Juan Derlandia 1 and 2 (sherwin sablaon) [pazin-tave]

Snarky talkative mascot? Check. Hero with dual nature, one cowardly and one a skilled fighter? Check. Hidden super powers? Check. Big bad guys working for a smart bad guy? Check. A series that obviously and clearly takes from One Piece, Fairy Tail, and some Naruto, among others? Check. In other words, very trope-y Weekly Shonen Jump clone? Check.

And yet this series pushes all the right buttons in all the right moments.

Wonderlandia used to be a very peaceful place with strong powers, until people from Espadian arrived and tormented them. These made the populace pray for a powerful warrior. Apparently this warrior is now hidden in Juan Tamad…yes that guy who expects stuff to happen while he sleeps. But because he is the hidden Juan Maliksi, stuff DOES happen while he sleeps. He just needs to harness it properly for good fighting use, before Datu Nga-nga and his henchmen overthrow all the good Datu Verde ever did. That’s where this talking Bayabas, apparently the son of the man who created this warrior, comes in: as snarky mascot and head coach.

It is this story, this twist on the well-worn Juan Tamad tales, its local flair and awareness…this is what makes it unique for all its tropey-ness. This is not a simple twisting he did, by the way. Instead he created a whole different world around it, just getting generous inspiration from local culture, which adds even more interest. Thus, while the art takes a lot from One Piece, don’t expect a pirate story. It’s a throughly landlocked local tale with local snarky dialogue.

Furthermore, it understands the principle of why and how the tropes work. These principles are then utilized his own way. Therefore said tropes are not followed nor imitated blindly or badly. For example: Bayabas is like Reborn, is like Chopper, is like Meowth (and a few other small mascot-y manga entities), but the fruit has an unapologetic Pinoy mouth. The tropes are used with excellent pacing of the story, such that action scenes last only as long as they should, and info-dumps are not overbearing. They work for the tropes that they are, because they are used well.

Because of these reasons, even if I was totally aware of being sucked into such a typical tale, I still found myself drawn to it, following the characters, gasping when terrible things happen to Juan, cheering on when Juan Maliksi comes into the fray. When it was over, I wanted more.

Of course this series does have the potential to fall into the quagmire of its own tropes and descend into something plain and boring, if the author is not careful. It has happened to many a WSJ and Shonen Sunday title, after all. As long as it is aware of its own weakness, Juan Derlandia may continue to show its own strengths.

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Maha Magical Manananggal (raykosen) [revel circle]

Merely by the force of its three-ways-contradictory title, this became one of the hits of the Indieket.

Only a Filipino is bound to fully understand, to appreciate, and thus to chuckle at the contradiction: an insane mix of the local, eastern, and western influences that makes this work. Maha, a nice girl with Ilonggo roots, inherits a heirloom as a gift from her mother and grandmother. This heirloom looks unsurprisingly like any one of your usual anime girl brooches, with angel wings and a big cute heart. Immediately the brooch gets some action, and Maha finds herself turning into the newest of a line of good-girl magical body-separator superheroes.

Um, yes.

Ray Magbanua turns everything we’ve all grown up with, on their heads. Your magical girl is Pinoy, for once. This girl is a GOOD manananggal, for once. Your magical girl does NOT want to be a magical girl…well that won’t be the first time, but that’s rare for Pinoy girl heroes. Your magical girl is snarky…well that’s typical for Pinoy heroes, and that’s cool. The art is cutesy without being completely anime-ish, but also without being fully western.

It partly delivers and it partly falls. The printing quality dampens on the presentation of the art, especially in its tones, which is unfortunate. Some of the dialogue rushes too much to fit the given constraints. Occasionally the paneling or the illustrations are confusing, which makes one lose the story pacing. Unless this was initially for a manga contest, I don’t understand the need for this comic to be arranged right-to-left. Ultimately, while humorous and good most of the time, sometimes it feels that the joke of being a magic-girl comic with a twist gets tiresome. Because in the end it’s still another magic-girl story.

But I’m old-er and rather jaded by now. If you’re a younger komiks and/or anime fan, it’s quite the funny and adorable piece that is worth your time. Maha is a nice and likeable little girl with some Visayas spunk, and she’s a really nice manananggal to root for.

