One of the bigger manga series that is currently out there (besides Attack on Titan) is Blue Exorcist by writer and artist, Kazue Kato. In my humble opinion, it is quite an enjoyable manga that really does Shonen right, while also being a bit subversive and atypical. Now, why do I bring this all up? Well, because it is related to this brand new collection of short stories called Time Killers.
Time Killers is a collection of quick one-shot comics written by Kazue Kato before she created Blue Exorcist. These stories show her early work and even a lot of similar looking character with designs that would later be used in Exorcist. It’s an interesting little book. Let’s take a look.
Time Killers: Short Story Collection (Viz Media)
Written & Drawn By: Kazue Kato
Translated By: John Werry
Like I said, this a collection of short stories. It’s best that we look at each story individually and see what we got:
The Rabbit and Me
Shuri Todo has a dark and sad past, having lived with his criminal father for many years and then being forced to put him down. To make amends for this past, Shuri has become sort of an avenging assassin. However, as he becomes a freshman in high school, he meets Taira Futamura, a very cheerful student who may change his life.
A lot of manga series I’ve read had these mini-chapters that were sort of similar to what a pilot episode for a TV series would be like when trying to pitch it to a company. It basically introduces the audience to the series, what the running plot and themes will be, the characters themselves, and what the tone will be. That’s what this story is and honestly, it’s just okay. Having read a lot of manga, I’ve seen much better issues thank this before.
The pacing and flow is decent enough, even if its a bit quick. The setup is a bit interesting along with the backstory for Todo, though the characters are a bit lacking in personality in general outside of happy-go-lucky guy and dark-and-depressed guy. The drama and comedy elements are forgettable, and the ending really raises an eyebrow. I mean, Shuri just tried to kill your dad, but you are still going to hang around him and your dad didn’t even bother to call the cops? There’s something here for an interesting dark comedy, but it needed a lot more work done honestly.
It’s hard to pin down the time (seems to be feudal Japan with a touch of steampunk tech), but the story centers on two odd individuals: Sasuke, a very energetic but stupid teenager, and Usakichi, a rabbit (who looks like a Digimon at times with his costume on) who has all the brains. The two of them take jobs as guards for an old bunny woman who needs help protecting her giant tomato fields for this jerky, humungous bodyguard. It should be a simple job, but life is never that simple…
In comparison to the previous story, this one feels much stronger for a pilot. The pacing is much better and there’s some actually potentially interesting world-building going on to help flesh things out a bit more. There’s not much to the characters, but they feel a tad more realized. The villains and conflict are very generic, but if this was a first issue to a series, they would be serviceable as an introductory foe to show what our leads are like. The only problem with this story is that it is pretty corny and cheesy at points, making it rather hard to take seriously during the more dramatic moments.
A Warrior Born of the Red Earth; USABOY!!!; and A Guide to Princess Clothing
I’m lumping all three of these stories together, since they are very short and they are the only stories with color in them. ‘A Warrior Born of the Red Earth’ basically tells the quick life story of a Native American warrior. ‘USABOY!!!’ is about the child of a superhero couple home alone. ‘A Guide to Princess Clothing’ is a one page gag story about a princess annoyed with having to change clothing.
There’s really not a whole lot to say about these stories. They feel more like experiments with coloring for Kato than anything else, just being sort of there. I will say though that coloring is rather nice and appealing looking, so there’s that.
Highway of Life, Stray Star
An extortionist and thug is having a bit of a problem when his latest shakedown goes a bit too far. What will he do now, especially when he has a little girl to think of? What’s the solution?
A pretty basic and simple story overall. It’s extremely quick and glosses over a lot of details, especially with the lead turning his life around. There’s something here that could make an interesting story, but it’s confined by how short it is. At least the father-daughter relationship seemed interesting and had some genuine moments.
A castaway (school student seemingly) finds himself slowly sinking into depth of the vast ocean. All seems lost when a mysterious creature shows up and saves him. This is a very vague and unclear story. It almost seems like a prologue to a bigger story. Again, there’s really not much to say about it. However, it does have some of the most memorable and striking imagery in the book, especially with the layout and creature design.
Master and I
A guy living alone is getting ready for the New Year with a bowl of rice. After taking a quick nap, he wakes up to discover that the bowl has come to life and is now called Chawan. Chawan can grant him any wish he desires and the guy uses it for all its worth. Yeah, problems do occur.
It’s your standard ‘be careful what you wish for’ tale that starts off with the person enjoying everything he gets and then life spirals out of control until he has nothing left. No real twists here to be honest, outside of the ending, which makes everything turn out to be just a dream. Not much in the way of morals, little characterization, and extremely quick pacing here. Just not a lot to write home about.
A Maiden’s Prayer
A young girl lives in a village in a frozen wasteland all alone after everyone died. After a while, she grew lonely and depressed by her life. She then decided to venture out into the wasteland to find somewhere else to live.
