Weed. Volume 1. By Yoshihiro Takahashi. Translated by Hitoshi Inamune and Akira Watanabe. Fremont, CA: ComicsOne, 2001. 239p. $2.95 (electronic version); $9.95 (paper version). ISBN 1-58899-081-8.
General fiction; funny animals (sort of)
Teens, adults, older kids; dogs fighting, cruelty to animals
NOTE: This book is also known as "Ginga Legend Weed" and was first published in the weekly comic Goraku, May-Sept. 1999.
The various mountains of the Japanese Alps host dog packs struggling to survive. One such mountain is ruled by Nero. One of his subjects is GB, a rather cowardly English setter. While GB is hunting meat for his pack, a nameless puppy bursts in and tries to take GB's kill. They tussle, but GB is too kind-hearted to do the pup serious damage; instead, he chastizes the pup for stealing. The pup explains that he needs the food for his sick mother, and GB gives him the kill. Later, he prevents crows from taking the kill, and he meets the pup's mother, who is dying. With her last breath, the mother asks GB to take the pup to his father, Gin, a legendary bear-killer who founded a utopia for dogs on Ohu Mountain. GB is reluctant and tries to run away, but the pup's heartbroken cries draw him back. He ultimately decides to change his life and escape Nero's cruel rule. To start, he names the pup Weed, because that means the pup will always be surrounded by friends (i.e., wild plants).
The two set off on their quest, first consulting with a dog in the nearby town, Uncle Smith, who lost a leg saving GB's life years ago. On the way they meet Sasuke, another of Nero's pack, who has been charged with stealing a farmer's geese. GB warns Sasuke that stealing from humans leads to disaster, but Sasuke feels he has no choice. Unfortunately, the geese are guarded by a fierce fighting dog, and the creature attacks Sasuke with intent to kill. GB and Weed are drawn to the area by Sasuke's pitiable cries. GB doesn't want to risk his life, but idealistic little Weed promptly takes on the fighting dog. Finally, GB plucks up his courage and joins the fight as well. The three dogs are losing badly, though, until the fighting dog is frightened off by the aura given off by the approaching Uncle Smith, who turns out to have been one of the "dog-soldiers" who helped Gin kill the bear. Later, Sasuke is reunited with his original owners at a campground where he'd run off two years ago.
Next, GB and Weed encounter a starving female Golden Retriever, Lenny, who is searching for her lost son, Mel. GB wants nothing to do with Lenny, who may have distemper, but Weed gets her food, and he and Lenny go off toward Mel's last known address. They find a strange dog, the Husky Golby, chained in the yard, and Lenny is heartbroken. Hook, a mutt in the neighboring yard, explains that Mel was abandoned and went to live on the nearby mountain. Weed and Lenny travel to the mountain, where they find that Mel has become the (mostly) willing slave of a trio of vicious dogs, Blue, Bell, and Ned. Mel recognizes his mother but hates her for abandoning him (he was taken from her by her owner's brother, but he blames her) and rejects her, then attacks her. Lenny cannot fight her beloved son and won't let Weed do so either, despite the pup's attempts to protect her.
Lenny and Weed finally leave, with a confused and upset Mel behind them. They return to Hook and Golby, where Hook explains that Blue, Bell, and Ned killed his brother years ago. Weed decides to confront the trio; Lenny reluctantly accompanies him; and GB, showing up after several chapters, first shames Hook into slipping his collar and gathering several more dogs, then rather stupidly runs up the mountain ahead of Weed and Lenny, where he is surrounded by Mel and the other dogs. A big fight ensues, which temporarily ends when GB pretends to have been part of the pack of dogs that killed the bear at Ohu. Scornfully, the other dogs explain that the utopia on Ohu was destroyed by humans hunting dogs with guns. The fight resumes--but then Hook and a bunch of other dogs arrive to tip the scales.
Despite Weed being slightly cliched in spots, I quite enjoyed it; it was a real page-turner (or clicker, in this case) in the tradition of Watership Down and such, and the characters were mostly attractive. I especially liked GB, who grows from good-hearted coward into stalwart protector because of his growing sense of responsibility toward Weed--who, for his part, inspires GB to greater heights. Weed, I have to admit, is somewhat two-dimensionally plucky, but still a character you can root for. Lenny is much more of a cliche, unfortunately--the self-sacrificing mother who is forced to mouth lines like "Could it be--my son?" and "Don't, Weed--don't hurt my son." (It's interesting to note that the only female characters are both mothers, and sick or dying mothers at that.) Actually, except for the dumb lines given the female dogs, the dialogue is quite good, well translated and natural-sounding, with plenty of idiomatic expressions.
For me, the fight scenes were overextended--too much chatter between opponents, mostly--but they were clearly drawn, and it was usually easy to tell who was doing what. There seemed to be a lot of dog bodies flying through the air at the slightest twitch of an opponent's mouth, though; dog judo, I guess. (I have yet to figure out how a puppy can bite a dog's tail or flank and send that dog flying arse-over-tip through the air.)
The art is fairly standard manga art, but one thing I really liked about it was that the dogs looked very natural. True, you have these word balloons coming out of their mouths, and there's a little humanizing facial expressions in the close-ups, but Takahashi does a good job of making these dogs look and feel like real dogs, not cartoon animals. He depicts dog body language quite well. Indeed, the book often feels like a movie where they dub voices over real dogs. I look forward to future volumes; I'd like to see more of how these dogs interact with humans.
This is the first title I've read from ComicsOne, which has started to bring over lesser-known pieces of manga. If Weed is any indication, their catalogue is going to be full of interesting and worthwhile stuff. If nothing else, it's sure refreshing to read something from Japan that isn't full of giant robots, gore, and super-powerful children! Recommended for manga collections and readers at most levels. Although there's nothing graphic in here, the scene where a hunter drives around shooting stray dogs might be disturbing to younger readers.
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