Review: CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk

51QCECk36RLCSI: Intern at Your Own Risk
Story by Sekou Hamilton
Art by Steven Cummings
Rated T, for Teen, 13+
Tokyopop, $12.99

I’m going to confess up front that I have only watched the CSI TV show a few times, and I didn’t really care for it; the close-up shots of innards always struck me as a bit cheesy. My tastes lean more toward Law and Order, Bones and NCIS, which go a bit lighter on the bodily fluids.

Fortunately, Tokyopop’s CSI manga doesn’t lean much on the TV show. Instead, it’s geared for teen readers with a group of high-school students who get the awesome experience of being interns at the Las Vegas CSI labs, with the characters from the show playing the part of their kindly but distant instructors.

If you haven’t already suspended disbelief, please do so now.

Having had the experience of watching real detectives work on cases (not murders, but robberies and a rape), I know that CSI isn’t very realistic, and this manga is an even worse offender. Standard procedures get violated all over the place, and the timeline is off. The plot here relies on the old “The murderer is one of us!!” routine, but it assumes a person can commit a crime of passion and then revert to everyday life as if nothing ever happened. Even for fiction, that’s a stretch.

As entertainment with a bit of science thrown in, the book doesn’t do too badly. It starts out with the murder itself, of course, and then we shift to the interns’ point of view. The lead character, Kiyomi, is the poor-but-happy daughter of a cab driver. She’s smart, too. The other four interns are the usual types: The geek, the jock, the creepy guy, and the cute guy. The creators do a nice job of introducing them by showing the entrance interviews, including their varying reactions to the question “Are you bothered by the smell of decomposing flesh?”

After passing a rigorous test (in which the instructors let Kiyomi through because she’s a girl, even though she scored lower than the guys) everyone gets to work. In my office, interns get coffee, shred paper, and take the blame when the copier breaks down, but the CSI interns get to attend a real autopsy and walk around the crime scene of an open case. Naturally, they start formulating their own theories of the crime. There are a few logical leaps (i.e., the fact that the criminal cleaned up the crime scene leads indisputably to the fact that he is one of the CSI interns), and the astute reader will have no trouble figuring out who the culprit is before the big reveal. But that’s part of the fun—it’s always nice to outsmart the detective.

Unfortunately, the story reads like a first draft. The characters and their dynamics are all in place, but their interactions are a bit too obvious. A worse flaw is the big chunks of expository dialogue that fill in pieces of the plot or information about crime scene techniques. It’s interesting material, but it could have been presented more gracefully.

As a parent, I question the 13+ rating, given that the opening scenes include shots (including one looking right up the crotch) of a bloody, staring corpse. On the one hand, a lot of 13-year-olds see worse on TV every day, on shows like CSI and Bones and NCIS. On the other hand, the natural audience for a 13+ book is 10- to 12-year-olds, and the content of this story backs that up—the dialogue and art are fairly simple. I would have toned down the corpse scene a bit, knowing that kids tend to read a little ahead of the age ratings.

The art is competent, if not outstanding, and it looks like a lot of Tokyopop’s other global manga titles. Cummings has a nice, clean line and doesn’t overuse toning. The biggest flaw is that the elements of the panel don’t always fit together properly: Sometimes two characters will seem to be out of scale with each other, and the backgrounds always look cavernous. The cover art is pretty nice, though.

The book seems a bit slim for $12.99, but the creators have plenty of room to tell their story—it doesn’t feel rushed. The format is bigger than standard manga, which I feel makes the book a bit easier to read. A few character sketches and a chapter from an upcoming CSI novel are the only extras.

Anyone over 16 will probably find CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk to be too elementary, but this is a decent read for younger teens, with the sort of crime-scene science that some people (myself included) find fascinating. While it could use a bit more polish, it also skips the cheesy camera work and graphic violence of the original, leaving a palatable, if rather earnest, little story.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

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  1. I don’t really have any interest in the manga, but I wanted to share that I, too, am a L&O and NCIS fan ;)