Saturday, May 21, 2011
“Bad Girl In Town” – Serenity (manga) – 3/10 Flowers
You can tell the size of your God by looking at the size of your worry list. The longer your list, the smaller your God. ~Author Unknown
Review Status: Incomplete (5 Volumes/10 Volumes)
Licensed: This is not only licensed in America, it’s an OEL.
Art: Doujin-quality. Obviously heavy on the computer graphics and colorization. More like American comics than manga, honestly. Plus, the artists have no fashion sense and have her run around in the most ridiculous/ugly outfits they can think of to try and emphasize how ‘counter-culture’ she is. At least, I’m hoping that’s the case.
Summary: Her name is Serenity Harper and she’s one obnoxious little bundle of attitude, anger, and animosity. Can the care and concern of Derek, Kimberly, and the rest of the Prayer Club break through Serenity’s tough shell- and prove to her that true love does exist? (from the back cover of the first volume)
Review: Having seen this manga being reviewed on a blog I semi-follow, I decided to pick it up. I had read this many years ago and recalled being less than impressed. Were my reactions justified?
As you can see from my score, yes. The plots in the volumes are disjointed from the beginning. It jumps from one scene/plot/idea to another with little to no breathing room. When it does that, it really doesn’t give the stories that are there the time or thought that they need. Some don’t need half a volume, no, but others really need some fleshing-out. Still more, such as the story of the abandoned baby, seemed entirely out-of-place. While they were supposed to show her growing/becoming more mature (I think), it really should have been put later in the manga- if it went in there at all. The fourth/fifth volumes are where the author finally settles down and manages to devote an entire volume to a singular plotline, ones that finally flowed well with each other. Since that is about halfway through the series, I was less than impressed.
But what is a plot without characters? What’s funny, is that for all her shortcomings, Serenity is the one character you can sympathize with the most. She swears, drinks, does drugs, has had premarital sex… and yet is depicted as someone who just has problems that need to be overcome, just like anyone else. More of a product of a mix of things, rather than just being bad through-and-through. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the characters. The Christians come off far worse. They outright tell her she’s going to be their ‘pet project’. Who wouldn’t be flattered by that? It’s not like they’re saying they’re going to be her friends, and yet really don’t care about her friendship or anything. They’re obnoxious, blackmailing her into going to Prayer Club. Thankfully, they do get better as the story goes on, but they still remain rather flat characters due to not getting any development. Even so, I couldn’t get that first volume’s impression out of my mind, and that colored a lot of their actions.
The rest of the school confuses me. A lot. I’m very sure this is supposed to be a smaller town in America, yet the kids in Prayer Club are the only Christian kids around- not exactly an accurate picture of small-town America, where it’s not being Christian that will make you an outcast. Serenity shouldn’t have any issues finding friends outside of Prayer Club, even with her drug use, as a lot of those Christians in small-town America are, indeed, also doing drugs. But again, it’s something that gets her cast out or ignored by the rest of the student population.
The worst bit is how everyone who isn’t Christian is depicted. They’re all rough, crude, mean, somewhat psychotic people. My issue is that they don’t get better- even Serenity’s mom, who goes through a revelation in the third or fourth volume that she hasn’t been a good mom. My major issue with this is that I know people who aren’t Christian. I have friends who aren’t Christian. I have family that isn’t Christian. I was not Christian for most of my life. These depictions anger and frustrate me on a level that I cannot properly convey with the English language. And yet, there are Christians out there who will read this, who know people who aren’t Christian and yet will completely accept these depictions without question, because of how common it is in Christian literature. They will not question it- they will accept it as truth even though logically they know it’s not. Well, I’m not taking it! I’m saying here and now if that you mindlessly accept these stereotypes, then you SHAME me!
To top off this little joyride, the issues that are presented are shallow, and perhaps the biggest reason why I don’t think this would move anyone over the age of 10. Her biggest issue is how to pray. She is a thinking, rebellious teenager- praying is the smallest issue they have! There is no struggle with how a good God can allow evil to be in this world. Why anyone should believe that a guy came back from the dead. The ideas behind the Trinity, even! None of it comes into play. Even with that shallow, silly question, there is no struggle when her prayers are not answered. Serenity continues to pray and talk to God. She’s Christian by the third volume, whether or not she admits it or realizes it. Any denial is merely pretense to drag the story out longer.
Her own personal struggles are just as meaningless, and resolved with the snap of the author’s fingers. This girl has a drug issue- and yet, we never see her doing them, going through withdrawal, and when she’s offered some after a few weeks of going without? Able to turn it down without a problem. Swearing is solved just as easily by the second volume. It’s merely been days, yet she is able to break or change the habit she’s probably had for years. I’m calling it out on being completely unrealistic. All her little struggles and issues are fixed with the same ease.
This manga isn’t without its own little theological issues, though. One of my berserk buttons was hit in the first volume when the pastor says that New Age beliefs were Christian values, watered-down without any higher moral authority. This isn’t true in the least, though going into that is complicated and wouldn’t answer everyone’s questions, I’m sure. Another thing that bothered me a lot was the sidebar into divorce and how it messes up kids. Obviously, Serenity is supposed to be the poster child for this, but I’m very sure that I know children from broken homes that have fewer issues than I do. And then there was the issue with speaking about religion on school ground. Buzz Dixon, our author, shows exactly how familiar he is with this law (not at all), by making it against the rules to even say you’re Christian or be asked a person question by the students about Christianity.
This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its moments. It does. Some of the humor does hit, some of the situations are vaguely amusing. But the outdated slang, the unfunny humor, and the numerous other issues I have described made this a series that I would rather not pick up again.
Overall, all these issues made the series a slow, frustrating read.
Recommended: I would only consider borrowing this from the library for my five-year-old neighbor. Consider it- not necessarily do it. This isn’t worth the time or energy to search out unless that’s who you’re going to be giving it to. Any swearing is done with comic-strip symbols. The sex is alluded to, and she merely says that she’s going to have him (he is shown taking a cold shower- waist-up picture, there). It doesn’t actually happen, though. She does end up wearing some daisy-dukes and one of those tops that ties in back with a string.
Other titles you might enjoy:
High School Debut (manga)
Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight (anime)
Gakuen Alice (anime or manga)
Aria (anime and manga)
Aishiteruze Baby (anime or manga)
Train Man: A Shoujo Manga (manga)