Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kazuhiro Okamoto’s “Translucent”

I’ve been consuming comics like crazy lately, but the titles I regularly follow have been coming out too slowly. So I decided I need to add another new series to my palate. I really want something different, though: no high school romance or boy-on-a-quest stories. Last week, I picked up the first two volumes of Kazuhiro Okamoto’s “Translucent” (from Dark Horse Comics), an unusual story that seemed promising.

“Translucent” focuses on 14-year-old Shizuka, who is afflicted with “translucent syndrome,” a disease that makes her body “see-through.” It affects each person differently, with some people being completely transparent all the time and some (like Shizuka) regularly shifting from visible to varying degrees of translucency. Emotions also affect the syndrome, with negative feelings and stress causing Shizuka to go completely transparent and happiness causing her body to return to normal. If someone with translucent syndrome remains completely transparent for two weeks, it’s likely she’ll stay that way forever.

“Translucent” was a promising concept in theory. An adolescent girl with an unusual disease should allow for some entertaining drama. But in reality, the series falls completely flat. For one thing, there isn't enough attention given to the disease itself. We’re repeatedly told that there’s no known cause or cure. And that’s it. I can suspend my disbelief enough to ignore the scientific impossibilities at work here, but wouldn’t there be people studying this disease? Shouldn’t Shizuka at the very least exert some effort into understanding it?

For another thing, the art is totally unimpressive. The characters aren’t detailed enough to tell them apart. Shizuka’s friend Mamoru is supposed to be the most beautiful student in the entire school, but the only difference between her and Shizuka is their hairstyles. Bodies and body movement are also rendered extremely stiffly.

I could get past the amateurish art if the story itself was well told, but, unfortunately, it’s not. Problems wrap up much too simplistically to be enjoyable. In the first volume, Shizuka’s body turns completely transparent, so she has to move away to be close to a translucent syndrome specialist. But a special parting gift from Tadami makes her so happy that her body returns to normal, so the doctor tells her she only has to visit once a month and Shizuka returns to her old school. This quick fix and lack of development is unsatisfying.

There also appears to be no overarching storyline. This story really needs a concrete direction. I thought Shizuka’s desire to become an actress despite her condition (which develops after her successful drama club performance) would be the spine of the story, but it’s more of an afterthought, really, happening concurrently to the plot rather than driving it.

I actually ended up returning these books to the store because they’re so unsatisfying. It’s really disappointing to see such a creative theme executed so poorly. Next time I want to try a new manga, I’m going to read the whole thing in-store before buying it.

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