Sunday, March 7, 2010

Manga Review: Remember

Remember is a rather peculiar title for Tokyopop's lineup, but it's one that leaves one with the impression that it's a format worth exploring. I say it's odd because Benjamin isn't your typical artist, and the oversized, full-color book is definitely off-kilter from the usual manga expectations. This graphic novel is more akin to what American comic book fans are used to, and the style from the creator is definitely all its own for better or worse.

Remember is broken up into two short stories and it's not designed to be a long series with multiple installments. Basically if you're familiar with Benjamin's works you'll undoubtedly want to check it out for that merit alone, but if you're new his style then the look of the book is the first thing that will grab you.

I'm more of a substance-over-style kind of guy, but the first thing I wanted to mention was the artwork in Remember. Benjamin has an extremely unique approach to creating a graphic novel. Rather than go the traditional route with pencil and paper he does a breathtaking watercolor-like painting style. This allows for a greater sense of movement and more striking details. For instance in the first story in this book he uses soft blues and greens with the occasional red hue added in for impact. In the second story there's a much more varied employment of color and even some sections that borderline seem to be done with a charcoal template. No matter which one you're reading you're assured to get a different feeling from each panel and the experience is memorable because of that.

With the style section out of the way looks talk about the substance, which unfortunately isn't as solid as one might hope.

The first story, "No One Can Fly, No One Can Remember" features a tale about a struggling comic book artist who can't catch a break in the industry. It would appear that no matter what he produces, publishers just aren't interested. It's not that the kid's work is bad by any means, but according to the publisher people are only interested in something familiar and says you basically have to plagiarize something in order for it to sell. Could Benjamin be soap-boxing about the Chinese comics industry? Hmmm.

At any rate the artist is rather temperamental and self-centered. He doesn't see those around him, or really seem to care, which makes him seem like a total dick when a kind-hearted girl named Yu Xin takes a liking to him. She used to be in the industry, but has since quit since it doesn't really pay the bills. She sees something in him though quite honestly I don't know what since he treats her like crap, yells at her, and sleeps with other girls. Flawed characters, lame dialogue, and a plot that goes virtually nowhere hold this one back.

The second story, "That Year, That Summer" is a little more interesting, though nowhere near as long as "No One Can Fly, No One Can Remember". This one follows a student attending an art college while working on his relationship with his girlfriend. Meanwhile he befriends a fellow student who happens to be poorer and finds himself constantly abused by those around him. It's a darker tale and a little more interesting because of the more sharply defined characters. Ultimately it's the better of the two despite being less than half the length of the first. Additionally there is a preview for one of Benjamin's other works "Orange".

Remember is an interesting release, though I fear it's a rather polarizing one. On one hand the two stories provided here vary greatly in terms of quality and focus. The first drags on for too long while the second doesn’t last long enough. They strike a balance somehow, but neither is a tale that will stick with you long after reading. What does leave an impression, however, is the absolutely gorgeous artwork on each page. Benjamin has a style that is unlike anything else in the world of manga. I'd liken it to a sketchier version of Alex Ross, but with an Eastern flare. It's a seductive kind of art style that really draws you in, and because of that this book recovers some lost ground.

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by Tokyopop. Remember does not carry a rating, but there is drinking, smoking, mild violence, and mild sexuality in case you're curious.

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