Robot: Super Color Comic Vol. 1
Range Murata had a unique concept when he compiled and edited Robot. Why not invite some of Japan's best manga illustrators to create short comics entirely in color, without any artistic direction beyond that? This is the first volume of this collection of stories ranging from horror to comedy, fantasy to fantastic realism.
Contributors include Yoshitoshi Abe (Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei), Ugetsu Hakua (Burst Angel), Mami Itou (Pilgrim Jäger), and Range Murata (Last Exile, Blue Submarine No.6), who contributes the opening story. The stories themselves are very creative. Hanaharu Naruco presents the futurist "Picnic," where two girls attempt to re-enact life as for Japanese schoolgirls, using history notes as a guide to modern day Tokyo. Sabe's "There Goes Suzume Robo!!" is the bizarre tale of a sparrow robot, a schoolgirl, and a giant hentai pigeon. Abe gives us "Wasteland," an attempt at survival horror. The style of Yug's "Hemohemo" is very reminiscent of Azumanga Daioh, while Haccan's "Eventyr" reads like a children's storybook, with the tale of two witches coming to town. The majority of these stories are one-shot comics, while a few continue on in the next volume of Robot.
I found it very interesting and educational, seeing how Japanese comic artists work with color when given a free rein. In general, it reminded me a lot of the larger CG color dominant, independent US comic publishers, namely Dreamwave, Oni Press, Slave Labor, and the now-defunct Crossgen. (You can argue that these companies have a lot of Japanese influences in their works, and that's the root of the similarity, but I'm looking at Robot from a US viewpoint.) There are some comics in Robot that use watercolor, and these frequently invoke memories of European comics, from the innocence of Rupert to the violent space opera of The Metabarons. As it is, this is a great introduction to manga for US comic geeks, and vice versa for manga purists. At the very least, the reader will understand that manga really means Japanese comics -- which come in all flavors, not just action or shoujo.
The cover illustration is beautiful, and the layout inside the book is well-done, using space for the maximum effect. Some of the comics run into each other without a title or blank page, which can be confusing for the reader. Digital Manga Publishing has done a great job in translating and printing this book; the colors are bright and clear, and sound effects are maintained with a translation beside them. However, the binding is very poor -- the glue along the spine that keeps the cover secure cracked open early on during my first read-through. If this book had been more expensive and if the inside pages were already falling out, then it would be more of a worry. As it is, it's merely an irritation.
This is a beautiful anthology for the very reasonable price of USD$24.95, easily within the budget of most fans. The pages are of artbook quality, all glossy and with full color. Robot carries an parental advisory of explicit content on the front cover, and yes, this book really isn't for the younger crowd. If blood, gore, cannibalism and realistic nudity aren't your preference in manga, then don't pick this up. As it is, most fans will enjoy this anthology; there's a story here for all tastes. Additionally, Robot is a great way to sample a lot of artists in one volume, and perhaps to discover a new name to follow in anime and manga as you increase your personal collection.