Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comic Review: Hana Doki Kira

I waffled over reviewing this anthology or not since I don't want to be excessively mean-spirited to a fan project and I know that it's highly unlikely that the creators of these stories will see this review and then keep it in mind the next time they plan something (like you would for a critique). And yet, this was a project I had high hopes for and this book really just didn't pan out for me and I would like to articulate precisely why this was since I do think these are correctable mistakes and not all of them are the fault of the artists.

Hana Doki Kira

An anthology celebrating shojo manga featuring work from 28 different artists.

This book is 126 pages long which not only includes over 28 different comics but also the artist bios and at least two pages of artwork between each comic. If that sounds like a lot to cram into one book then you're right, it's way way too much and as a result most of the comics are only four pages long which was not what I expected at all and the book's biggest downfall. It's hard to write a good short story, it's a skill you really have to practice at and I only liked three out of the roughly 28 comics, I can't actually get a good count since the book lacks a proper table of contents. Anthologies can be a bit hit or miss to start with and admittedly I wasn't expecting there to be so many comics that were "inspired by the works of so-and-so" (ie, someone taking the basic core of another manga and making a comic based exactly on that in four pages) and I didn't like any of those comics since inspiration doesn't mean recreation, it means an outgrowth from a starting point. A lot of the other comics felt like "pilot episodes" of a longer comic which also didn't work that well for me; in a magical girl or shojo adventure story the best part of the story is watching the character work through their challenges and grow from it, sure you need a strong beginning but that's just the "hook",  except in certain stories just watching a girl discover she's got some super-powers or super destiny shouldn't be the full story. Plus, when you only have six pages or less to tell a story it's tempting to use shortcuts and have the audience fill in what they expect to happen but then there's even less separating your work from what your paying homage to (which is my polite way of saying holy cow, these stories were packed full of tropes and cliches in a bad kind of way). Also, why I understand that they wanted to have illustrations as a kind of buffer between comics I felt like they had too many, I would have much rather had those extra pages used as extra pages worth of comics (either one or two more comics or just giving the artists more pages) instead of just pretty illustrations.

So, what were the stories I actually liked?  I liked "Timid You and Cowardly Me" by Endy (I think, they didn't list any name on the comic but the other pages credited to them are in the same style) and both "Secret" by Leslie Hung and Rebecca Mock's story (which doesn't have a title other than "Part 1: A Fated Meeting"). "Timid You" was by far the best story in the entire volume, it's a romance in four pages and there's a nice balance to the storytelling where it focuses on the boy for two pages and then returns to it's narrator for the last two, it's also one of the best uses of the "quiet boy and loud girl" set-up I've seen in any shojo manga, hands down. "Secret" and Mock's story I liked since there were hints of yuri in there (well, full out yuri in "Secret", while there is no boys love there is plenty of both hetero and lesbian relationships in the book) and "Secret" also manages to pull off a nearly-complete love story in six pages. As for Mock's work, I'll admit I was taken in by the art and that it had a rather similar tone to Magic Knight Rayearth and Escaflowne which, given the nature of this anthology, must've been what she was going for and yet this is pulled out without seeming like she's merely copied off another series like I complained about earlier.

To talk a bit about the book as a whole, since I did mention I had problems unrelated to the comics, there's just something odd about how this book was laid out. It doesn't have a proper table of contents but rather lists the artists in the front of the book and what pages they worked on, I would have gone with a conventional table that listed title, author, and pages and then also listed the works under each bio in the back. This would have been especially useful since half of the works are full bleed and so the page numbers are missing from half of the book, hence why I'm only 98% sure Endy did that first comic, which is a problem I'm used to in manga and I could've managed without this book unintentionally mimicking as well. And finally, as you can also tell from here, not every story has both it's title and author listed and most of the illustrations don't have an artist listed on it at all which is driving me bonkers. I have a degree in an art-related thing and 4+ years under my belt of combing through webcomics so I can source them when I review them so I can say with certainty, you'll never become well-known and well-regarded if people have to hunt for your information. Unless you have to have that information, like I do for these reviews, there is no incentive for someone to find out who you are and I believe that most of these women are trying to promote their work to get more work, I've seen a number of them at just Otakon and SPX alone. And that sums up my final thoughts on this work, it's oddly unprofessional in unexpected ways (I'm confused by the lack of title on both the spin and the front cover of the book, and the green text in the interior is surprisingly hard to read in lower light settings as I discovered tonight), I seem to recall they also thought they could get the entire thing printed and shipped a mere three months after the kickstarter ended. There's plenty of support for a second volume and if that happens I might pledge for a digital release with prints level, like this had this time around, but I don't see myself getting a copy of the physical book again.