Sandata Crisis online (escano)

I kinda know of this thing from the Summer Komikon and I did see this plugged for the Indieket. So when I saw this among the list at MangaMagazine.net (and believe me, going through the stash there is quite the chore right now, since there is no search function), I went on a marathon. Sandata Crisis is available on MangaMagazine in Tagalog and English.

Nathaniel (Nato) is the grandson of the Supremo of Gerilya, an assassin group, one at odds with a group led by Sophoro. As the Supremo of Gerilya is starting to weaken, Sophoro is slowly rising in strength. Both are starting to be aware that Nato may have inherent skills. Unfortunately Nato himself is unsure of what he can do, especially now that he’s depressed about his girlfriend cheating on him.

Yes, this thing definitely needs better scanning and better Photoshop-cleaning, Yes, this thing descends occasionally into text-speak and tends to use a Tagalog that is understandable but is not acceptable written Tagalog. Yes, sometimes the proportions need work. But this is really good stuff from a guy who says he’s only sixteen. There’s an understanding of life here that is rather wiser than his years. It’s possible, of course, that this may have been gotten from books and comics. But the assimilation of these things is done well, with more maturity than in some other komiks out there.

The pacing of the story, and the information-dropping, is good, though it may be slow-ish for some people. It gives enough airtime for all the major players, particularly the Supremo, Sophoro, and Nato. The art is generally okay, though sometimes it’s hard to tell some characters apart. The paneling is always understandable, and is unafraid to use whole-page scenes to create impact. The occasional fully-digital pages are well-made.

The English translation by Avarice/Gehrome Serrano is VERY good, keeping the feel of the original, surely improving on the grammar mistakes of the original. It does lose a little of the street-wise Tagalog edge it had, though.

Overall the series is worth the follow, online (at MangaMagazine.net) or offline (through the Komikons). The problems cited do need to be fixed, but there is much potential here that deserves notice.

Crime Fighting Call Center Agents 1 and 2 (pascual/bernardo) [kowtow]

I realize just now that I never get around to reviewing the first release. I first bought CFCCA not at a Komikon, but at Planet X.

(Which leads to me saying: komikeros, I am not kidding about this, make your wares available at the comic stores that will have you, because you never know who may first meet your work at a comic store or who would have plans to buy up all known issues. This has worked in favor of the Meganon releases, for example, and is the main reason why Trese is so well-known now.)

The series is generally what the title says it is, though most of the crime-fighting is toward otherworldly beings. A foursome of agents with a penchant for traveling out-of-town during off days find themselves magnets for trouble. It helps that all four have various innate though incredibly normal mad skills. You know, like the power to be incredibly sarcastic during panic moments, the skill to drink copious amounts of alcoholic beverage and be good enough to take out a zombie horde, the deduction to eventually understand you’re dealing with aswang…those kind of mad skills.

The dialogue is smart and snarky in the way of this yuppie, well-educated, stressed-out crowd. The art is some of the most highly detailed and most impressive currently around. And yet it does its awesome job without losing its sense of sarcastic fun and comedic heart. The Frank Miller inspiration is clear in every aspect of the work, and yet it’s still uniquely Pinoy all the way.

Eventually we need a movie or two about this material. It may even be a national hit.

Follow their online version over here!

Lakan at Makisig 3 (giosdesk)

This is my formal introduction to Lakan at Makisig, which are the webcomic adventures of the author’s two cute children. He released a third offline compilation booklet at Indieket.

The comics are 4-panel strips, all slice-of-life, moments in the life of Lakan (the younger boy) and Makisig (the older). It’s just the kids getting into various kinds of mischief at home, enjoying the electric fan, breaking things while playing, blaming little brothers to avoid getting into trouble, that kind of thing. It’s in knowing when a little event is worth posting, and how to deliver the punchline, that’s what makes this little series worth the follow.

It also helps that the art style is very cute while being very competent and detailed. The typesetting is well-executed when present. But this being a comic about little kids, most of the comedy is delivered visually.

The simple, adorable, simply adorable series is definitely worth the follow, whether you have kids or not.

Kapitan Tog 2012 (freely abrigo) [freetoons comics]

The simple zany adventures of the our greatest un-superhero continues with these 2-page panel strips. There are 7 short things along with this current compilation. As usual Freely Abrigo has spot-on comedic timing in the way only we Pinoys understand and are masterful at. He is right that sometimes visuals deliver more punch than dialogue, and he does it well.

