Jing: King of Bandits - Manga's Bling King
Somewhere between the wildly imaginative works of Osamu Tezuka and the insanity of MAD Magazine, Bandit King Jing is different from other series I've encountered before. The manga is broken up into short episodes that highlight the adventures of Jing and his avian sidekick, Kir, and the anime series appears to follow closely the events of the manga.
In the first short episode, Jing is searching for the Double Mermaid in the City of Thieves, a famous jewel rumored to be in the possession of the mayor of the City, Cognac. So tempting is the allure of the treasure, it has drawn an entire city worth of criminals, each hoping to heist the spectacular crystal. Unfortunately for the potential pilferers, however, Cognac's keep is an impenetrable tower no thief has yet broken into and lived to tell about it. It seemed impossible that anyone ever could, but then a notice of warning began circulating the City.
In fairness to his victims, Jing was courteous enough to announce his arrival before taking the Double Mermaid.
While Jing is a thief of legendary skill, he is not portrayed as overly cocky, nor does he act like the young boy he appears to be. Kir's love of alcohol is only surpassed by his attraction to beautiful women, but when there's a job that needs doing he is as dependable as the rising of the sun.
Thus far in the story, Jing is somewhat of a Lupin III type character. You simply know that he's going to succeed at whatever he attempts, and so the drama of the work doesn't stem from fretting over whether or not Jing will make it to his next adventure. Yet, his actions show that he is more than a mere robber out to make some money for himself. Instead, his deeds often are subtly humanitarian in their intent, even if Jing is not obvious about being a good guy.
Even though he is a master thief, he tends to wander from land to land helping people in need. Just because he picks up gobs of treasure and imbibes a bit of the drink doesn't mean he isn't well intentioned. With Jing, deception is a defining trait he has mastered, and he uses it to his full advantage.
On the subject of deception, Yuichi Kumakura, the creator of the manga, isn't too shabby himself. At first glance, the manga looks like a simple story for kids, and TOKYOPOP's rating of Youth (ages 7+) helps lend credence to that assumption. While kids can certainly find something to like in this series, it is far more complex than it seems. As I mentioned above, the style of the manga is very unique, with each scene containing so much detail, it takes time and effort to take it all in. It's reminiscent of MAD in the way that there are all sorts of comical events occurring to the side of the main action, but it's also appears to have more Tezukian influence than other manga because of the intelligence and relevance of these seemingly superfluous background drawings.
Take any given page, and whether it's featuring an imposing tower in the City of Thieves or a hot air balloon piloted by a group of naked pirates (I'm not making that up), you can lose yourself in the details. Kumakura's world is one that's not limited to humans, and the depth and range of odd creatures Jing encounters bring back memories of Ende's The Neverending Story or Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal.
I picked up the first volume on my lunch break at work simply because I'd already gone through practically every other manga we carry (and that's saying something!), but I found myself glad that I had already preordered the anime series, for the first volume was a blast to read.
As with Samurai Deeper Kyo, Bandit King Jing is being released near-simultaneously in manga and anime format. The manga is already available from TOKYOPOP, and the anime series should be on its way soon from ADV. Since I'm a box-fiend, I already pre-ordered the collector's box, but if you're wary about the show, then check out the sample episode in July's issue of Newtype. It encapsulated the plot of the first story in the manga, and while some of the detail was lost, it looks like a very faithful adaptation of the original work nonetheless. It may be important to note that the anime version is under a slightly different name than the manga. Rather than call the show Jing: King of Bandits, the anime series is called King of Bandit Jing, as the Japanese title screen suggests. It seems odd to keep the word Bandit singular, even if there is no plural form in Japanese, but that's the way I've seen it so far. Authenticity is good, but that may be taking it a bit too far. We'll see when the final product arrives, I suppose.
In any case, this was a nice little manga to read while I had it, and it promises to be an equally engaging anime series as well. Check it out if you're looking for some humorous action with imagination to spare!