Toto! The Wonderful Adventure
By Yuko Osada
Rated T, ages 13+
Del Rey, $10.95
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that Toto! is based on The Wizard of Oz. It’s more like Yuko Osada tossed a copy of that venerable classic into a blender with a recent issue of Shonen Jump, then had the results interpreted by Martians. Which is to say, this is a likeable action manga that makes a lot of references to Dorothy and scarecrows and such but will never be mistaken for L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece.
Our hero is Kakashi (the name means “scarecrow”), an orphan who feels stifled by his life on a small island and longs to see the world. His dreams are fed by the diary left behind by his explorer father, but all his attempts to escape fail ignominiously—until he stows away on a giant airship that just happens to touch down briefly on his island. Kakashi hides out in the hold, where he finds and quickly befriends a puppy that seems to have escaped its carrier. Unbeknownst to him, however, the airship has just been hijacked by the Man Chicken Gang, the kind of gangsters you find only in manga—they’re smart, goofy, and kind-hearted enough to lower the altitude of the zeppelin before throwing the passengers out. The gangsters are less than thrilled when they get to the hold and find Kakashi and the puppy. They try to toss both of them off the ship, but Kakashi persuades them to keep him on as a galley slave.
This is one of those manga where the reader is a bit ahead of the characters in realizing a key point, in this case the fact that Toto is no ordinary dog. Despite their meticulous planning, the Man Chicken Gang are completely unaware of this, and therefore they are caught unawares when the military launches a missile attack on the airship. Everyone parachutes out—well, almost everyone—and Kakashi ends up in the middle of a cornfield, where he and his still-unnamed puppy encounter a girl named Dorothy. I won’t ruin the joke by giving any more details, but suffice it to say that by the end of the volume, Dorothy, Kakashi, and the puppy—now named Toto—have hijacked a motorbike and headed out toward a city called Emerald, with the military in hot pursuit.
Besides the Wizard of Oz twists, what puts Toto! ahead of other action manga is the quality of the artwork. Osada has a nice touch with the action sequences, often using unusual angles to heighten the sense of motion, and all the characters, even the minor ones, are unique and interesting.
The Del Rey folks do their usual good job on production values, justifying the $10.95 price tag with a brightly printed cover, sharp printing inside, translator’s notes, and a preview of volume 2. My only quibble is that it would have been helpful to know from the beginning that Kakashi’s name is Japanese for “scarecrow.”