And quite frankly I have not much else to say beyond: you really should be getting this series if you are not doing so.

Saudade: a tale of love found and lost (kixmachina) [guild mistral]

Desmond and Daphne are childhood friends who had an opportunity to be more than friends. But real life intervened on both their families, forcing them to drift apart. Now as adults, and generally well-married, they meet again, wondering about what would have happened if they got together.

Overall the work gives the impression of being a bit too controlled, a bit too stiff, in its paneling and inking. It probably comes from the nervousness of a first-timer at Komikon when it was first released. Nonetheless the paneling is good, the pacing is fine, even better than some of those who regularly appear at Komikon.

Enough information is given about both major characters to make us feel for their plight and invest in their story. I am also glad that the spouses are not put in a bad light, that is, they are not villains, they are nice people, they are just unfortunate. I liked it that both characters were unwilling to drop everything in the name of love, thinking about all the practical things, and considering that the spouses do love them and they matter. The coming-together of both parties was also done well, without soap-opera drama, without major fuss.

It’s a nice, well-done first attempt at making a comic, and the author will only get much better from here.

This time around I will be courageous (gentatsu) [guild mistral]

30-year-old Gabriel is a nice enough artist-type guy with a steady job but still no steady girlfriend. He does have someone he likes, but is too shy and too worried to make any actual moves. He asks for some help from an old friend, who only gives the wise advice to just say it. Which he does try to put into practice.

Very simple, and the author is the first to admit it. It’s in the execution where gentatsu proves he has what it takes to make more complicated stories in the future. The inspiration from Umina Chika is clear (this is not a complaint; the atmospheric, even-paced romantic style of the Honey and Clover author is a great place to be inspired). Nonetheless he brings his own personality and dreams into every page of this comic.

The art is definitely manga-inspired but is unique to the author. It simply aims to be his own comic, not anyone else’s and not copying from manga. All panels and speech balloons are neither too cramped nor too open-spaced, and has a good pacing of the story, giving Gabe’s thoughts and fears time to be properly expressed without overstaying their welcome.

It’s a good release, and I’ll be waiting for future installments of this simple love story.

MeelHeid Zetsubo (untalkativeboy) [guild mistral]

The days of despair are coming for a fantasy-type world, to be heralded by the Seven Heavens, a group of the best-skilled people of that world. A group of people are tasked to stop the Seven Heavens…if they could manage to get along long enough, and if they manage to find this girl Phage who is lost somewhere else.

Unlike the other mentioned title, this one does have the feeling of wanting to be a manga, just done by a Pinoy. This is the mindset that has to change and shift. Being manga-inspired is one thing; wanting to make a manga with all its trappings and tropes as a Pinoy is another. It’s one reason why American manga-style comics generally don’t work either. In this case, this results in a work that has confusing paneling, characters who give characteristic lines, and action scenes that are not explained well.

The world and the characters are interesting enough, though the characters are a little hard to know well, with the way some of them look similar or move similarly to each other. The inking and typesetting, as well as the art presentation, are indeed competent.

If manga-style is indeed your thing, it’s not a bad story and release. But we should stop being what we are not, and embrace what we are. I may still give this series another chance in November, though. ^^v

13th Night Crisis: Moonlight (harley/kixmachina) [guild mistral]

Second-class Moonlight Soldiers Dievon, Gleen, and Vinz are sent out on their first major mission: to find First-class soldier Jhae Rivers, who has gone missing-in-action. Especially to Gleen and Dievon, this is great opportunity to prove themselves as great fighters and sword-wielders. But things quickly turn ugly as they find out they walked into a trap, set by a traitor in their midst.

Inspirations from Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, and several other games and shonen series are clear in many of the panels and characters, as well as in the general run of the story. Nonetheless it is paced well, and created with the intention of being original, not a clone. It’s a step in the right direction.

The use of Tagalog in the story is appreciated. Since there is a way we culturally do and go about things that is inherently different from the Japanese, the decision to use Tagalog spills over into making the work more Pinoy as a whole. Not only is the work peppered with the way we show we are happy and proud of our skills, it also shows how we are disappointed in ourselves when things go wrong.

Of course the work does have much space for more improvements, but it does have the right heart, idea, and battle plan. I’m anticipating better work from this author as the series progresses.