“ Genre: Graphic Novels / Comics / Author: Yuichi Kumakura / Library Binding / Reading Level: Ages 9-12 / Book is published 2003-06 by Topeka Bindery „
I am sure everyone who regularly reads my reviews is now sick of me harping on about Tokyopop and the sad fact that despite it being one of the largest UK manga publications is going into extinction but just thought I would add this little paragraph in for those who are not aware of the dilemma.
Born in Japan in 1971 Yuichi Kumakura is mainly known for the king of bandits Jing series and darker follow up featuring the protagonist as an older teenager. Apart from a fact that they are a Taurus little else is known about them apart from the fact that they must have a Keene interest in alcohol as most of the environments and characters are named after alcoholic beverages and cocktails.
The main protagonist of the series is a teenager called Jing, it is said that he can steal anything precious, all that glitters or even your life in the blink of an eye. He is no mere teenage delinquent however as he doesn't go after just any piece of treasure but the rarest that most think are mythical or fairy tale based. His hair is as dark and spiky as Denis the Menace or Goku from dragon ball Z but his style is that of Gok Wan with steel toed military boots and a bright orange raincoat he certainly stands out amongst the standard male protagonists. He is also very philosophical and knowledgeable for a kid his age.
His best friend and partner is a large crow with a foul and flirtatious mouth called Kir and together they can rob the most heavily armed castle or escape from the dankest darkest dungeon at the centre of the earth. As together they can use an ultimately powerful attack called the Kir Royale (also an alcoholic beverage featuring blackcurrant I believe) that can blow people and buildings away in one blast. The attack functions when Kir attaches himself to Jing's arm and a large green energy beam shoots from kir's mouth. The process is a little grotesque if you think about it as Kir metamorphoses into a large organic gun though the artwork isn't graphic or vulgar.
1st Shot:In the city of Thieves- Jing and Kir travel to the city of thieves to find the double mermaid tear which can only be produced when a mermaid cries. Upon their travels they discover that an evil villain holds the half girl half fish creature and will actively challenge any thief to try and steal her. Though it has become apparent that despite the villain Cognac (yes another alcoholic drink) has the mermaid and treats her horribly he has not been able to gain any jewels.
Jing being a little miracle worker however takes on the challenge while also helping and elderly lady find her daughter and helping a flightless female dragon (and we are talking giant vicious Harry Potter style dragon here) to rescue her egg which would otherwise end up cognac's breakfast on the way to rescuing the mermaid in the top floor of Cognac's castle.
There are a few mother and child bonds in this chapter and Jing takes on a very Robin Hood like role in the rescue of damsels in distress even if they aren't human or not even mammal in species.
2nd Shot: Mystery of the Phantom Ship and 3rd Shot: The King of Bandits Test- Kir and Jing arrive at a haunted Port called Blue Hawaii (sounds like another cocktail right) were all the local people seem to catch are phantom skeleton piranha like fish. The head of the police department also seems to be under some form of evil spell also leaving all the responsibility of protecting the port to his daughter Rose (the variety of wine).
Together Jing Kir and Rose discover an off shore pirate ship which is running a secret illegal gambling facility powered by human greed. It is this ship which is creating all the weird side effects in Blu Hawaii. Initially the group fall into the gambling and eating the heavy rich food provided, but after a while the captain of the ship a large pig called Grappa whom takes on the appearance of a mecha piggy bank Jing is challenged to a battle. It turns out none of the gusts are as they seem they are all ghouls and demons created from greed and gold coins.
As to be expected Jing and Kir manage to get out alive but instead of stealing treasure this time he steals a kiss from Rose (or rather Rose steals a kiss from him in a moment of passion).
4th Shot-No Time For Adonis- In the city of Adonis "Any person found to be acting as the organizer of activities with an expressed or implied goal of promoting tardiness for the purpose of reforming the City's schedule, taking part in discussions concerning such practices to the end of meeting these or similar goals, or otherwise perceived as an instigator of such actions as would pertain to such goals, will be sentenced to death, and summarily executed."
Jing and Kir set out to capture the clockwork grape grown in the centre of Adonis despite the fact that any trespassers or anyone who disrupts the schedules of any of the local inhabitants will be executed. As to be expected Jing breaks the rules as usual and rescues a beautiful young girl with plated pigtails from being executed and is thus on the most wanted list, in yet another city. However the head of this city isn't so different from Jing he too has an animal partner who can fire super powerful beams, her name is Sherry, she is a fox and more dangerous than Kir in that she can even spot her foes in the dark. Her master Gear is also an older teenager who looks a bit like David Bowie from the Labyrinth with huge 80s hair and lots of skin tight spandex style black clothing. He is unforgiving and doesn't think twice about indiscriminate killing.
