From the stack: Train + Train Vol. 2

April 21, 2007

Before I got the chance to review the first volume of Train + Train (Go! Comi), Katherine Dacey-Tsuei said pretty much everything I had planned to say, but better:

“On the plus side, the series boasts action-movie pacing and a rogue’s gallery of characters that includes a nun with a bright future in the WWE, a dead ringer for Disney’s Beast, and a badass heroine with a bottomless appetite. On the down side, the art is unremarkable; the character designs are as forgettable as the sparsely sketched settings, and the action sequences fall flat.”

The second volume is an improvement on the first, in the sense that the strong elements are reinforced while the weak ones at least don’t experience a decline.

Writer Hideyuki Kurata shares illuminating bits background on tough, adventuresome runaway Arena Pendleton. I often find that a creator’s urge to explain a character’s more belligerent aspects has the tendency to minimize them. That’s not the case here; Arena’s still endearingly take-no-prisoners in her approach, and having a better sense of how she came by her disposition actually functions to make it more appealing.

Subplot development takes some steady steps forward, which is welcome. Members of the supporting cast get some additional roundness, and Reiichi (Arena’s unwilling traveling companion) begins to display the rudiments of a spine.

Art by Tomomasa Takuma is still resolutely competent, though. I don’t quite understand how a story about an allegedly white-knuckle world tour can look so drab. The first destination on the Special Train’s educational odyssey is pitched as a sci-fi Las Vegas, but visual interest is confined to a few fairly generic establishing shots, followed by page after page of nearly nonexistent backgrounds. The story all but begs for gonzo illustrations, but Takuma’s approach is too restrained by half.

But I do like Arena a lot, and the rest of the Special Train gang is growing on me at a satisfying rate. I sincerely hope Takuma demonstrates more artistic energy in the future. As it is, I’d be tempted to just read the novel that inspired the manga and fill in the pictures with my imagination.

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