S.S. Astro

A wise man once said (with regard to the creation of manga), "a great artist with no writing skills is like a monkey with a machine gun."  Or something along those lines.  And I can think of no manga I've ever read that better exemplifies this notion than S.S. Astro.

Even the most jaded anime/manga fans with any sort of appreciation for the cuter realms of these forms of media will likely be drawn-in by the elegant-yet-oh-so-moé art of S.S. Astro.  From the "hotter than any gym teacher I'VE ever had" front cover to the "SD could stand for Super Detailed in this case" back cover, the artistic content of S.S. Astro gleams with a polish that only natural talent and plenty of experience can achieve.

From the first page of dialog on however, it's all downhill, with nothing but the most well-worn clichés and elements of fan service for content.  A few examples are the requisite lesbian character, the dainty girl who eats like a horse, TWO girls with glasses (not that I'm necessarily complaining about THIS particular inclusion mind you ^_^), romantic encounters being interrupted by clueless obnoxious friends, the object of affection violently rejecting their pursuer even though they secretly really like them, the doujinshi writer imagining yaoi situations, rampant nosebleeds, even a character who wears a kimono/shrine-maiden-type outfit all the time despite the story taking place in a modern urban school setting.  I could go on and on, but suffice to say, just about any anime cliché you can think of rears its carbon-copied head at some point or other throughout this first volume.

And besides the mere clichés, some elements are just a bit too predictable even if they don't necessarily turn up in all that many storylines.  For example - the gym teacher is dumb and irresponsible, but highly powerful/athletic.  Sure, it's logical, but wouldn't it be more interesting if, say... she was actually really smart and sort of clumsy and only became a gym teacher because her mom - who she adores - was one, and her mom's mom before her, and she used her intelligence to devise ways of overcoming her physical deficiencies to excel at sports through a knowledge of physics, geometry, and anatomy? Now THAT would be funny.

But beyond the clichés and predictability of certain elements, the writing is really just shoddy in general.  Perhaps this is one of the few cases of comedy manga I've read where the humor got lost in translation, but in most places, there are few laughs to be found.  I can see where the author is trying for them in a lot of places, but it ends up akin to someone holding up a carrot, pointing at a picture of a rabbit, and then an applause sign flashing.  Like, huh? Humor aside, the writing is haphazard and disjointed.  One problem is that it's a four-panel manga, so that doesn't leave a lot of room for error.  Then, it seems the author can't seem to decide if he/she wants each individual four-panel strip to stand on its own, or build storylines from strip-to-strip.  Sometimes, something will seem to be developing, then just drop off like they forgot where they were going with the story so they just decided to switch to some other gag.  Other times, something will be insinuated, but they never resolve the insinuation.  It's frustrating.

Of course, it's not without its moments, such as the bit with Maki-sensei's "tossing" of people, the expression on Nagumo-sensei's face upon seeing the inside of Maki-sensei's locker, and maybe a couple other scenes here and there.  But these highlights are few and far between, and even the redeeming point of the artwork begins to show weaknesses with no literary support to back it up.  As I began focusing more on the art to bolster my entertainment level as I struggled to wade through the haphazard dialog, I started noticing that most of the frames are filled up by the characters with almost no background imagery to speak of.  This is highly indicative of someone who started off as simply an artist doing character portraits, developed a fan base due to their talent in that area, and was finally encouraged by those fans to do a manga proper.  In this case, I believe if Banno-sensei had worked with a skilled writer, the results would've been much stronger.

As it stands, the result is a very cute series visually, that fails to live up to the cuteness substantially.

p.s. For a cuter, funnier perspective of the lives of teachers, check out PaniPoni Dash!