We don't find what happens after these two young men meet but the story is faced paced and thrilling so you are encouraged to read on and get the next volume to conclude the cliff hanger.
The world is different to that of most manga in that it is fantasy horror, there are monsters, mutants, pirates, skeletons, ghosts, ogres and various other forms of fantasy beasts and humanoids constantly tearing around the backgrounds and cities which Jing explores, they are even in the bars and hot springs but this seems to be the norm for this particular world. Some of the girls are rather scantily clad also but no over exposure or giant oversized boobs like divergence Eve or High school of the dead. The main characters are ever optimistic and philosophical also. Though as I said before most of the characters are named after alcohol which I think is a little strange.
The art style and the facial expressions of the characters are really something else also and very unique too, I havnt seen art quite like it before.
There is also a little extra in the back with production sketches and advertisements of other manga.
The manga is usually £6.99 though it has been out a little while and may be hard to find. There is an anime also though this was designed with Jing being an older more handsome teenager, so it is a little different from the manga.
"...To the funeral of a wilting leaf, two snails depart in a trail of slime...To all my friends who,ve dared to live throughout these troubled, troubled times...The earth rolls on,it rolls throughout it's four majestic seasons... The donkey, the king and I are one for tomorrow we'll all be dead..A mother knits as her son runs off to fight a war without rhyme or reason..The donkey is hungry, the king is bored and I am in love with a girl named Fred...voices from all over the world reach this room...So why am I so alone...Why am I so alone?"
This is actually the second series of king of bandit Jing books though you don't need to have read the first or watched the anime to grasp it. I actually read the twilight tales first and found them the best out of the two different series.
Ever since he was young Jing had the ability to steal anything from the name of a street to a girls heart, his mother left him at such young age that he can barely remember her face, but he vows to see her again some day. Jing was also born with a paralyzed right arm, however through trial and error of the treasures his mother left behind for him he managed to regrow a new super powerful arm. which now gives him the ability to merge with his new found friend Kir a Big black rook with a thing for cute young females to produce a blast of energy called the Kir Royal which gets them out of all sorts of tight spots.
In the twilight series he looks older and is more believable when being serious and philosophical. In the first volume he enters the city of Czarine which has been mined into the shape of a club (the playing card kind). The majority of people who live in this city are collectively known as "sledgehammer" they never see the light of day and are born and also die in the mines. The city is famous for the ore that they mine because one of the vital ingredients to such a substance is sledgehammer itself among twelve other minerals. This group of people have three eyes.
The leader of the city is actually a young sledge hammer who has status outside, but he is so obsessed with trying to communicate with his dead mother that many corrupt government officials have taken over power and treat the people of Czarine badly. This young man believes that a giant ancient crystal that was excavated years ago from the mine has the ability to communicate with those in heaven and this is exactly the treasure which Jing and Kir want to get their hands on.
The second story which begins in this volume also is about a man who is convinced he is God. He was trapped in a tower since he was a baby and was never exposed to the outside world. He was taught only about biblical testaments which possessed him with the knowledge of what he believed was God. This story is only very briefly introduced in this book though as it focuses on the story in Czarine.
I really enjoyed this series it is full of depth and the characters especially the villains are really well developed and interesting. The plots are quite fast paced but full of philosophy and history about mythical times and places. It does seem quite strange that our protagonist and hero of the books is a criminal, but with the far out upside down worlds that Yuichi Kamakura creates it isn't totally out of place and actually makes a lot of sense.
The worlds are intricate and detailed and random famous quotes and poetry are added in between every other chapter or so which gives the books a nice unique touch. The artwork is very sharp and the division of scenes per page is very regimented, the format of the text also varies greatly depending on who is speaking.
The artist also refers to the volumes as bottles, in the last series almost all of the characters were named after alcoholic drinks, There is even a cocktail guide and recipe in the back of one of the volumes. So I wouldn't recommend this one for impressionable kids.
You can generally find these going for around 6.99 or less, you can pick them up on play.com and sometimes in Eason or waterstones, though this is quite an old manga and has been out a while. (almost 8 years).
The producer, Tokyopop gives the books an average rating of 13+ as there isnt anything overly objectionable apart from fantasy violence and some indirect alcohol references. Though it is quite controversial in some points as it does question the existence of God and religion quite a bit.