Friday, March 6, 2009

St. DragonGirl Vol. 1 by Natsumi Matsumoto

Man, being sick is good for my book count. Although this was just one volume of a manga series, and those go by quickly.

St. DragonGirl is a new series at our library, and it looked cute so I thought I'd give it a try. The premise is that Momoka is a martial arts whiz, and her childhood friend Ryuga is a Chinese sorcerer with a knack for getting rid of troublesome demons. Ryuga, in an attempt to save their friend Shunran from a nasty snake spirit who wants to marry her, calls on a dragon spirit, but the dragon spirit gets stuck in Momoka by mistake.

Sounds promising, right? I thought so. So I was a little disappointed by the whole thing. My first note in my book is "I don't know. It was light and fluffy."

Which about sums it up. When I go for manga I'm not necessarily looking for deep, life-changing inspiration. I'm usually looking for an entertaining story arc, likeable characters, interesting plots, and if I can get it, exposure to a different type of magical world than I'm usually exposed to in Western fantasies. I like the slightly skewed similarities when reading fantasy from a different culture. I don't need it to be deep but I do need it to be engaging, and the art should be good.

The problem I have with the first volume of this series is that it's too action-packed to be engaging. There's absolutely zero time devoted to character development, aside from learning that Momoka likes pandas, martial arts, and is in love with Ryuga, and she has a bit of a temper. We figure out that Ryuga is in love with her too, and that he's a sorcerer who flings bits of paper around with impunity. There's no world-building whatsoever, which is also a disappointment, because that's something I often love in manga, although it can be a bit rare. Setting is often just a taken-for-granted backdrop. In this particular volume, though, it's even less fleshed out than normal.

So what we end up with is a set of cardboard cutouts, and I've been reading manga long enough to know the basic character types. Ryuga is essentially a decent guy who promises to protect the heroine, who has special powers, always manages to be in the right place at the right time, and teases the heroine mercilessly in an effort to cover up his feelings. Actually, Ryuga is less of a jerk than this type often is, so points for that.

Momoka's every martial arts-loving manga heroine ever, too. Because we just don't see enough of her outside of kicking perverts around to figure out what makes her different.

So far my favourite character is the dragon spirit trapped in Momoka. That can't be good, because he does nothing but float around and save the day. And I was actually rooting for the snake spirit who stole Shunran, which is probably also not what the author had planned. Seriously, I know that Shunran's (life? soul?) was at stake, but I was not invested enough in Shunran, Momoka or Ryuga to care.

The art is fine, but the action is jumpy, jerky, and really hard to follow, particularly in the first chapter. Actually, a lot of the first two chapters just plain didn't make sense. But there was kicking! And magic! And explosions! And dragons! And damsels in distress! It smacks of a manga that desperately wants to be an anime, and I can see it being a fun anime, actually.

You know, I'll probably keep reading it just because of the slight possibility it could get better (the last two chapters were better than the first two). If our library continues to get this series, which it may or may not. Let's just say, if it doesn't, I'm not going to be crushed. It wasn't awful, but I'm not in desperate need to know what happens next.


Ana S. said...

That's too bad it was disapointing. The premise is very interesting. I like what you said about being exposed to a different type of magical world. Last week I read a book based on Japanese folklore (Fudoki by Kij Johnson) and I loved it. It had such a unique feel...definitely different from the kinds of fantasy I'm used to.

Unknown said...

That's just it. My exposure to the folklore of Japan is extremely limited -- so where I've grown up with elves and leprechauns, witches, wizards, dragons, King Arthur, Nanabush, Coyote, and others, what springs from Japanese folklore seems to me so new and fascinating. Actually, you got me interested in Russian folklore too, when you reviewed Rusalka. There's so much to explore.