There are two things which I find make the manga, Mao-chan great in comparison with the animated series: First, although the manga retells a story and a few parts from the animation, it otherwise is completely independent. You’re not reading the same material you’ve already watched (not that I have any problem with that in the case of Saint Tail, I must say). Second is that artist Ran used the same art style as Ken Akamatsu’s original artwork for the animated series. Why mess with cute perfection and perfect cuteness?
Even though I’m categorizing this as a “series review”, it’s only for the first two of four volumes (released as a single book by Del Rey). And, it’s probably not something that would be classified very strongly as a review, actually… Partly, it’s really a way of showing off images from the manga. Nevertheless!
Using Akamatsu’s Style
Artist Ran entered the competition to get this art job sending in two different works. In the first, he copied the style of Ken Akamatsu. Learning that he didn’t need to faithfully reproduce the style, and fearing the steep competition, he sent in a second work in his own style. The style of his own work isn’t shown, as the Akamatsu style is what won him the job.
Included at the value of the two-volumne manga is a sample of Ran’s mimicked art style, shown above. This is based on the original concept sketches by Ken Akamatsu for Mao-chan, as evidenced by the flower rather than clover badge.
For comparison, here is one of Ken Akamatsu’s original drawings (not shown in the manga), which Ran used to base his own submission on. It’s clear to see that Akamatsu’s is more of a rough sketch, which says, “This is how Mao-chan looks.” Ran’s on the other hand has more work put into it, saying, “Look how well I can draw Mao-chan in Mr. Akamatsu’s style. I have put extra care and attention into the details. Oh, and look, sleeves on the uniform!”
Actually, the sleeves have me curious. Did they look for a manga artist before the anime started? The manga’s first story came out six months after the animated series finished, so it’s interesting that the art work was not based on that.
Other than the sleeves and minor changes, the main different is in the eyes. Akamatsu never gave the eyes detail in these concept sketches, but Ran always did.
Seen here is one of Ken Akamatsu’s artworks of the girls with their final design. Here’s another.
What we don’t see from Akamatsu (as there was no need) is per-story cover arts. Each chapter of the manga begins with a detailed artwork, masterfully drawn and shaded by Ran. That’s one talented newcomer.
Because they’re so cute, here’s a little more eye-candy of the girls in Ran’s Akamatsu-style.
Ran talks about making art mistakes early on in the story, but I haven’t found ’em yet. Must be a perfectionist thing, because everything looks to be drawn just right by my eye.
Both the animated series and the manga have had translations keeping the name suffixes in place. They even go so far as to use sensei (in the manga) and sempai (in both). The dub does replace Sylvia’s -yan suffix with -chan, but the subtitles and the manga retain this.
Each of the girls in the animated series has something they often say, although I can’t find strong evidence for this in the Japanese original (save for Misora). I’m quite certain it’s added for the dub for Sylvia (which I have no problem with), as Sylvia often says “I the officer”. For Mao, it’s “I, myself.”
Misora has her “arimasu” in the Japanese version. The animated series uses “I must say” as its translation, which I’m happy with. The manga jumps between two lines (depending on which better fits), using “if ya please” and “don’tchaknow” (Bobby’s World, anyone?) Being used to her dubbed lines, I mentally replaced as I read each “if ya please” and “don’tchaknow” with “I must say,” where it made sense.
Because I read hearing the dub voices for characters, there was always conflict in my mind’s voicing when Sylvia would say “yo” or “dudettes”. I have no problem with this translation decision, mind ya’, but I can’t imagine her animated self’s English voice speaking quite like that. A little more disruptive is using “Adalberto” for Sylvia’s grandather’s name, rather than “Adalbert”. An oddity, Sylvia is introduced with a side note about being 1/4 Russian, but the character bio alongside Ran’s concept art lists her as 1/4 English. The name “Adalbert” is German, as is the “von” (Aladbert von Maruyama).
Another change is where the subtitles and dub refer to the “defense forces” and the manga transation uses “defense corps”. I guess the latter is more accurate, but the former rolls off the tongue more easily in most cases, and this is another situation where I’d be reading “force” in my mind whenever “corp” appeared on the page.
Paper versus Animation
As far as artwork goes, Ran’s art being faithful to Akamatsu’s original concept art keeps it faithful to the anime’s style. Transitioning back and forth between the two media is rather seemless.
Okay, seemless up until the endings differ a little, but the art style matches. There was no need for the artwork to match the style of the animated series, as manga works such as those for Princess Tutu and Seven of Seven chose to go in different directions both with artwork and story. Because the manga Mao-chan has stories interchangable with the animated series, I think it’s best that they went with choosing Ran using Akamatsu’s style.
The above two images are there because Sylvia’s my favorite character in the series. Need I any other reason?
Watching the animated series, the characters are always seen in the same outfits. With minor exception (on the beach, or when Mao-chan has to stay home), the three girls are seen either in their school uniform or in their defense uniform. With the manga, there are scenes with the girls wearing their non-school/work outfits, and various other outfits. It’s not often, but it’s always a nice change to see. Likewise, there are times where Mao and Misora have their hair down, which, like with the outfits, is a nice change after always seeing their hair up in the same style.
Apparently, Mao cannot serve lunch with her hair up in twin ponytails. Maybe it’s an issue with trying to fit the hair hat on?
This makes me wish the animated series had a Christmas episode. Mao and Misora have cute Christmas outfits. As for Sylvia, she might fit in with Nobue (Strawberry Marshmallow), wearing a reindeer outfit.
Storyline and Character Growth
As with the anime, the storyline is simple. There’s no character growth. I’ll be the first in line for a series with a solid story and strong charcter growth, but with Mao-chan, it’s different. All we need to know is that cute aliens have targetted Japan, and Mao and her fellow defense corp members must protect Japan’s landmarks from being taken away by the cute aliens. From there, you just sit back and enjoy the cute. And really, what kind of character growth are eight year old kids going to face?
A few new faces appeared. A girl named Riho, age eight, appears as a character near the end of the book. There’s also someone named Sakura who appears I believe twice, yet I can only locate her at the cherry blossom event. The person I’m curious about is the young blue-haired ground defense corp member.
Was she ever given a name? I don’t recall. If this series were animated–er, rather, if she appeared in the animated series–I could check the voice cast credits. Maybe I should look up the name of the character she replaced, and call her by that name?
This outfit would be cute if the skirt part were made from the same material as the upper part, rather than being see-though. Maybe remove the pleated design, and have the same fuzzy white material at the bottom as on the edges of the upper part of the outfit.
Love Hina References
I only caught one Love Hina reference. Did I miss any? In the “ten years after” story, the three guys trying to ask Mao out did slightly resemble Keitaro, Shirai, and Haitani (make that two references?)
Two Down, Two Remaining
Having watched the animated series at least four full times (twice per language), it’s been great revisiting Mao-chan, Misora-chan, and Sylvia-yan. The worst part of the manga is reaching the last page, something which thankfully takes twice as long due to two compilations being put together. Having completed this read, it’s all over. That’s it. Good-bye, girls.
Thankfully, there’s another two volumes, another 400 pages, set for a release by Del Rey as a single compilation in late March, 2009, complete with a Love Hina parody chapter. The ageless saying rings true here: “Cute things come to those who wait.”