animefringe february 2003 / reviews

Di Gi Charat Vol.1
Format: Right-Left manga, 159 pages
Production: VIZ / Various Authors
Comments: Digiko-chan, super-cute mascot of the Japanese video game mecca, Gamers, arrives in English for the first time.
Animefringe Reviews:
Di Gi Charat Vol.1

It seems somehow appropriate that a manga based upon a Japanese corporate mascot is available exclusively through a North American bookstore chain. Noting the sudden surge in manga sales, Borders Group, Inc. managed to snag the sole distribution rights to the Di Gi Charat manga. They're banking quite a bit on the potential domestic popularity of the cat-eared cutie, and so far, this looks like a good idea to me.

Di Gi Charat follows the adventures of Digiko-chan and her friends/rivals as she works at her local Gamers video game store. While she looks like nothing more than a typical human girl, she is actually a princess-in-hiding hailing originally from the planet Di Gi Charat. Currently, however, her home world is under attack by a force of evil invaders, and thus she is spending her time on Earth trying to earn some cash to facilitate her return home. And in the meantime, she's also trying to become the world's most popular idol. One should expect nothing less than grand aspirations from a princess, after all.

This series is unique due to the fact that it's actually a collection of short humorous pieces written and drawn by a variety of manga-ka. In the first volume alone, there are twelve different artists and twenty stories to keep Di Gi-fans happy. As far as I can tell, there isn't really much of a continuing storyline. Digiko-chan has two fellow members from her home planet (are they Charatians?) including the younger Puchiko and Gema. Gema is best described as a talking yellow ball with eyes.

Nobody said this wasn't weird.

Though, weirdness aside, it is effectively cute. Also, despite being a company mascot, I don't feel as if I'm being brainwashed into becoming a Gamers devotee, but perhaps part of my resistance is due to the fact that the nearest Gamers is thousands of miles away. There's plenty of fun poked at the giant retailer in particular, but then there's also a good amount of humor directed at retail in general.

As a person who has worked in retail for more than five years, I can appreciate humor in this environment. However, the lack of a linear storyline could cause confusion for some readers, and what little plot there is doesn't go very far in each episode. People diving into this title for a mind-blowing storyline are going to be disappointed. However, the cover and synopsis should give fair warning about what kind of manga this is. It's entertaining, but not very substantial. So long as it's funny, I don't mind a bit. Luckily, more often than not, this is pretty amusing stuff.

Viz did a great job with the localization of this title - all of the original sound effects are kept in place and the book is presented unflipped, always a plus in my book. A product this obviously Japanese would seem odd if it were reversed and lacked any sort of kana written all over the place. Viz has graciously included a handy sound-effects reference glossary in the back of the book, so those of you who may be wondering what the random Japanese characters represent can find out with ease. I really think this is the way to go for translations, as it speeds up the production time, and that's fine by me.

The book is smaller than most of Viz's other productions, more akin in size to TOKYOPOP's "100% Authentic" lineup than Viz's Ranma series. For some reason, its MSRP is $12.95, the same price as the technically superior Vagabond, also published by Viz. Vagabond is larger and contains color pages, so I'm not sure what justification there is for selling this title at a higher-than-expected cost. At least it's not $15.95, I suppose. I just wish it were less expensive.

Overall, this is a fun title that's good to read in brief bursts thanks to its segmented design. It isn't the most complex work out there, but it's charming enough to keep the interest of anyone who doesn't mind cuteness. It will be interesting to see if its distribution method will prove successful, for if it is, I'm sure we'll see other titles soon following this release pattern.