Manga Man by Barry Lyga, illustrated by Colleen Doran, 125 pp, RL: TEEN
Mangaman, by Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran is just brilliant! And, while Lyga provides a fantastic glossary at the end of this book of terms, telling readers that manga, "uses a lot of symbols as shortcuts for portraying emotions," I think you really do have to have a basic knowledge of the genre to appreciate what is going on in Mangaman. That said, I had plenty of experience shelving manga when I worked as a bookseller, but I was never able to read one from cover to cover. Even though I'm left handed, or maybe because I'm left handed, I just couldn't get the hang of reading right to left, which is how these Japanese comic books are read.
The premise of Mangaman finds our hero and title character, Ryoko Kiyama, ripped out of his world and thrust into ours. Ryoko is taken in by the government and finds himself ensconced in a government warehouse with Major Dr. Louis Capeletti, a manga expert who is constructing a machine that will return Ryoko to his world. In the meantime, Capeletti and the government think that, after three months on earth, it's time for Ryoko to get to know kids his age. He is going to go to the annual "homegoing party" in town, a rager that kids throw the week before high school homecoming week. Also going to the homegoing party, if reluctantly, is high school senior Marissa, who has just broken up with Chaz, the most popular guy at school. While it's not clear if Marissa reads manga, she is clearly a candidate for cosplay, short for costume play, which is basically adults dressing up like their favorite characters from anime, manga, comic books, video games and film, on days that are NOT Halloween. When we first meet her, we see her trying on a variety of outfits as her best friend Lexa tries to convince her to go to the party.
A ripple runs through the party when Ryoko arrives and Marissa is clearly smitten. The humor of Mangaman comes from the juxtaposition of the oddly proportioned, slightly effeminate Ryoko, who has actual hearts pop out of his eyes and flames come out of his head when he first sees Marissa, and the coarse, rowdy, Lord of the Flies-type hothouse atmosphere that high school can generate. All the manga emotional shorthand that Lyga defines in his glossary are REAL in our world. The lines that represent movement and action, as seen in the image below where Ryoko is preparing to fight Chaz at the homegoing party, are real and dangerous, knocking Chaz to the ground before Ryko can even land a punch.
High school drama proves to be the least of Ryoko's worries. Kaiju monsters from his world are pursuing Ryoko, who discovers that he can see our world as a series of frames, just like in a manga, allowing him to make impossible movements within this world. The Kaiju monsters, a dragon-like mass of tentacles, appears in our world when Ryoko travels between frames. Ryoko shows Marissa how to move between frames and the experience is life changing for her. The two find they have some difficult decisions to make as the government orders Capeletti to finish his transportation machine immediately, and one of Chaz's buddies comes after Ryoko with a gun. A really fantastic Romeo and Juliet situation emerges in which Ryoko thinks Marissa has gone through the machine-portal and he goes after her, only to learn she is still in this world.
There are a few interesting moments in Mangaman that definitely make it a teen novel. Ryoko reveals a strange and kind of sadly funny event from his world that happened just as the rip emerged and sucked him into our world. This is more strange than disturbing, while the make-out scene between Ryoko and Marissa is more disturbing than strange. Although this is a graphic novel, the scene stops short of being graphic since, as it turns out, manga guys have a pixelated patch where a fig leaf in our world might go... Marissa is cool with this, though, and the two agree that they are moving too fast anyway. The ending of Mangaman is SO COOL and a brilliant set up for the next book in the series, if this is going to be a series. If not, Mangaman is still an amazing story that is so fun to read then think about after.