Dinosaur Hour, Vol. 1
written by Hitoshi Shioya
Did you think that Barney and his plush, talking friends were the only kid-friendly coterie of dinosaurs out there? Well, if you did—think again. Children’s manga creator Hitoshi Shioya takes you back to a time that never was, when mighty dinosaurs ruled the planet while having some mighty amusing conversations and conflicts with each other. Each abbreviated chapter of Dinosaur Time! is a short, standalone vignette akin to a sitcom set in the jungle. Short, by the way, means short; there are 23 chapters in the first volume alone. Although the chapters do vary somewhat in quality, most of them involve predator/prey relations—from pack hunting to egg stealing. Since this is a manga for children, baby dinosaurs often steal the eggs and theshow too. All in all, the impression is one of furious, slightly sadistic fun.
Like other titles licensed by Viz Media from Poplar Publishing such as Leave It to Pet! for its VizKids imprint, Dinosaur Time! has a conscious, pedagogical component to its otherwise slapstick entertainment. There is a dizzying array of dinosaurs and long-extinct reptiles featured in the first volume alone, and perennial kiddie favorites such as the T. rex, the triceratops, and the velociraptor make appearances alongside species most nonspecialist adults will not have heard of: the baryonyx and the deinonychus, for example. In fact, each short chapter features multiple, often as many as a half dozen, different species of dinosaur, and the visual aid of the illustrations, coupled with the basic behavioral sketches provided by the story, should help children to retain what the manga has taught them.
The style of artwork is eminently suited to the subject matter. Even though this is a comic, the dinosaurs depicted actually do not, with a couple of notable exceptions to the rule, look particularly comical from an anatomical perspective. Shioya’s bold, improvised lines at times resemble nothing more than a paleontologist’s field notebook sketches. Nevertheless, this series is no stale scientific survey; it is without question a credit to the artist how convincingly he is able to bring all of these different dinosaurs to vivacious, chattering life page after page. There are even some brilliant sight gags; the velociraptor’s feathered appearance alone is worth the price of entry.
However, Dinosaur Time! may also be of interest to manga fans eager to explore the prickly world of Japanese comedy culture. Shioya draws heavily upon the manzai style of stand up comedy and rapid fire banter, and seeing various species of dinosaur pair up with each other in improbable silly conversations is definitely one of the highlights of this series…even when the pacing is a bit too frantic for any but the most attention-impoverished young person. Expect plenty of over-the-top comic violence a la the Loony Tunes, where an herbivore gets chomped on yet somehow manages to bounce back for more. Dinosaurs eating other dinosaurs in this fashion is sure to be unbearably funny when you are five years old, after all. Recommended for children, boys in particular, ages five through nine.