Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: TIME KILLERS - Short Story Collection


LETTERS: John Hunt, Primary Graphix
ISBN: 978-1-4215-7167-6; paperback (September 2014); Rated “T+” for “Older Teen”
244pp, B&W, $14.99 U.S., $17.99 CAN, £9.99 U.K.

Born in Tokyo in 1980, Kazue Kato is a female manga creator, writer, and illustrator.  Time Killers is a single-volume, standalone, paperback collection of manga short stories that Kato produced in the first decade of her career.  Time Killers is published under VIZ Media's Shonen Jump Advanced imprint.  Time Killers contains 11 manga short stories, mostly in black and white, but there are 13 pages of color manga and art, as well as a fold-out, full-color gate-fold poster.

The stories are whimsical, fantastic, realistic, and genre-bending.  Some are like fairy tales, while others can best be described as “shonen manga.”  “The Rabbit and Me” (a shonen-type tale) introduces Shuri Todo, a teen hit man and assassin who wears a rabbit-eared cowl/mask.  He meets high school student Taira Futamura, a boy who becomes attached to Shuri.  Before long, that connection strengthens in the worst way.

“Tomato” features anthropomorphic animals.  Usakihii Usa, a rabbit guard, and his human partner, Sasuke Futamura, are hired on by Mrs. Oka-no-an, a stout, older female rabbit, to protect her precious tomato farm.  The arrival of thieves reveals connections between the guards and their employer in surprising ways.  In “Astronerd,” 16-year-old Yoshio Fujiko is an “astronerd,” a nerd who loves astronomy.  Now in high school, he has abandoned that in order to fit in with the other kids, but the new girl in school and also an alien invasion will force Yoshio to face the truth.

The story that closes out Time Killers is “The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident.”  Knight No. 387, a demon hunter of the Knights of the Blue Cross, arrives at Miyama-Uguisu mansion to save Monaka Miyama-Uguisu, a young girl who has “the spittle of a demon on her.”  No. 387 is drawn to Monaka, so he tells her the story of a demon who became a demon hunter so that he could protect a young girl who helped and then, befriended him.

I have read a few manga short story collections from a variety of genres (including adult yaoi manga).  The Time Killers manga short story collection is one of the best that I have read, and it is not just because of the variety of genres this collection offers.

The most attractive thing about these stories is that they have heart.  Kazue Kato makes them mean something beyond mere escapism, fantasy, and fantasy-hues.  “Tomato” starts as if it is just going to be a “yojimbo” tale, but Kato takes the characters on a surprising journey of spiritual growth and healing.  There is enough material to turn it into a graphic novel.

“A Maiden's Prayer” is like a beautiful poem that is also a fairy tale.  “A Warrior Born of the Red Earth” could pass for American-produced Western fiction.  “Master and I” is a convincing and effective cautionary tale.

Some may mistake “The Miyama-Uguisu Mansion Incident” as a precursor to Kato's hit shonen manga, Blue Exorcist, but according to the “Author's Note” section at the end of the book, it was produced from unused material for the hit manga series.  In fact, Kato fills her author's note/afterword section with lots of interesting back story about these short stories.  She makes Time Killers a worthwhile, complete collection that has both excellent manga shorts and rewarding extra material.  By the way, the title is a reference to “killing time,” as these stories could be read as pass-times – enjoyable past-times


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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