Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01

Manga Review: Infini-T Force 01 Story by Ukyou Kodachi, Art by Tatsuma Ejiri

Emi Kaido is not your normal high school girl.  For starters, her father is always away on business (currently in Los Angeles) and her mother passed away, so Emi lives alone in a huge apartment.  But perhaps more important is her love of tinkering with mechanical objects, taking them apart to learn how they work and usually being able to put them together again better.  As part of this, Emi has learned how to draw, and is pretty good at it, if not professional level.

Infini-T Force 01

Emi’s a little surprised when a creepy-looking delivery guy brings a brightly-colored package to her door.  It’s not her birthday or any other special day, but no time to think, as she’s late for school!  At lunch, she realizes she brought the package instead of lunch.  Inside is an oversized, childish-looking pencil.  It’s labeled as a “Possibility Pencil” able to grant her every desire.   Which sounds pretty unlikely, but when Emi draws a picture of her missing lunch, it shows up underneath her desk!

After school, and Emi communicating with her father to learn he wasn’t the anonymous sender, Emi finds herself in a dangerous situation with a drug-crazed criminal.  Emi doesn’t have any defense training or weapons, and there’s no police in sight.   She needs a hero!  He’s got to be sure, and he’s got to be soon, and he’s got to be larger than life…anyhow, her hand takes over and sketches out four heroic figures on the floor with the pencil.  There are three flashes of light, and a strange man in a gaudy costume comes in the door.

The man rescues Emi, and turns out to be Ken Washio, “Eagle Ken” of the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman!  He’s a bit puzzled as to why he’s here, as the last thing he remembers is fighting along his comrades against the forces of Galactor.  Emi doesn’t know how to send him back, but it soon becomes clear that her Earth is faced with other threats, which will need the intervention of not just Gatchaman, but Tekkaman, Casshan and Polimar as well.

This series is a love letter to the Tatsunoko Productions superhero shows of the 1970s.  American readers may be vaguely familiar with some of them, in particular Gatchaman, which was heavily edited to become more suitable for U.S. children as Battle of the Planets.  Fortunately, their stories are recapped here for people who might not have seen the originals.    The somewhat silly magic pencil plot device makes this feel like many a crossover fanfic I’ve read over the years.

The heroes are introduced one by one in this first volume, showcasing their different personalities and philosophies of heroism.  (Perhaps a bit exaggerated to create more conflict.)   In particular, Gatchaman and Polimar clash over using lethal force on human opponents.  (All the heroes are A-okay with lethal force against monsters and robots.)

Besides nostalgic oldsters like me, this manga is clearly aimed at the shounen (boys’) market.   There are a couple of gratuitous fanservice shots of Emi, and she is generally useless outside of providing support for the male heroes.  Her magic pencil seems to have very limited power outside of summoning heroes or power-ups for heroes, and an attempt to open a gate back to Casshan’s world backfires badly.   This could in its way be a homage to the original shows, which tended to treat women as damsels in distress or the “heart” of any grouping.

It’s not clear if the villains are a team-up of past Tatsunoko enemies under a new leader, or if the new villains are just using familiar tactics.  In particular, the enemy leader is shrouded in mystery.

I’d like to see Emi’s school friend Sanae take a larger role in future chapters, just to amend the gender imbalance a bit.

Recommended to fans of Tatsunoko superhero shows, and tokusatsu (special effect show) fans in general.

Naturally, there’s an anime adaptation:

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway  by Seanan McGuire

Nancy went through a door to the Halls of the Dead.  She learned to enjoy the skill of remaining perfectly still, and wearing elegant black and white clothing.  When she asked to stay forever, the Lord of the Dead asked her to be sure–and sent her home.  The journey changed her, and Nancy’s parents can’t understand why she isn’t their “little rainbow” any more.  But somehow they’ve learned of a place that might be able to help.

Every Heart a Doorway

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a boarding school for young people with the “delusion” that they went to another world and want to return rather than stay on Earth.  It seems that a fair number of children every year walk through doors or fall through mirrors or get lost in the woods, and find Fairyland or the Webworld or the Moors.  Some of them never return and are indistinguishable from missing children that just died, but others return by their own will or another’s.  Maybe they aged out, or they broke the Rules, or they just went home to say goodbye and couldn’t find the entrance again.

And a certain number of those returnees are able to adjust to life back on Earth, and get on with their lives, but the ones who can’t and are lucky enough find their way to the Home.  There they’ll live among people who more or less understand what they’ve been through and get education until they can either live with their memories or find their way back where they belong.  (There’s a sister school in Maine for kids who went to the absolute wrong world and need treatment for their trauma.)

Nancy meets Eleanor West (who could go back anytime but no longer has the childish mindset needed to thrive in her Nonsense world), and is made roommates with Sumi, who went to a candy-themed dimension, and has become a madcap bundle of clashing bright colors and energy.    Despite their very different styles, Sumi takes a liking to Nancy and drags her around to meet some of the other students.

There’s Kade, who was tossed out when the fairies discovered he was a prince instead of the princess they wanted.  Jack (short for Jacqueline) and Jill (short for Jillian), whose mentors were a mad scientist and vampire respectively, and left their world one step ahead of a pitchfork and torch-bearing mob.  Christopher, who can make skeletons dance, and twenty or thirty others.

Nancy is just beginning to learn the ropes and settle in when one of the students is mutilated and murdered.  And that’s only the first death.  Nancy comes in for some suspicious as she’s been to an Underworld and the murders started after her arrival, but she’s pretty sure she isn’t responsible.  But who or what is, and why?

This dark fantasy young adult novel is by Seanan McGuire, who does a nice line in urban fantasy and horror.   Kids going to fantasy worlds has been a sub-genre of speculative fiction for decades; Narnia is mentioned (though it’s considered unrealistic by the students–they think it’s just fiction.)  In Japan they’re called isekai stories and are so common that one literary prize banned them from consideration for a year.   But few stories have considered that all these tales are taking place on the same Earth, and what aftereffects that might have.

The proceedings are a bit gruesome, and more sensitive junior high readers might want to skip this one until they are ready.

The writing quality is excellent, and there are a number of fascinating characters.  That said, the majority of the students are self-centered to a degree I found unsympathetic, which may make sense for troubled teens but does not please me.   The mystery aspect was pretty easy for me to figure out, and most savvy readers should figure it out a few pages before the protagonists do.

At some level, this book is metaphorically about how young people find their own identities in adolescence, often very different from what seemed to be the case in childhood, and their parents and other authority figures sometimes are not able to accept this.   This is most directly addressed with Kade, whose parents will welcome him any time he starts calling himself “Katie” again.

This book has been amazingly popular with its intended audience, and there are two more so far in the Wayward Children series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones (prequel) and Beneath the Sugar Sky (a sequel with a very surprising character.)  I am hoping at some point we’ll see the sister school and some of its students.

Recommended to young adult fantasy fans, with a slight emphasis on girls.

And here’s the Japanese equivalent, which is more heavily aimed at boys:

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