Publisher’s Summary: (Book 1)
“Brody hoped it was just a hallucination. But no, the teenaged ghostly girl who’d come face to face with him in the middle of a busy city street was all too real. And now she was back, telling him she needed his help in hunting down a dangerous killer, and that he must undergo training from the spirit of a centuries-old samurai to unlock his hidden supernatural powers.”
Publisher’s Summary: (Book 2)
“Brody knew that being mixed up with Talia, a dead girl turned ghost, was going to change his life forever. He just didn’t realize it would involve going head to head with one of the most vicious gangs in the whole city. But here he is, giving himself over to the bizarre training methods of Kagemura, an ancient samurai ghost, to transform himself from a flabby slacker to a peak-condition fighter capable of brining the city’s most dangerous criminals to their knees.”
Typically, I might tack this bit of advice onto the end of my thoughts, but seeing as how it will handily set-up what follows, let’s cut straight to it: If your interest in this graphic novel series has been piqued – either by the summaries or covers – have at least the first two volumes at hand before you begin reading. (To date only three have been published.) Now, that insistence is likely deceiving; it might suggest that each volume was so good, so promising that devouring the next wasn’t a question but a necessity. While the series got off to an okay start, that’s…not it.
That paragraph was flashing a barrage of mixed signals, I realize, so here’s my attempt at clarification:
Each volume is small – in both stature and length. Book one, for instance, is eighty-nine pages; the first several of which are devoid of text. The illustrations depict a slovenly guy (Brody) whose appearance reflects the state of the world beyond his door: run down and falling into disrepair, maintenance forgone in favor of willful neglect. They succeed in provoking several questions you can’t help but want answers for. And the initial textual hook, when it comes, delivers well enough to serve its purpose:
“Some days you’re better off staying in bed. That day was one of them. For sure. I look back now and marvel at how much trouble I’d have saved myself—Trouble? Make that flat-out physical pain—if I’d just rolled over and gone back to sleep that day.”
Book one is all about the set-up and it unfolds at a leisurely pace. The reader learns a bit more about Brody’s past, the reason behind his slacker lifestyle; and you meet Talia, the ghost who would rouse him from his lassitude (if only to help her own agenda along). It’s all well and good, but by the end of the volume I wasn’t satisfied. That initial hook didn’t dig deeper as the pages turned. Brody was kind of cute in his shocked state; Talia’s shallow personality and healthy ego was something of an annoyance; and the most interesting character was an old ghost introduced too late in the story to make much of an impact.
The second volume was sitting right there. I thought, Why not? – and picked it up. Within a matter of pages my investment in the story materialized. Brody began to train in earnest with that old ghost; Talia wasn’t a constant in the volume, and her character, when she did appear, began to show another, more sympathetic side; and in general, the plot began to gain traction and speed. The ending was predictable – honestly, it could be seen coming a mile out – but that didn’t prove to be a detracting factor because I wanted to read beyond that last page.
And that’s just what I meant: Had the second volume not been nearby, I probably wouldn’t have continued with the series. There just wasn’t enough substance in that first book to make it worth my while or time. Reading the two books as a pair made a world of difference, and I was actually disappointed that the third wasn’t available in my library system for immediate request. Now I’m more willing to track a copy down; to see the story out through its six-volume run.
Regarding the art, it’s black and white throughout, and simple but endearing. Initial sketches are included in the back of one volume and a tutorial on how to draw Talia at the end of the other; I appreciate when the publisher makes the decision to print extra, behind the scenes type material. Additionally, the author/illustrator discusses in brief some of the story’s development, which puts the environment and characters in perspective somewhat.
Overall, there are enough familiar themes and situations to make these quick reads oddly comforting ones, and worth a look when taken together.