Title: Animal Land 1
Artist/Author: Mokoto Raiku
Distributor: Kodansha Comics
American release date: August 16, 2011
Format and length: manga, 195 pages
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: 13+
Overall Personal Rating: B+
A lonely and hungry tanuki finds a human baby. Taking on the challenge to protect him and become his mommy, Monoko finds she needs him as well. This is one amazing baby!
A human baby is sent down the river in a basket. The weather is getting cold in the Jungle. A couple of tanukis (Japanese raccoon dogs) are trying to catch enough fish to feed themselves and to share with their village. Hoping to find food, Monoko gets the basket from the river only to find the baby. Instantly enthusiastic and enamored with the baby, she swears to take care of him. Food is scarce because of the season and other tanukis aren’t sure the baby can survive. Monoko goes out into the dangerous night to find cows to get milk for the baby (no name for him yet, that’s kind of a story element). Luckily there is a herd of domestic cows in the jungle. There are wildcats out trying to get her, who comes to her rescue is unbelievable. The baby is struggling to survive in the cold, he seems to have lost the will to live. The village can’t stand by and do nothing. Together they are an incredible force. The Jungle will never be the same.
First descriptive words that come to mind are odd and delightful. In the beginning, the manga wasn’t what I call endearing. Between an obnoxiously whining tanuki and a pooping scene, I thought, “what have I got myself into?” And there was this odd mix of elements: the tanuki looking sort of like people in costume, some realistic looking wildcats, one cat was a giant in pants, a talking baby and totally realistic looking domestic cows hanging around the jungle. All of this starts out as “Oh no, really?”, but if you go with it, the quirky reality becomes a strong point. The costume look helps suspend belief and accept the nearly anything can happen reality, although the characters are true to their own reality. They are groups of animals with human characteristics to varying degrees. While the tanukis walk on two legs and live in a village of sorts, they don’t wear clothes, but the wildcat Kurokagi lives alone in the jungle and wears a well designed outfit. I’d like to point out that Kurokagi is a visually dramatic and awesome character. His dark fur contrasts with the light colored battle scars, organic yet nearly symbolically shaped. This then plays well against the patterns of his garments. I’d like to add that his embattled exterior contrasts with his inner philosopher self. A self aware animal wondering what his existence has meant. Other characters of real note are Monoko, her drive and enthusiasm, although sometimes silly, really leads the story. I can’t forget the baby either, he is the link between all of the species, a remarkable creature of skills and intellectual growth, he is not a dull helpless baby.
The art work is also a mix, only the strong use of black and white elements is cohesive. Some scenes are sketchy, some are realistic, some come across as detailed and balanced designs. The representation of the shattering and letting go of the baby’s bad, early memories of being abandoned were really cool to see.
Not knowing what a tanuki was, doing a bit of research, really added to the enjoyment of the story. There was a note in the back, but that is too late. I’d recommend looking into it first. They aren’t really raccoons as Americans think of them. They are more of a wild canine. (All of this leads to greater understanding of Pom Poko as well.) I’m really glad that “tanuki” wasn’t translated in to Badger or Raccoon. That would really have changed the feel of the story and I believe intent.
Only time can tell if the quirky reality of the story can deliver the familiar story elements successfully with this unique setting and characters.
There is an engaging author’s note where he hints at future plot elements (the baby’s communication abilities will take the story into wild directions), then rambles about his own personal life, especially his dog.
There is a sneak preview of the next volume from the Japanese version.
Overall Grade: B+
“In the Radius” This is so quirky in its nature, I can’t yet think of something that it reminds me of.