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Manji is bored. He is unemployed and people are cared of the bodyguard because of rumours regarding his reputation as a bodyguard nicknamed "the Red Dog". The Red Dog who is a homicidal maniac, that is. His mercurial mood swings,impetuous actions and the scar across his face don't really help assuage any reservations strangers have about him either. Manji isn't going to be bored for long though. Walking away from yet another application for employment fiasco, he unexpectedly encounters another young man, wielding a strange sort of gun and fighting a bizarre sort of toy. This toy is flying about, but its not for fun and games. Seems a madman is on the loose, and has unleashed murderous machines known as Toys upon the world. When an injury foists a lifelong binding contract between himself and the boy, Kal, he knows that his life has just gotten interesting. Just what is the deal though? Why has a madman set these toys loose, and what does the organisation known as Cards that Kal is part of have do with it all? Sure they fight the Toys, but is there something more to it than can be seen on the surface? Manji has questions, but right now, what he really, really wants to do is fulfil the resulting employment he gained with Cards thanks to his contract with Kal. Armed with his trusty sword, he's ready for action. It's Toy killing time!
Filled with almost whimsical art that is well suited to the eccentric set of characters and its action packed plot, Karakara sensei delivers a pell-mell descent down the rabbit hole as we follow Manji and his encounter with an Alice in Wonderland obsessed maniac. The characters themselves are fresh material, not literary rehashes despite the theme, and what a motley group they are. With Manji's back story appearing only in conversations from chance meetings with former employers and the like, we come to understand that the seemingly shallow lead has hidden depths that speak volumes about not only his true personal character, but give an inkling as to his future motivations. That's not to say that he is altogether predictable, as his mercurial moods prevent that.
Given the twist in the tale at the end and what it means about the rest of the cast of main characters, volume one delivers a promise of even more interesting times ahead in the course of the series. With its offbeat character types with their unusual costumes and almost Oz-like town settings, there is plenty to look at besides the fighting action unfolding across the pages. Karakara's use of youthful shoujo types in a shonen type action manga works quite well, making this a visual feast laden with enough original plot to satisfy. Given that it IS violent and features murderous toys, I would not recommend this for younger readers, but for the recommended ages of 16 and up this makes for a fun romp through a whimsically twisted land.
I'd like to thank Digital Manga for providing me with my review copy. Replica is available as a paperback from March 15th, 2011.