Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Appare-Ranman! GN


Appare-Ranman! GN
Kosame has known Appare since childhood, but they’re not exactly friends, per se. They’re not exactly compatible, considering Kosame is a conservative-minded samurai and Appare is an eccentric genius who is more interested in coming up with new inventions than following science’s rules. However, when one of Appare’s experiments goes awry, the two find themselves stranded in Los Angeles with no way of getting home. Their only hope? Entering a transcontinental automobile race and using the prize money to commission a boat back to Japan. But it’s a dangerous trip, and the other entrants have just as much to lose as they do.

I find it genuinely tragic how has never really found much of an English-speaking audience since it premiered in 2020. With its energetic storytelling, charming ensemble cast, and unusual wild west setting, it has a lot to offer to a broad audience, but never really caught on. The manga version, developed alongside the anime series, continued to run in the seinen-oriented Young Ace magazine until 2022 and has finally come out in the US, released by Yen Press in one gargantuan, 650-page volume. Perhaps this release will finally help Appare and Kosame find the love they deserve among the Anglophones?

If nothing else, perhaps Ahndongshik (incorrectly romanized as Antonsiku here) will surely draw some eyes. The illustrator, who designed the characters and drew the anime’s eyecatchers, has a strong eye for dynamic character expressions, motion, and panel layout. He has a strong sense of anatomy that shines through at every turn as he dispenses with typical anime-style proportions, creating characters that are lifelike but still stylized. The characters’ personalities come through in their designs, like Kosame’s blockiness and blunt edges emphasizing his square personality while his kimono and topknot communicate his traditionalism, contrasted with Appare’s wild, colorful mishmash of western and eastern styles, kabuki makeup, and voluminous pigtails portray his unconventionalness. I can’t help but especially appreciate how he draws women – Xialian, the sole female racer, is beautiful by any standards, but her body has a sense of structure and weight to it as well, rather than an impossibly hourglass figure.

There are some issues with the character designs as well, however, mostly having to do with the ethnically diverse cast. Hototo, an indigenous child, wears buckskin and feathers and fights with a tomahawk, all stereotypical signifiers thrown together without regard for any particular tribe or culture, nor is his specific background named. TJ is a Black man who wears a noose around his neck. Their backstories are somewhat mixed, as the story leans into portraying the marginalization many of the racers face. Hototo’s father’s murder is implicitly linked to the Native American genocide, and he is explicitly discriminated against by white settlers. Appare and Kosame face similar discrimination as “orientals,” and while Xialian’s race isn’t named as a factor in her own marginalization, she learned to drive in the middle of the night because she’s blocked from racing at the track where she works due to her gender.

Poorly-considered costume design notwithstanding, handles marginalization better than most anime’s clumsy attempts. However, it falls into a common pitfall: the more backstory a character gets, the less interesting they are in the present. There’s not much to Hototo other than his quest for revenge, and Dylan’s pining for his lost love Claudia completely supplants any kind of personality. Meanwhile, characters like Appare and Al Lyon, with a total lack of tragic background, remain dynamic throughout; it’s like personality vs backstory were on a slider, where you could have one filled out but not both. As a result, many of the racers feel vestigial, with little impact on the narrative in the end.

Now, you wouldn’t expect a particularly deep narrative out of a series that more or less boils down to “Wacky Racers through the 19th-century American West.” The story is a variation on the same theme as pretty much every other road trip adventure. Enemies become allies, allies turn out to be dastardly enemies, rivals become friends, and the good guys win just in the nick of time. It doesn’t need to be thought-provoking, it just needs to be fun, but I still felt like things were a bit thin. Manga is a static medium, so it’s hard to present car driving excitingly; Ahndongshik smartly avoids, say, dull spreads of cars positioned against the American midwest’s famously flat scenery by spending more time on the moments the characters are out of the car, but the ensemble never fully gels. The plot goes down a couple of unnecessary cul-de-sacs that would be better spent filling out the secondary characters or the antagonists’ paper-thin motivations.

And finally, we are at the part of the review where I let myself compare the manga and the anime. To be honest, I’ve been holding myself back from making direct comparisons because, presumably, at least some of you are considering picking up the manga without watching the anime. Maybe some of you are trying to figure out which is the better version to invest your time in. Ahndongshik states in the author’s comment that he wants the manga to have a “different mood” from the anime, and it would be unfair to him and his work to only consider it through the lens of whether it’s better or worse than something I’ve already seen and loved. I wanted to take a fair look at the manga as its own work. Now that I feel I’ve accomplished that, I’m going to talk about why I think the anime version is absolutely, entirely better.

Part of this lies like the different media. Automobile racing is inherently oriented toward motion, which puts a book of static drawings at a huge disadvantage to a medium defined, in part, by its ability to move. The design work is so bright and colorful as well that something feels lost when it’s rendered in black and white. This is fine; I am more than willing to offer the manga grace and not consider these deficiencies. I’m not here for the racing in and of itself, anyway; car-based action tends to bore me, after all.

What I am here for is the characters, and the manga version sadly falls short of the anime in this respect as well. The best parts of the story, the parts that made it genuinely special, were all the moments when the racers came together as a team. These parts have, by and large, been removed from this version of the story. Major scenes where they connect not as rivals but as fellow humans have been switched for those action scenes that don’t go anywhere or add anything, including ones deeply rooted in the plot. It’s so disappointing to see the interactions and dynamics that I considered the essence of everything I love about the story removed and replaced with nothingness like that.

I’ve noticed that when anime and manga are developed alongside one another and debut close to the same time, the anime is almost always the superior version. reinforces that principle, taking much of the same story as the anime but only managing a fraction of its charm due to its de-emphasizing the ensemble cast. It’s still wild and fun, with strong art and likable characters; and maybe people who prefer a more-plot oriented than character-oriented route will even prefer the manga. As far as I’m concerned, though, there’s only one version that’s worth revisiting, and it’s not this one.

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. Yen Press, BookWalker Global, and J-Novel Club are subsidiaries of KWE.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Featured NEWS