Manga Review: Gravitation Vol. 1

By: Jonathon Collis

Versions Reviewed:
US TOKYOPOP Book 1 (ISBN 1-591-82333-1)
German Carlsen Comics Book 1 (ISBN 3-551-77141-3)

US Rating: Teen (13+)

Long awaited by shounen-ai fans, Gravitation has finally arrived on both American and European shores. But how do these versions compare, and is this title worth the hype? Let’s look first at the technical issues and then the content.

The first thing anyone sees at the bookstore is the front cover (or spine and then front cover) of the book. In both cases, the front cover is based on the Japanese image for Book #1. Unfortunately, both companies decided to replace the original Japanese logo (which already had the title in English anyways) with horribly ugly romanized-only logos. In addition to this, the TOKYOPOP book has the corporate banner on the bound side of the cover. This is minor, though, compared to Carlsen’s cover which is an affront to taste in layout. With banners going all across the front cover repeating the ugly German logo and the words “heartbeats and cute boys” in German on the front, the cover image is overshadowed completely.

Once you pick up the book, you start looking at it. The TOKYOPOP book is larger than the Carlsen edition, but both editions use the same quality of paper and ink. Both are equally readable, and I want to say that the Carlsen edition matches the size of the original Japanese, although it could have stood the larger size (see below). On the other hand, the Carlsen edition includes the colour insert page IN COLOUR as a foldout, rather than the TOKYOPOP book which prints it in black and white. Both books are printed unflopped and are read from right to left.
Winner: Carlsen.

This is where things start getting iffy and problematic. TOKYOPOP’s pages tend to have more words in them, but it’s at the cost of being disgustingly over-colloquialized. Lines such as “Go shag your groupies” and “I’ll show you, you big weenies” are common in the American edition. The German edition uses a more literal translation, due to the territorialism of German slang (the book is printed in hochdeutsch), but it’s at the cost of complexity. Compared to the TOKYOPOP book, Carlsen’s translations seem to be a bit too simple at times, even if they are more literal. The one exception to this is when Shindou is singing an old Japanese children’s song in the bath and while it’s translated literally in English, it’s replaced with a German song instead. I laughed more at the German song, even though it broke the localism. Both versions translate Murakami’s sidebar texts, and again, the German translation seems to be more literal but also oversimplified. If I could read Japanese, I’d be able to compare them better.
Winner: Reader’s Preference

Sound Effects:
This goes along with translation and is another tough call. In the TOKYOPOP book, all of the sound effects are left in their original Japanese and the vast majority (read: almost all) have small text subtitles nearby. Sometimes these can be hard to read or get overlooked by the reader. The Carlsen edition follows the standard across the major German publishers of overlaying the sound effects with their German equivalent, and the touch-up artists did a great job of doing so. In the end, you’re getting something (dialogue or art) changed, so it’s up to what the reader likes more.
Winner: Reader’s Preference

It doesn’t matter which version you read, because the story in both is the same. Shindou Shuichi is the class dunce, but he has one talent which gets his full dedication: techno music. While preparing a set for the school talent show, Shindou’s newly written lyrics are blown out of his hands into those of a mysterious stranger, Yuki Eiri, who tells him that his work is crap, empty, proof of having no talent. Shindou, taking everything in life too personally, begins a quest to find Yuki and make him pay. His obsession turns to a crush, which turns into love.

This covers chapters one and a half out of four (having picked up Carlsen books two and three, it appears that four books is standard for a volume), and I wish to refrain from going more into the plot to avoid spoilers. However, no spoilers are needed to say that Murakami definitely planned a roller-coaster for her readers, and the amount of curves involved in book one lays out a spider web of extended character relations and interactions that fans of the anime can only get a glimpse of in comparison to the complexity of the manga. Murakami’s pacing is frantic, and her sidebars are quality insights into the problems she faced while starting the series – creating her editors, satisfying her editors (who were just as shocked by the events of chapter three as most of the readers – and viewers of the end of anime ep 1), and figuring out where things are going.

As a result, book one has a rushed feel to it, and Murakami’s uncertainties show through some of the characters and her comments allude to some revisions made in the artwork for the graphic novels in order to fix mistakes made in preparing the original inserts. Still, with 12 volumes in Japanese, she must have done something right in fixing the problems that she had.

Therefore, this is perhaps a good time to bring up the anime version. The anime artwork is cleaner than in the manga (which has a wilder look, as if she was drawing with Shindou’s hyperactivity), and the storyline is condensed and streamlined, eliminating some of the jerkiness and disappearing elements of the later volumes (like Shindou’s sister). With only three volumes on my shelf, it’s hard to judge which one is superior, but I definitely like them both.

And for those who haven’t figured it out yet, this title involves two guys in love. There’s nothing graphic in the regular manga (un/fortunately depending on who you ask), but there’s a series of doujinshi put out by Murakami with graphic sex to fill in some of the gaps where it would be in the normal books. If you’re homophobic, don’t read this book. If you want the extra-lite version and an excuse to get the story without losing face with the guys, get the anime and say it’s for the soundtrack. If you just want great romance, entertaining characters, and a look at a band looking to claw its way to the top and find personal satisfaction at the same time, get this series now.

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