Tori Koro vol. 1
Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/Artist: Hai Ran
When I first pulled Tori Koro out of the latest shipment of review copies, the first thing that popped into my mind was “Azumanga Daioh ripoff.” After finishing the first volume, however, I…well, actually, I still think that. Tori Koro borrows so much from Azuma’s creation that Azuma could probably sue for a co-creation credit and win. Well, okay, it may not be completely past the point of plausible deniability, but there’s so many noticeable similarities between the two titles that it’s almost impossible to chalk it all up to mere coincidence. But despite being heavily derivative, Tori Koro is actually a fairly entertaining read. It’s clearly going for the same kind of effect that AzuDai had, and doesn’t do such a bad job of it. There’s certainly worse things to aspire to than being a respectable knockoff of an entertaining manga.
Like most strips of its kind, Tori Koro is a collection of short, chronological but unrelated stories involving the everyday adventures of its young heroines. The Nanase family, comprised of mother Sachie and daughter Yae, take on a couple of boarders one year: Tatami from Hiroshima, and Makishi from Osaka. Add in Niwa-chan, a schoolmate of the three girls, and that’s the core cast. None of the characters are very original – if you put the cast of Azumanga Daioh in a blender, you could reasonably expect to end up with the cast of Tori Koro. Yae is essentially a blend of Chiyo and Tomo. Tatami is a composite of Sakaki and Osaka. Makishi might as well be Yomi – glasses and all. Niwa-chan is a cross between Kagura and Kaorin. Sachie, the mom, looks and kinda acts like Kimura’s wife. Granted, they’re a lot less broadly defined than the characters they’re based on, which makes them more plausible but limits their effectiveness as sources of comedy.
At its best, Tori Koro compares favorably to AzuDai, but there’s one major difference in approach where the comparison breaks down. Most of Azumanga‘s humor was character-centered: it developed naturally from the characters’ personalities and the situations they found themselves in. Tori Koro‘s approach is less ambitious: the humor tends to center around the individual gags themselves. The characters aren’t as vivid, fully realized, or sharply defined as Azumanga‘s, because the comedic approach doesn’t require them to be. They’re blander, more interchangeable, and a bit less consistent as they sometimes have to conform to the needs of the joke. The gags themselves are often snappier, easier to “get,” and occasionally even funnier, but Tori Koro is ultimately less satisfying and memorable than Azumanga Daioh for this reason. To its credit, though, Tori Koro is far less reliant on puns and cultural gags that maybe five people outside of Japan will actually get, so that does score a few points in its favor.
Taking a gag-oriented approach also creates another problem for this manga. Unlike its predecessor, Tori Koro is a bit too aware of its own status as a 4-panel gag comedy. At several points, it self-consciously reaches for gags in an attempt to keep the laughs coming, but these gags are often too self-aware or too bizarre to be funny – sometimes, off-puttingly so. They’re difficult to describe without showing actual examples, but there are jokes involving metaphorical animal ears and tails, a very stupid gag about “impressing,” and other attempts at comedy that smack of trying way too hard. In his afterword, Hai Ran calls this a “strange” manga, which is certainly accurate, but it sometimes becomes too weird for its own good. It’s not a crippling problem, or even such a prevalent one, but Tori Koro is funniest when it’s not making every effort to make sure the audience keeps laughing.
Tori Koro is a manga suffering from mood swings. At its best, it confidently serves up amusing slice-of-life gag humor. At its worst, it becomes insecure and tries too hard to be clever or funny, and misses its objective. It’s modestly entertaining – it consistently gets smiles and chuckles, but it seldom if ever gets belly laughs. It’s not as memorable or as good as Azumanga Daioh – it lacks the vivid characters and the darkly humorous edge that underlined that series – but if you’re willing to settle for a reasonable imitation, this will serve that purpose. I enjoyed it well enough, but it really could have done a lot more to set itself apart from the manga that came before it.
Added: Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Related Link: DrMaster Books