Manga of the Month: Binbogami ga!September 1, 2012
Some manga genres are safer than others. Shonen fighting manga don’t always sell gangbusters but they are usually a fairly safe bet. They are the blue chips stocks of manga. Josei manga on the other hand have yet to have anything close to a major success story. Josei has had several critical successes but nothing that sets the world on fire in English in terms of sales. But there is one category of manga that neither get critical praise nor major sales numbers. That is comedy manga. Even titles that you think would sell great due to animated popularity like Azumanga Daioh don’t particularly sell well.
And so American manga companies always seem very reluctant to pick up anything comedy related unless it has a stronger hook that moves it into another category where it might do well. There are a few exceptions to this rule but manga companies tend live by the motto of “once burned, twice shy.” So while I love Binbogami ga! I don’t think it is going to get picked up by Viz anytime soon. Which is a shame because it is a great series.
Ichiko Sakura is probably the luckiest girl alive. Literally. She is super rich, supremely beautiful, incredibly smart, and amazingly athletic. The only problem is that she has a twisted personality and sucks the good fortune from everyone around her to fuel her good luck engine. To stop this heaven sends the poverty god Momiji to steal away Sakura’s luck and restore the balance. But Sakura is not giving up her Halcyon Days without a fight. The real question is if Sakura is really the monster she seems to be and is Momiji just the petty luck thief she says she is?
Timing is the key to comedy. In that respect I think that Binbogami ga! has that skill in spades. It takes character comedy, otaku comedy, gold old slapstick and alternates them quite nicely. It also is not afraid to go for the dirty joke (see Nadeshiko’s nick names) when it needs to but overall holds back quite a bit. While the cast is often quite “voluptuous” it never goes for panty shots when it easily could. And the dirty jokes are usually a bit on the sly as opposed to being outright vulgar which is usually the best way to approach that. At the same time the series cuts it all when some good character drama. The manga is willing to let characters grow and have real moments. But it never lets either the comedy or the drama go on too long. It holds either mood just long enough to cleanse the palate.
And everyone is pretty much a horrible person. Sakura can be downright mercenary and self-centered. Momiji can be just as devious and manipulative. It reminds me of Urusei Yatsura which is always a good thing. But also like Urusei Yatsura you will find yourself rooting for everyone on occasion. The trick is to make everyone despicable enough to be funny but sympathetic enough to keep to watching. It is a delicate balancing act but Binbogami ga! does it well.
Lets talk for a second about Ranmaru Rindou. I think my general prejudices are well-known to most people who follow me on twitter. So when they see a pink haired karate delinquent girl in a show they know one simple fact. Hisui is going to like her. This is not an incorrect assessment in this case. She is a wonderful mixture of heroic and cool plus dorky and clumsy that is utterly endearing. Super adorkable. Plus she is pretty much the Ryuunosuke of the manga which makes her instantly the best. Ranmaru Rindou takes the show from the simply great category to the OMG amazing category.
As someone who enjoys comedy I am so glad to have found this manga. It is a nice bit of fun which I wish I could see more of legitimately in English. We would all be a little more fortunate if that were the case.