a reversal of the dynamics of many of the franchise’s games, is King Dedede, the often-selfish, penguin-like anthropomorphic bird that serves as several games’ antagonist. In most of the strips, Dedede is more-or-less minding his own business as he was in the initial one with the picnic—perhaps he’s readying his castle for an upcoming typhoon, or playing with his toy robot pet—when Kirby enters the picture, generally causing huge problems for Dedede. Kirby generally seems to do so not necessarily out of malice, but instead out of a combination of ignorance and a readiness for instantaneous action, which, given Kirby’s inhaling powers, generally has big ramifications.

One could perhaps read this as a criticism of heroes in general, but I suspect Hikawa is simply focused on gags, and Dedede, being the games’ villain, is the one who has to get the short end, even if it means presenting Kirby in an often petty, ignoble light and Dedede as his unfortunate victim. Indeed, one strip, in which Dedede hires a lookalike to take all the abuse Kirby unleashes, proves the point; the lookalike always emerges unscathed, the harm always finding its way back to Dedede

Each of the volume’s 11 short stories features Kirby and Dedede, generally with at least one other name character among the interchangeable animals and figures that make up the population of the Dream Land setting. While the characters’ roles remain intact for each story, the circumstances may vary rather widely. They visit a hotel Dedede fears may be haunted. They get trapped in a board game. They visit the future. Kirby tries to secede from Dream Land and form his own country.

As gag comics go, it might seem a bit bewildering at first glance, given the relative strangeness of the characters and their settings, but that is more a matter of design than a matter of one needing foreknowledge of the games; if you’ve ever heard of Kirby, then you probably know all you need to know about the character to understand his comics, which don’t seem to reflect the plotlines or mechanics of the games beyond his inhaling abilities. (In this respect, it does differ somewhat from Mario Manga Manga, as those stories were generally set within the greater plot of a specific game entry in the Mario franchise.)

Hikawa’s gag abilities are sharp, and the pages are loaded with jokes, most of which are character-driven and therefore translate perfectly well for English-speaking, Western audiences (not always the case with humor manga). Like the Mario of Mario Manga Madness, the Kirby of Kirby Manga Madness is a different one than the one readers may think they know, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth spending time with.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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