animefringe may 2003 / reviews

Oh My Goddess! Vol.15: Hand in Hand
Format: left-right Manga
Production: Dark Horse Comics / Kosuke Fujishima
Comments: The latest installment of one of the longest running and most beloved manga series of all time.
Animefringe Reviews:
Oh My Goddess! Vol.15: Hand in Hand

I'm not quite sure how I allowed this series to get up to number fifteen before reviewing it. Before TOKYOPOP assaulted the manga world with its barrage of low-priced high-quality authentic manga, before I was buying anime on DVDs, and really, way before I was even thinking about purchasing manga, I was exposed to Oh My Goddess!.

It's my sister's fault.

After she got hooked on Yukito Kishiro's incredible Battle Angel series (which remains quite possibly my favorite manga of all time), she switched over to this far more lighthearted but exquisitely illustrated comical romance. Though I'm the one buying the vast majority of manga for our household now (with a manga library of 500 books and scores of new ones added monthly), I owe my addiction to manga almost entirely to my sister. Of course, the two manga series she hooked me on first had some influence on my obsession as well.

With the mass market release of less expensive manga, it's quite possible that some fans new to the industry have never read or even heard of this series. Of course, we're going to remedy that problem right now.

Oh My Goddess is the story of a boy and his goddess. Blind luck (or, as some may argue, divine intervention) found Keiichi (K-1) Morisato on the receiving end of the Goddess Help Line in the first installment of the story. Prior to that day, he had never had much luck with women. That day, however, made up for all of his past misfortunes. His misdialed phone call was answered by the Goddess Belldandy, and she swiftly descended to him after hearing his voice, offering him a single wish to solve his problems. As the butt of many jokes over the years, K-1 understandably disbelieves Belldandy's offer of a wish. Without a thought, he wishes that he could have a goddess like Belldandy with him forever, and she grants his wish.

While chance brought Belldandy and Keiichi together, the love that forms between them is one of the most endearing relationships I've ever had the pleasure of reading in manga form. The series as a whole is filled with excellent character-driven drama and comedy, and to this day I eagerly await additions to the tale. To date, there has been a short animated video series, a feature-length anime movie, and a spin-off television series (called The Adventures of the Mini-Goddesses, which features super-deformed versions of the characters) produced. The author and artist, Kosuke Fujishima, also created You're Under Arrest, which is just now being released on DVD by AnimEigo.

The visual style of the manga has changed drastically from its inception many years ago. Fujishima has always had an eye for mechanical illustrations - a common theme in every series he's ever done. However, his ability at drawing the characters themselves has improved dramatically since the first volume of the series was released. Fifteen volumes into the series, his style has solidified into one of the most beautifully illustrated works of visual storytelling I've ever seen. Fine lines and an emphasis on high contrast images (rather than generous use of screen tones) set the look of his works apart from everything else out there, and his meticulous attention to detail practically makes the motorcycles and engineering projects additional characters in the story.

Fujishima's character designs are some of the most attractive ever and were floating widely around the World Wide Web ever since it first got up and running. Before I was a diehard anime and manga addict, my sole obsession was video games. However, many fans of gaming are also fans of other Japanese media, and as I feverishly downloaded images from the never-released Final Fantasy VII for the Nintendo 64, I also stumbled upon picture archives featuring Belldandy and the rest of the characters from Oh My Goddess. Back then, the most common characters I found everywhere online were Lum (from Urusei Yatsura), Ranma, and Belldandy. Even before I was into this series, I was impressed by the character designs.

If I have to complain at all about this series, then there are two general subjects I have problems with. One is content-based, and the other is technical. As far as the content goes, this particular volume was very cute. There was some more development of K-1's sister's character, and we readers finally get to see Belldandy get drunk. It's still funny, and it's still cute, but overall, the story hasn't gone anywhere. The drama introduced in each new chapter is never really anything new. Some threat to Keiichi and Belldandy's relationship arises, a horrible misunderstanding looms on the horizon, and then Belldandy's incredibly loving nature shines through and the threat fades away. I know that these romantic comedies don't traditionally go anywhere (look at Ranma, or practically any other Rumiko Takahashi work, for that matter) but after fifteen volumes, I want SOMETHING to happen. I'm not saying that this was disappointing; I'm just saying that there's far more potential for the plot than is taken advantage of. Perhaps this will change as we move along.

The technical issue has to do with cost, and thus authenticity. Dark Horse always puts out books of exceptional quality. Cover art is always top-notch, the binding is extremely solid, and the paper the book is printed on is very thick. However, the fact that Dark Horse still prints its manga from left to right and edits out the sound effects makes for a much longer development time than other publishers now face as well as a rather prohibitive price. This is a thick book, but it's very hard to get new readers into a series where some of the releases can go for as much as $18.95. This one in particular is $17.95, but most publishers (after TOKYOPOP's successful example) are lowering the prices of their manga. While Dark Horse's products offer unmatchable quality, I'm more attracted to authenticity than a very expensive domestic edition. The book's size is perfect - large enough to show details but not so large that an even steeper price tag can be attached. However, the popularity of this series would skyrocket if the audience with the highest potential to buy it (young female readers) was able to afford it.

Luckily, the manga industry is changing at a phenomenal rate, so there's a chance that Dark Horse may follow Viz with some extreme price cuts. I can only hope, for a series this fantastic deserves to reach a far larger audience than it's hitting now. I'd definitely recommend that curious readers start this series at the beginning -- if you go for warm romantic comedies, then this is a textbook example of how to do such a series right.