It’s an interesting tale, almost feeling like some sort of old legend in a way. You know, the kind of story people would pass down over the years. There’s no real characterization, the story is very short but to the point, and the ending feels abrupt and is a downer. Noteworthy though is the artwork; it’s much less refined (no inking), with line work scratchier and the shading down with pencils. Honestly, the particular style actually works fairly well with the comic, giving it a nice atmospheric feeling and some nice imagery.
Our story focuses on Yoshio Fujiko (who has the same character model as Yukio Okumura from Blue Exorcist), who is just entering a brand new high school and hoping for a new shot at life. Back in his middle school days, he was constantly teased and harassed for being an overly big fan of astronomy (hence “Astronerd”). He wants to move past it, but this girl he’s crushing on, Tezuka, is a proud astronerd herself. What ever will he do? …also, there are aliens (that look like they are from Sgt. Frog of all things) threatening to destroy the Earth or something.
Of the stories here, this feels like one of the most complete. I mean that in the sense that there is a definite beginning, middle, and ending. There’s a cast and the main character himself has a character arc (a small and sort of done-in-one, but an arc nonetheless). There’s a decent setting, theme, lesson, climax, some good dialogue, and even a bit of humor to this as well. Unlike a lot of stories collected here, this feels like a full experience.
The biggest weak point to this whole thing is the entire sci-fi plotline of Earth’s imminent destruction. It feels unnecessary and overblown, when this could have been a simple tale with no big twists. Because of this whole plotline, it does make the story a bit hard to buy into with how the climax and ending went down. I mean, I don’t mind that the author wanted to throw in some sci-fi elements into this, but I think where she went didn’t really work as well as she thought it would.
The Miyama Uguisu Mansion Incident
At the Miyama Uguisu Mansion lives a young girl name Monaka, soon to be 16 years old. Her terrible uncle and also head of the Miyama Uguisu Flower Arrangement Society (must be one hell of a society) has been watching over her since her parents passed away. Then one day, an exorcist of the Knights of the Blue Cross, a special organization dedicated to taking out and cleansing demons, appears with a search warrant. He’s searching for a demon in the place…
This feels like predecessor to Blue Exorcist without a doubt. There are a lot of similar elements in this story as there are in that series: The Knights of the Blue Cross, demon hunting and exorcism, similiar names and character models (basically that Nameless and the exorcist look like characters from B.E.), fighting demons through the power of swords, and more. You can definitely see the writer really figuring out the kinks and ideas for her future series with this title, and that actually makes it pretty interesting to read.
Also, like with ‘Astronerd’, this feels like it’s a complete story, complete with abeginning, middle, and end all here; along with a lot of good backstory and intriguing plot elements. The pacing is pretty decent, the storytelling and flow are solid, decent dialogue and characterization, and a rather charming ending. Of all the stories in the collection, this is easily my favorite of the bunch and I’m glad the book ended with this.
Hey wait a minute, you look familiar!
Now with the story portion done, let’s discuss the remaining elements of the book. First of course is the artwork. I didn’t really cover it during the story portions unless it was important or stood out a lot. The artwork in the book is very strong and it’s neat seeing the evolution of the Kato’s work over time. The weakest looking is ‘The Rabbit and Me,’ but even then, it’s still not too bad (layouts at the time still needed some work).
The characters are rather nice looking and distinct, even in their facial features. The creature and more supernatural/sci-fi designs are enjoyable and creative at points, especially in the final story. Kato does a great job of depicting atmosphere and mood in her stories when they call for them. The action is bit static in the stories where they have it, but it doesn’t look bad overall. The only weak part with this artwork is that there is often a lot of blank backgrounds (sadly, an all too common problem I’ve seen with manga), so it can look a bit boring in some areas.
Then there are a bunch of other small details to mention about the book. There’s the author’s note in the back (in comic format) where she discusses each story and why she wrote them. It’s rather interesting for a brief insight into her mind and what she was thinking when creating them. There’s also the fact that instead of newspaper print, you got very nice glossy pages (which does look great with the color pages) that are rather nice. Finally, the dimensions of the book are a bit bigger than your usual Viz Media book. It has slightly more width to it, but it’s also longer as well, so it’ll stand out more on your bookshelf.
Time Killers: Short Story Collection by Kazue Kato is an interesting little collection. It’s very interesting in the sense of getting to read a collection of stories from a popular, talented writer before she hit it big. There’s mixture of both good and forgettable tales in here, but nothing particularly terrible either, with some good artwork thrown in. It’s definitely worth a read at least once.
Time Killers is available from Amazon for $12.82. Kazue Kato’s other work, Blue Exorcist, is also available in manga form. That series also has anime for it as well, which is available for quite a bit of money.