Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Star Protector Dog vol. 1 & 2

Last year, I read a series of manga reviews lauding Takashi Murakami's 'Stargazing Dog', published in English by NBM Publishing. I put it on my "to buy list", but for whatever reason, it never took top priority in my budget over all the other ongoing series I was following, and I eventually forgot about it. That is until I came across it on the JManga digital manga platform, published as 'Star Protector Dog', and decided to give a look at their free preview. All of that acclaim from critics that I read about came rushing back into my head and though I'm not much for digital reading, the fact that it was half the price of print and that JManga had the second volume that NBM seemingly did not release, was too much incentive for me to not go ahead and buy it. And I'm so glad I did, because 'Star Protector Dog' is one of the best manga that I have ever read.

'Star Protector Dog' starts out kind of macabre with police finding the body of a man that died one and half years ago and a dog at his feet that died just three months ago. But this isn't a story of how they died, but how this man and his dog met and how they lived. Found as a puppy in a box by "Dad"'s daughter, Miku, "Happy" came home to live with Dad and his family, living a seemingly normal and enjoyable life for a few years. Happy would play with Miku, get fed by Mom, and go for walk's with Dad. After a few years, it seemed that Dad was the only one doing the playing, feeding and walking and soon Miku and Mom had left Happy and Dad alone. Together, Happy and Dad decide to go south to the place of Dad's birth and along their journey, they make the best of the time they have left together.

The first volume is kind of bittersweet. Maybe a little more bitter than sweet, but it's not all sadness. Happy and "Dad" got the short end of the stick in life, but they did enjoy each other's company and love. Maybe that doesn't seem like enough, but I think Happy and "Dad"'s needs were simple and if they were to ever ask for me in the end, it would just be more time with each other. The second volume plays out like a pair of short stories, each with a small connection to the main story of the first volume. These shorts also feature characters fallen on hard times, but generally have a more hopeful and uplifting tone, and I appreciated that emotional pick-me-up after the melancholy first volume.

I just love stories that can get an emotional reaction out of me. Even ones that make me sad. Maybe especially ones that make me sad. I'm not sure why though. Maybe it makes me feel alive or something. Whatever the reason, if a manga can make me tear up, it gains major points in my book. This manga pushed me to the brink of tears. I only held them back so that my vision wouldn't be blurred and I could keep on reading. But rather than a story that takes advantage of humanity's soft spot for dogs by plucking at our heartstrings with melodramatic tales of dying puppies, I think this manga was more about the dogs' human owners and just how much a dog can change your life. I went in thinking the opposite. That all my thoughts and sympathy would be for the dog characters, but I ended up feeling a greater connection with the human characters. I think that's why this story is so good. It does a good job at illustrating the loyalty and unconditional love that dogs provide, but that is nothing new in fiction, and if it was just that without the human side of things, the story would be kind of shallow. It would be just a cheap, emotional grab that wouldn't leave a lasting impression. Thankfully, 'Star Protector Dog' features understated human characters that are written in a thoughtful way that doesn't steal the show from the dogs, but compliments them.

I don't really have much to say about the art. It's not anything remarkable, but it fits the story perfectly and the dogs are drawn cute. Here's a preview from JManga so that you can sample the art and story for yourself.

It's been a while since I was confident enough to say a manga is a "must read" for all. Whether you are a dog lover or not. An adult or a child. A Japanese manga fan or a western comics fan. I highly recommend 'Star Protector Dog' to everyone and have no qualms about saying that it is for sure a "must read".

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