Written by Richard Brown
Japanese culture is known for two things: strange, and for cute. For my first manga review, I present a manga which large amount of both. But is it any good? Read on to find out.
The Basic Plot
In the near future, insects have become immune to conventional pesticides. Faced with a rising tide of vermin, Japanese companies rise to the challenge with tiny pest control robots. Cute ones.
What the Hell is that?!
They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s just a proverb warning against judging solely on appearances. A cover is vital to a publications success, it has to catch the eye in order to sell, and it has to be recognisable to its target audience. Compare the different editions of Harry Potter; the versions aimed at kids are bright and colourful, but there are much more serious looking versions which wouldn’t scare off or embarrass adults. This applies to mangas as well, and Hoihoi-San passes this test admirably. Just looking at the cover, featuring a doll-like maid with a brush, a collection of weapons that would suit a gundam, and no discernable expression, you just HAVE to open the book and start flicking though. Not too put too fine a point on it, Hoihoi-San looks crazy awesome, and by and large lives up to that impression.
This manga is a mix of the surreal and the mundane. The little pest control robots are a contradiction, featuring a very cute exterior that conflicts with their rather icky purpose. This is reflected in the artwork, which resists the temptation to sugarcoat everything or lay on the gore, which would have been quite predictable. Kunihiko Tanaka opts for a fairly conventional, down-to-earth art style, which only makes the whole affair funnier. Seeing Hoihoi-San blasting bugs is a consistent giggle, and that’s the basic joke of the series, but definitely not its only one. The phrase “in the year 20XX” gets used so often it becomes a running gag, as does the “rivalry” between different brands. However, and this is crucial, Hoihoi-san is not a character, none of the interceptor dolls are. It’s the human cast that make it funny. There’s a otaku often plays straight man to Hoihoi, and the position of awkward nerd in other instances, often out-smarted by a much more ruthless fan. A pair of executives, one far too passionate about his job, provides a different perspective. The central character though is Kimiko Deba, a cashier that finds interceptor dolls a bit disturbing, who ends up interacting with most of the cast, and ends up having a romantic subplot that’s the nearest thing to an on-going story. The manga is fairly uncomplicated stuff, something to enjoy in bite size pieces, rather than in one go, as there isn’t much in character development or plot to help or hinder the humour.
This is probably the manga’s only real weakness; it’s got the laughs and a clever idea behind it, but little more to it than that. This is probably why Hoihoi-San is a single volume publication; they couldn’t take the idea much further. While there is nothing wrong with being lightweight fluff, (and it’s a weak complaint to make of a comedy,) there is fortunately a layer of subtext to the manga that adds something to repeat readings. While the manga is superficially ludicrous, it’s actually a pretty good satire of Japanese consumerism and otaku culture. When the focus moves way from the little androids, you start to see something very familiar. Hoihoi-San would be the holy grail of marketing in Japan, a highly technical device that performs a vital task, is highly collectable, and has the appeal of both robots and dolls. They would sell like chocolate covered crack, there’s no way around it. Its not quite Genshiken, but it is keenly observed, and achieves multi-level humour.
An interesting and truly unique manga, Hoihoi-san is consistently amusing, but it doesn’t offer much beyond its clever concept. Definitely pick it up if the content appeals, or for the sheer novelty.