Manga Review: School Shock

School Shock is now up for review, as my present to you for the start of the new year. If you recall my previous post, I awarded this series the series of the year award. SO I will now review it, as it was series of the year 2011 and this is now 2012. Not only will I praise what I found in it to make it deserving of such an award, but I will also NOT gloss over the issues it has. Call it tough love.

Plot: Well, it is a bit of a rip-off or every mecha manga and anime ever created, in that it takes place in the future and involves some sort of new super-weapon developed in secret by the countries of the world. Except in this case, it takes place in the NEAR future, 2017 to be precise, and the super weapons are cyborg girls who fly around with robotic insectesque abdomens attached to them. Although an actual bipedal/humanoid mecha does make an appearance at several points, it isn’t the focus of the series.

The story revolves around these girls, called Vanguards, and a boy identified as ‘The Child of Eden,’ whatever that means. It starts by showing him in amall which is taken over by terrorists, whereupon he is saved by a Vanguard called Liu Li. Alliteration is fun! Then they go on to have other events happen, and he risks his life to save her, yadda yadda yadda. After all that and the emotional bonding (Ha! Not really.) a couple other characters have a conversation in which they explain a bunch of details to help the reader grasp the plot, because weaving exposition into the narrative is quite hard with a sci-fi thing. There is no way the reader would know what the main character is or how he is special if it isn’t revealed. Oh, and then a few months after that, some country goes and starts a world war (yup, most everyone is involved) with the primary objective to sue a massive war as an excuse to kill the Child of Eden, as he is apparently that dangerous.

Characters do evolve and change as the series progresses, albeit at a surprisingly rapid rate. Liu Li is an Ice Queen, but after only a couple chapters without any emotions or other such interaction between Liu Li and the Child of Eden (who she is freeloading off of) she is suddenly a MELTED Ice Queen. Part of the interest in an Ice Queen character is the emotional interactions with other characters that causes the Ice to melt and reveal who they really are.

But let me sum up this series in a different way: Evangelion, with all the good bits retained, and nearly all the pre-teen angst missing. If Evangelion was a person, it would listen to whatever music teenagers who want to complain about how hard their life is listen to and it would slit its wrists. If School Shock was a person, it would listen to nothing but ‘Walking on Sunshine’ on loop while dancing down the street. Speaking of the massive world war to kill one person, I wonder if the Geneva Convention covers torturing metaphors.

In addition to Evangelion, it also has a bit of Ghost In The Shell mixed in. As in, enough of Ghost In The Shell to have progressed from ‘inspiration’ to ‘homage’ then to ‘complete rip-off.’

Let me sum it up: in Ghost In The Shell: Stand-Alone Complex 1, there is the Laughing Man Case, a cyberhacker who hacks into peoples cyber-brains and causes them to carry out his actions, while a picture appears over his face, as he also hacked the cyberbrains of everyone else.

For those who haven’t seen that series: One, you should, as Ghost In The Shell is still pretty much the best sci-fi series put out by the manga and anime industry, and two, this is the face used by the Laughing Man.

For those with knowledge of western literature, or those who remember their days in high school, you will recognize the quote along the edge as being from Catcher In The Rye.

GITS:SAC1 has the quote appear in several places, including on a locker door, all in places that serve to tie up the case and provide clues. For those also not in the know, Catcher In The Rye seems to be pretty popular among the crazy people committing crimes crowd.

School Shock, however, uses that logo, albeit modified. Liu Li uses it to warn the terrorists that she will attack, with the only modification to the logo being to take what was the hat brim, and put it in the middle of the head pointing up. Plus, it adds a couple of antennae (did I mention all the Vanguard girls have antennae that look like the insect that inspired them? No? Well, they do.) and the face is a bit different, looking a bit more like Liu Li sticking her tongue out than the simplistic emoticon type face it was.

Even the quote appears around the edge. Unless Liu Li is to be later revealed to be crazy (which she isn’t) it is entirely useless. If it had used something totally original (and hadn’t use it to warn people she was going to kill them) but still was INSPIRED BY GITS:SAC1, then it would be acceptable.

That is really the one that bugs me (well, apart from the fact that nanomachines are somewhat also taken from GITS, but enough sci-fi uses that particular form of applied phlebotinum that I can’t reeeeaaaallllyy complain, as much as I want to.). There are other blatant rip-offs, probably more if you are familiar with other works. But in the end, the characters are well-developed, the story seems to be turning into a very nice grey on grey morality, and t is interesting.

So maybe I should forgive its stealing of ideas. Maybe it just has kleptomania. Maybe it can’t help that is is stealing your car and adding some spray paint in hopes to pass it off as its own.

Although I guess I could sit and ask a bunch of questions about why the spider Vanguard has human hands on her arms for controlling the webbing/wires she uses, and why she has five of the limbs. how about 6, so then it would be like the 8 legs spiders have? how about we count her arms and give her only four robotic limbs? Why FIVE? And given how complex a human hand is, why not a simpler mechanism? All it needs is a coil of wire and some way to reel it in and let it out. If I saw a human hand holding wire (or even a robotic analogue) I would be far less frightened than if I saw some parts that look like they were ripped off of a wire-spinning machine. The industrial look could have added a bit more intimidation to a character who is supposed to be extremely powerful.

Score: 5/5 ‘very good’

Pros: I could just point at it and say “well, most everything, really.” It just got things right, in both story and characters.

Cons: It may try to steal your stuff.

because I am nice, enjoy this link to more about School Shock.

So, where can you get this series? Well, scans, as that is all it has. While I gave this my Series of The Year award in a totally serious way, I was also glad that a scan series got it, as it serves to point out that there are a LOT of good and worthwhile series that never see market in english-speaking countries.

So I ask of you, dear reader, if you take a look mat this series, please make sure to contact English manga distributers and request that they bring this series over. And if you do that, buy it. It really is worth spending your money on.

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