Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, August 15, 2010
      ( 8/15/2010 11:12:00 AM ) Bill S.  


“PEOPLE WHO GET CLOSE TO ME WILL FIND THEIR LIVES FILLED WITH MISFORTUNE!” “Hello, do you love breasts?” Hiroyuki Yoshino, the author of Qwaser of Stigmata (Tokyopop), asks his readers in the afterward to Volume One of this “Mature” readers fantasy. “I love them very much!”

“Yeah,” the reader answers after making their way through the first volume of this violent and credulity-straining manga, “I figured that much out!”

Set in St. Mihailou Private Academy, a boarding school that, for reasons not entirely clear, houses a gallery of Eastern Orthodox iconographic paintings, Qwaser centers on two young schoolgirls who find themselves caught in a battle for a powerful icon called the Theotokos of Sarysu, a image purportedly of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the Christ child. Said iconographic images, we’re told, provide a “Window into Eternity,” and so the school is under stealth attack by a mysterious masked figure trying to find the missing artifact. One of our two girls, the ultra-busty Tomo, is daughter of the school’s previous dean, while her cousin and companion Mafuyu is her sworn protector. Tomo is the regular butt of cruel pranks by the school’s bullies, including Miyuri, the bitchy daughter of the present dean, but the sinister forces looking for the Therotokos also seem interested in her.

Enter Sasha, a silver-haired Russian 13-year-old who has transferred to the school. A hard fighter with a cranky attitude to boot, Sasha saves both girls from the killer stalking the academy -- and also takes Miyuri down a peg, too. Sasha is a Qwaser with the power to control an element (like iron). His enemy is equally powerful, one of a group of Adepts who get their fantastic ability from “soma,” a chemical found in women’s breast milk. “What a troublesome power it is!” Mafuyu thinks at one point -- but not for manga artist Kenetsu Sato, who thus is given the opportunity to illustrate panels of topless schoolbabes throughout the book.

A none-too-subtle blend of fantasy action, school-bound comedy and mildly titillating fetish fiction, Qwaser of Stigmata is not the book to show to your friends if you’re trying to convince ‘em that you’re not a skeevy perv for reading manga with teens in schoolgirl uniforms. It’s a haphazardly strung-together, unapologetically exploitive collection of fan service imagery, hard-to-parse fight scenes, and campy tin-eared dialog (“Know the icy blade of my frozen heart!” Sasha tells his opponent at one point), yoked by a thin quasi-religious storyline that Dan Brown would’ve tossed aside for being nonsensical. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- this I found the first volume to be an agreeable disposable read. Kind of like something you'd get if Russ Meyer had been asked to script an anime.

But what’s the deal with all the “beeps” that show up obscuring words in the final chapter? Surely, Tokyopop’s translators could’ve found a less disruptive way to get the point across.

(First published on Blogcritics.)

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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