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January 12, 2015

Bento Bako Weekly: Sgt. Frog volume 1

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Written by: Drew
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sgtfrogvol1coverSgt. Frog Volume 1
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Select line)
Story and Art: Mine Yoshizaki

A few years back there was a viral video swimming around on the interwebs that was of me lying on my side on my couch, lazily dancing (yes, while lying down on my side) and singing along with the end credits theme of the Sgt. Frog anime, “Afro Gunso.” Even before that crowning moment, in the mid-otts I was gobbling up volume after volume of the Sgt. Frog manga quicker than Tokyopop could release it, so the Sergeant and I are old friends, and I couldn’t be happier that my old friend is back.

Right at the end of 2014, Viz Media gave some fans a holiday miracle and announced it had license rescued Sgt. Frog for digital release under its Viz Select line, which has already license rescued several other fan favorite manga from Tokyopop, so Viz is keeping up their track record of coolness here. Then on December 30th, dreams came true, and the first volume was digitally released to thrill old fans again and bring in new.

For those who may have missed the title in the mid-otts or never picked up the anime (Funimation got through 80-some episodes of the anime, giving it a pretty awesome comedic dub that’s in a Samurai Pizza Cats spirit), the story centers around a little alien who looks like a frog that we all love: Sgt. Keroro. In 1999 the alien invasion of Earth really did start to happen, although not to the knowledge of humans at first. We meet Fuyuki Hinata, your average 12-year-old, whose hobbies are being obsessed with occult mysteries and avoiding being bullied by his older sister Natsumi. One day while getting ready for school, they make an unexpected discovery – Sgt. Keroro, leader of an alien platoon, is hiding in Fuyuki’s room! This discovery, which is hysterical, but will be spoiler free here, goes from bad to worse for Keroro, as he is captured by the teens, and then notified by his alien leaders that since he has been discovered by humans, they are pulling their invasion plan and ditching all their soldiers on Earth, wishing them the best of luck, of course.

From this point on the story continues to become a lovable gag manga, in the vein of Crayon Shin-chan or Doraemon, where Keroro becomes essentially the house pet/servant for the Hinata family, and is forced to do their chores. Invasion and revenge is always on his mind, but he gets side tracked by numerous distractions, like by other aliens on Earth also trying to invade ,or more importantly the fact he can buy Gundam models (which is far more important, and of course the invasion can be pushed back one more day when it comes to either that or building Char’s Red Comet). We also meet the other lovable members of Keroro’s platoon as the series goes on – Tamama, Giroro, Kululu, and Dororo.

In the first volume are a lot of character set-ups, as well as the groundwork for things that will provide running gags later in the series. Keroro becomes a member of the Hinata household; we meet the schizophrenic rich girl Momoka, who has a crush on Fuyuki, as well as is partnered with Private Tamama of Keroro’s platoon; and finally Lady Moa, the goddess of destruction in teenage female form.

froginteriorpage

Yoshizaki’s writing in this first volume is great, setting the tone and bar that he will expand upon for volumes to come. Each chapter stands alone in its own sitcom-esque flavor, making it accessible to new readers at any point in time. The pacing and introducing of the characters doesn’t feel forced, and the comedic beats are mixed in well, helping both propel and comment on the plot when needed. On the art side, visually Yoshizaki knows what he is doing in terms of layouts, use of tone, and more. The biggest thing fans of the series will notice is he still wasn’t quite use to drawing Keroro in the early chapters, and he looks slightly different when it comes to his head and eyes than he does by the end of the first volume, and later volumes to come.

Viz seems to be literally just doing a digital re-release of the Tokyopop version at this point, the font and translation still looking 100% the same as the printed edition from long ago, and even the title page still saying Tokyopop, although Viz added their own name to the cover. This will have its ups and downs for some, since at the time Tokyopop didn’t do a literal translations and changed some references to such things as Ghostbusters instead of the numerous Japanese ones. This was well-received during its original release here, but the small amount of fans hoping for a more purist version won’t find that here. The other thing in question is if we will still get slightly altered art. Tokyopop didn’t edit too much here during its original run, aside from one infamous panel of topless nudity in the upcoming volume 3, by doing some cropping for the U.S. release, however, which direction Viz chooses to go in will be seen soon enough.

Starting in 1999 in Shonen Ace, Sgt. Frog still runs on and off in Japan until this day, last count putting it at 25 volumes. Here we got 21 of them originally. One can hope with this digital release we not only get digital copies of all 21 previously volumes (some printed editions pretty pricey since they are long out of print), but also that it does well enough that the rest of the volumes that never made it our way will be translated.

Sgt. Frog volume 1 is now available again, this time digitally from Viz Media.

Drew McCabe
drew@comicattack.net

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