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Geobreeders. Book 1: Learning to Love the New Job. By Akihiro Ito. Translated by Laura Jackson and Yoko Kobayashi. New York: CPM Manga, 2000. 198p. $15.95. ISBN 1-56219-923-4.

Science fiction, science fantasy

Adults, teens; violence, mild nudity

Yoichi Taba nervously surveys the building where he's starting a new job with Kagura Security. On the roof, the company's president, Yuka Kikushima, has a confrontation with a ghostly man who is actually a cat in disguise--a really nasty, evil, shapeshifting Phantom Cat that can cantrol electronic devices (its human form is actually a kind of magnetic ghost) and people. The Cat drives Yuka to leap off the roof; she crashes into her 13th-floor office through the window, scaring the crap out of Taba, who is wondering where everyone is. Taba immediately tries to leave, but Yuka cheerfully grabs him, gives him a minimal explanation of what's going on, briefly confronts the Phantom Cat (who is within her computer system), attempts to freeze the building's elevators because the Cat is going to do something with them, and hands Taba a crossbow with the instruction, "If you see a cat, shoot it!" Dazed, Taba races down the stairs, only to be beat by the Cat, who promptly crushes a couple of innocent businessmen under an elevator and flees (in its ghostly human form) through the wall. As Taba desperately calls Yuka and tries to quit, she blithely continues to give him instructions. His job is to lure the Cat into a small room, where four special mystical seals must be placed around it, one in each compass direction. Yuka has placed three seals already; the fourth can only be placed when the Cat is in the room. More mayhem and destruction ensues before they trap the cat; the command "Delete!" blows up the small room and transfers the Cat onto a computer disk. "Isn't this a fun place to work?" comments Yuka, smiling down at the bruised, battered, and shell-shocked Taba.

The rest of the stories in this book continue this pattern. We are introduced to four other employees, all female: Maki Umezaki, who is never comfortable without a large gun in her hand; Takami Sakuragi, the chipper, slightly geeky computer whiz who wields twin butterfly knives and goes into a fugue state whenever things get too far out of hand; Eiko Rando, the "mechanics and munitions expert" who pops out of a sewer to get Taba on his day off; and Yu Himehagi, the requisite reckless driver, who spends most of her time sleeping half-naked in the basement. However, the stories tend to revolve around Taba, who gradually moves from intensely reluctant employee to only partially reluctant employee. Most of the girls are attracted to him, though he wants nothing to do with any of them. They battle Phantom Cats on a subway train, in an amusement park (the trap set up here is a particularly clever one), in the sewers, in the subway station, and during a highway chase. Their attitude toward the death and destruction they leave in their wake is, "As long as we have a contract, I don't care how many lives are lost or what we destroy." They also encounter some less aggressive Phantom Cats who apparently oppose the nasty ones but whose motives are a mystery. And Taba ends up playing host to a miserable, bedraggled little wet kitten of a Phantom Cat who is fearful of something but won't talk about it.

As might be evident by the quotes above, this is a very funny book when the mayhem doesn't get in the way. The characters, if slightly stereotyped and two-dimensional, are appealing, especially Taba, who is starting to enjoy his life of action despite himself and whose journey to that opinion is well presented. The dialogue is usually good (the translation is to be praised here; Jackson and Kobayashi do a nice job with idiomatic English, as they did in Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch). The contrast between Taba's frantic attempts to quit (or survive) and the other employees' indifference to his misery is always funny. The Phantom Cats' motives probably go beyond "we hate humanity and enjoy causing distress," but these stories don't do more than suggest such deeper motives--we'll likely have to wait for future collections to find out more.

Given that the characters and general mission of Kagura Security are so interesting, it's a shame that a good 50% of the stories are mere fighting and explosion. In a way it reminds me of the classic Akira in that there was a good story in that neverending series, but it was buried under an astonishing amount of pointless fighting. Geobreeders isn't nearly that bad, but for me, the action sequences were simply not interesting compared to the character interplay.

As usual in manga, the action sequences were also hard to follow; for example, when a Phantom Cat was lured into an area with seals, the area--which was required to be square--wasn't distinguishable as a square, or sometimes even a room at all. This incomprehensibility baffled me, as Ito's art in the calmer scenes was very clear and easy to follow, and often humorous; I loved how the characters' faces would show crazy emotion. In fact, some of the scenes had a surprising sweetness to them, such as when Taba, as a young boy, locks eyes with a kitten peeping out of a cardboard box.

One minor thing that bugged me: I simply cannot figure out why this book is called "Geobreeders," since neither breeding nor anything related to the prefix "geo" enter into the stories. Are the Phantom Cats "geobreeders"? Another minor thing: on the back cover, Maki Umezaki is described thusly: "dresses like Tom Wolfe...." I believe someone meant Nero Wolfe, since Tom Wolfe is an author... though maybe Tom Wolfe did go around in a white suit, Panama hat, and toting a luger. I'm no expert. [Aha! Friendly reader Auscultation points out that "While I've yet to see [Tom] Wolfe with any sort of ballistic weaponry, he is indeed famous for his spotless, dapper, and ever-so-slightly off-white suit, paired with a matching Panama hat. Actually, he seems to be more famous for that than for his writing, lately, mostly because simple eccentricities are so much easier to describe than prose styles."]

Overall, though it has flaws, Geobreeders is entertaining and should appeal to manga readers. Its story, humor, and characters definitely rise above the norm, and if the action scenes are confusing and overlong, well, at least they don't take up the entire book.

Buy it directly from CPM Manga!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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