Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Manga Review -- Liberty Vocational, v. 1: Will Super-Villains Be on the Final? / Naomi Novik and Yishan Li

As most of my readers have probably surmised by this point, I don't read a lot of manga.  I basically only read stuff I already know of and really like--Berserk and Hellsing being good examples--or things that are recommended to me by either teenage otakus or by reading lists that I simply can't ignore.  Naomi Novik's first Liberty Vocational piece about a girl at a super-hero school trying to fit in are an example of the very latter, but which has turned out to be an enjoyable read, nonetheless.

Will Super Villains Be on the Final? is an attempt at working the shojo genre into the super-hero mix, a kind of manga version of the movie Sky High with a female protagonist.  Leah is a slightly-too-young, new enrollee at Liberty Vocational, a super-hero school.  She has vaguely defined atom-manipulation abilities, giving her the potential to be one of the most powerful heroes of her age.  Of course, all this is marred by her awkwardness and ability to make the simplest of tasks into unmitigated disasters, which leads to conflicts with some of the other students and at least one highly placed dean of the school.

Of course, Leah won't give up on trying to fit in at Liberty Vocational, and we see a number of factors making things more difficult than usual.  From inflexible educational staff and know-it-all older students to unrequited (?) crushes to a possible traitor in her midst, Leah finds herself constantly tested and wondering if she really belongs at a school for up and coming superheroes.  When a natural disaster causes her to finally sink or swim under her own power, Leah finds out whether or not she truly has the mettle--and more importantly, the presence of mind--to earn her place at Liberty Vocational.

I found the writing here to be none too inspired, and a little too reliant on existing tropes and stock characters.  Here we have a common, if pleasant enough, plot: the fish out of water scenario, in that highest of stakes teenager scenario, the superhero academy.  I won't go into how many times this setup has been done, but if you're going to utilize it, I think a little more originality is called for in some aspect of the writing.  Novik seems content to simply blend the shojo genre into this setup, which I wouldn't have a problem with--some shojo is actually quite entertaining--but the execution just falls flat.  There has to be something else, something more here: an interesting twist on the character, a bending of the typical plot elements... something.  At present, I just don't see anything that will hold the interest of readers aside from those who simply wish to roll their eyes and think "seen this before."

The artwork is pleasant to behold, if nothing particularly original.  I think Li does a stronger job of building personalities into the various characters than the writing seems to do.  There's plenty of the typical features you expect to find in manga, from the big eyes to the overdone emotional expressions, but the charm with which she carries off these illustrations is undeniable.

Overall, this is a fairly solid entry into the shojo-superhero hybrid field, if nothing spectacular.  The writing isn't particularly strong or imaginative, but the artwork is pretty decent.  It's worth taking a look at, particularly if you enjoy one of the two genres of which this story is a child.  Recommended.

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