Saturday, April 13, 2013

I Kill Giants

I first took notice of this series a while ago while reading manga news. 'I Kill Giants' by written by Joe Kelly and illustrated by JM Ken Niimura, had won the Fifth International Manga Award. A western comic winning a manga award further blurs the line of the definition of manga, which I find quite fascinating, but beyond that, I somehow forgot about this book. Later on, I came across another headline stating that 'I Kill Giants' would be previewed in IKKI magazine(a magazine that has spawned some of my favorites), and would be printed in its entirety in Japanese by Shogakukan. My interest was piqued once again, but like the time before, I let it slip my mind. Then just last week, one of the blogs I follow gave a mention to this book, and this time, I didn't let myself forget. I went right to my library database and lo and behold, they had it in the system. I checked it out right away, and after reading this book, I'm so glad I didn't let it slip past my radar again.

Barbara Thorson is a troubled young girl. An outcast with no friends, dealing with issues at home, and encountering bullies at school. On top of that, people think she is crazy because all she talks about is killing giants. She thinks giants are coming to destroy everything that makes life worth living and she is constantly preparing for them with traps and sacrifices. Is this all in her head? A fantasy to deal with her problems? Or maybe there really are giants, and only Barbara and her mighty hammer Coveleski can defeat them.

For such a single volume story, there are some really interesting and well developed characters. Most noticeably, the main character Barbara Thorson. At first, I didn't like Barbara. She has a really bad attitude, and though it may be justified by her situation, it doesn't make her easy to like. Liking a main character is usually a must for me. Luckily, Barbara develops to be much more than a bad attitude. She is very smart mouthed and even kind of mean. She has no patience for people less intelligent than her and worst of all, she takes her problems out on the people that are trying to help her. As I said, her situation makes this completely understandable, but that doesn't mean it's right. Which is a good thing. It makes her more complex. She doesn't start out "good" like most stories' heroes. Over the course of the story, she makes a friend, Sophia, which brings out great changes in her. She also learns to open up to her school counselor, Mrs. Molle, who is a really nicely done side character who genuinely cares for Barbara. I won't spoil you with the details of her development, but let's just say that by the end of the series, she went from a character that rubbed me the wrong way, to a character that I cared about and was proud of. I think that's a sign of good writing.

The art of 'I Kill Giants' is different than what I am used to. Not typically "manga-like", but even so, JM Ken Niimura's style is not out of place previewed in IKKI next to the likes of Taiyo Matsumoto. I can't say the art blew me away or anything, but I appreciate its distinctiveness. Sometimes it reminded me of a charcoal drawing with its shades of dark blacks and greys, but done very cleanly. The art's best feature is conveying emotion. Both body language and facial features were very expressive. So though I am pretty passive on the style, technically the art did its job quite well. Here is IKKI's preview of chapter one so you can experience the art for yourself(sorry, it's in Japanese).

I have one, small criticism about this book. I think that all the talk of giants and the strange images of pixies that she sees should have stayed completely symbolic. It really felt like all of that stuff was just Barbara creating fantasies as a coping mechanism for the problems in her life.....then an actual Titan shows up and she actually fights it. The fight scene was pretty decent, but beyond that, it didn't add much to the story and could even be said to negate the strong symbolism. It's almost if Joe Kelly couldn't decide if he wanted it to be symbolic or real. Or maybe he wanted the reader to decide? Though it is pretty clear that they giants were real. Barbara's friends saw it and Coveleski made a huge dent in her porch when she dropped it before it shrank. The Titan symbolizing Barbara's mom's cancer and her fears would have been much more powerful for me than the Titan actually being real in my opinion.

Is it a manga? Is it a western comic? It's both! And I think you should read it. I found the story to be very powerful. I even teared up a little in the end. Tears of sympathy, and tears of happiness. You can't ask for much more than a dual level tearjerker.

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