written by Akira Toriyama
Cowa! is a manga version of a classic folk tale: A motley crew of misfits goes on a quest to save their village and encounters a series of perils along the way.
Paifu, the main character, is mischievous, impulsive, and irresponsible, but goodhearted as well; he steals a watermelon in the first chapter but gives it to a needy friend. Paifu is half vampire, half were-koala, so whenever he sees a cross, he turns into an enormous raging koala—until he sees something round, which switches him back. His best friend, Jose, is a shape-shifting ghost who reluctantly goes along with Paifu’s schemes, although his tendency to fart when he is nervous often gives the game away. Completing the trio is the comically aggressive Arpon, who challenges everyone to fights and ends up flat on his face every time.
The three little monsters befriend a washed-up former sumo wrestler named Mako Maruyama, a gentle giant with a fearsome reputation: He was billed as the strongest man in the world but left wrestling after he accidentally killed a man. When the monster flu threatens to decimate their town, Paifu tricks Maruyama into taking him and his friends to a far-off mountain to get the medicine they need. The three little monsters start out by fighting over who sits by the window of Maruyama’s pickup truck but end up tangling with gangsters, a giant rubber monster, and a cranky witch.
Toriyama is the creator of the popular Dragonball and Dr. Slump, and he keeps the story moving with plenty of well-drawn fight sequences. It’s strictly cartoon violence, though, with plenty of bruises but no gore. The characters use guns and swords, but they generally turn out to be ineffectual, and the fights are resolved by a combination of quick thinking, drawing on one’s inner resources, and Maruyama’s iron fists.
Indeed, Cowa! has a real sweetness about it despite the bad behavior of some characters. Many of the bad guys, such as the rubber monster and Maruyama himself, end up being pretty nice once you get to know them. When a friend is in danger, even mischievous Paifu rises to the occasion and finds new abilities he never knew he had. Thanks to a general air of irreverence, though, the book never comes across as saccharine.
Toriyama’s art is expressive yet simple. He brings out Paifu’s energy, Jose’s timidity, and Maruyama’s solidity with just a few lines, and he uses enough detail to not set the scene without getting too complex. The first two chapters were originally in color. Viz keeps the first one intact, and it looks pretty good, but they converted the second chapter to black and white, making it dark and muddy. After that, though, the original black-and-white art is light and very readable.
Cowa! is divided into short chapters, each with a satisfying bit of action and plot development, so it is easy to read a small amount and then put it down for a while—definitely a plus for early readers. And the likeable characters and fast-moving story make reading this manga as much fun as watching Saturday morning cartoons.-- Brigid Alverson