Monday, May 03, 2010

Vermonia: Volume 1- Quest for the Silver Tiger by Yoyo

Mel, Doug, Naomi and Jim are members of a band, but even when they aren't singing, they like hanging out together at the skate park, but little do they know that they share a secret history together. Long ago, the planet of Vermonia was ruled by Queen Frasnella, who had a long and peaceful reign.

Her advisors were partly human and partly animal spirits. But her rule came to and end when she was betrayed by one of her two generals- Uro. The loyal general, Boros, who was Uro's brother, tried to defend an orb named the Bolirios, but to no avail. Uro and his army were the stronger. With Boros defeated, the Queen would soon fall into his hands- but she can at least save her advisots. Stripping them of the animal spirits that were part of their souls, she sent them on to a new world, a less magical world, known as earth.

She turned Boros into a lowly squelp, and the animal parts of the spirits were housed in shrines around Vermonia itself. Their human selves took on new bodies, and grew up on the Blue Planet- Earth. Now, they are friends who love to skate- only the Mayor has closed down the skate park, so they jump the fence and go in anyway. They have formed a band named Veracity, and they are going to enter the Battle of the Bands- first prize is $5000- enough for them to at least start building a Real Skate park.

Mel and Naomi are a little tense right now. Mel quit the band because her father ordered her to. He caught her skipping class to work with the band, and her grades are slipping- and he never really liked her friends. Additionally, he's the mayor, but in order to keep herself by being embarrassed over what really happened, she just said their music stank and she quit. Now, the tension between them remains.

That night, Naomi goes home and has a very strange dream. She's at the Skate Park, and suddenly she's sinking into the ground, which has turned to water. She keeps sinking, and winds up in a cave. A young man is being tortured, and is wrapped in snakes. He says he will never forgive the Queen. The thing that is torturing him says he must wear the mask of Obedience and serve Oro. A strange mask, like a mass of seaweed with a single eye poking out of it shoots onto his face and adheres. The thing names the man Acidulous... and Naomi wakes up back on the floor of her room, having fallen out of bed.

The next day, she meets up with her friends, and they all have had the same dream, even Mel. But something, like a bubble, is rising from the center of the place where they skate. They go out to see what it is, and as they reach the center, a pattern flashes on the ground, and something black and ugly rises from the tarmac. It startles Mel, and another person, dressed like a Jester, grabs her.

Then another Jester appears, with an egg in her hands. and tells the first Jester and the thing to let her go, but they do not, and disappear. The Jester raises the egg, and it cracks, revealing a strange cat-like creature inside. She tells the friends that this is a Squelp, and she is giving it to them, as they will need it- the Squelp will guide and help them- and that they will meet again. Then, she fades away.

The squelp can talk, and when they want to rescue Mel, it turns the ground to liquid and they fall through into a new world, the turtle world. But as soon as they appear, they are attacked by the same thing that captured Mel, and the Jester, too. When Naomi tells the Squelp to help them, it conjures up their skateboards, and when that isn't enough, it conjures up a mountain behind them and helps a forest grow around them. This enables them to escape the thing chasing them.

Eventually they end up in the desert, and in the midst of the Potonawi people. They meet Rainbow, the Potonawi Princess, and she takes them back to her village to speak to her grandmother. But while they are there, one of the boys, Doug, has a dream/vision of a white Tiger imprisoned in a place that looks like silver crystals. The Tiger wants to be freed, and as a sign that he and Doug are connected, he gives Doug a silver fang/Dagger necklace that appears around his throat.

But in this strange new world where they don't know anyone and are opposed by strange forces, how can they fight against the enemies facing them? And how will they find and free the Silver Tiger, if they don't know where it is? And what will happen to Mel, imprisoned by their enemies, but feeling empathy for General Acidulous and the people working for the side of Uro, all of whom seem to be either coerced or have been promised aid they desperately need if they work for him?

I was disposed to like this manga. Of course, the whole "Five kids" dynamic, and the five different animal/beast spirits made me wonder if this was going to turn out to be a Sentai comic. Sentai, of course, being a team of five, like the Power Rangers, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, or the original Sailor Moon Team. Even Captain Planet, a western animated series, had the five Sentai type of organization. I'm not sure why there are usually five members. I know a Sentai is a Japanese military term, but how did it come to mean "five" in manga?

In any case, this series could certainly take a turn in that direction, if it's not heading there already. I know there is only four characters, I consider the fifth to be the squelp, who is the other general transformed. For now, he's a magical pet, but who knows? The other thing I especially noted was that the scene where they arrived in the turtle world, the background was almost exactly identical to that of Cephiro, the land of Magic Knight Rayearth, including the mountains (here one of the characters calls them "icebergs") floating in the air. Copying? Homage? Who knows, at this point, but the mountains/icebergs definitely do say, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." in spades.

On the whole, it wasn't a bad manga, but I honestly just couldn't summon up a great deal of enthusiasm about it. It's neither exceptionally good, nor exceptionally bad. It's just nothing that hasn't been done before, especially in Shonen manga. If you've read a lot of manga, like I have, you can probably tick them off fairly endlessly. Recommended.

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