Ghost Reaper Girl 001-003 – Manga Review

Synopsis: The latest from the mangaka of Rosario+Vampire! A scrappy girl’s had it with grabby ghosts and fights back! Note: At the creator’s request, this series will read left-to-right. (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow):

Review:

Ghost Reaper Girl makes a number of missteps in the first chapter alone, crafting an introduction that fails to generate excitement for the series’ lead characters or what direction they’ll ultimately head off in. From Chloe lacking a well-defined backstory, to Kai’s Lolicon nature, it’s a free for all elements competing to sink this manga before it can even get off the ground. Let’s Jump In!

One thing I will say in Ghost Reaper Girl’s defense is the pacing. For a first chapter, with over 80 pages, we really move and there’s rarely a dull moment. The story opens with Ghostbusters-esque spirits escaping from an eternal prison and descending upon the world. Right after, we’re marching into the Japanese Entertainment industry to meet Chloe, our eager, hungry for fame 28-year-old heroine. We don’t lingering too long on her botched audition before ghosts are clawing at her, she’s bumping into Kai, and her whole life is being turned upside down. If nothing else is right with this manga, it’s at least got a good pace going for it, probably a clear sign of our author’s built upon experience being in the industry for so long.

The trouble though, is that outside of a solid pace and crisp, detailed art, there’s a lot that’s bound to put audiences off. Let’s start with Chloe herself. Chloe is a fine character in concept. She’s a struggling actress, with a sparse resume as she pushes 30. Still, she doesn’t give up, and she’s not one to participate in the casting couch shenanigans that plague every entertainment industry across the globe (More on that aspect to the story later though.) She’s also a bit of a ditz, can’t have her be too perfect can we? On paper (conceptually) She’s fantastic for a heroine. Doesn’t take guff, and refuses to back down from her dreams or danger for that matter. The trouble though is in the execution, and primarily the way we address her backstory. As it turns out Chloe doesn’t come from a well to do family, or even a modest-middle class one. Rather, Chloe hails from destitution, poverty and homelessness. After fighting to keep herself alive, Chloe clawed her way out of a such a life and now pursues one of stardom. The trouble with this backstory is how undefined it is. While we don’t need to see every moment of suffering and struggle, it would be nice to have one well-defined visualization of her prior life; like her fighting for a simple loaf of bread, or stuck hiding from the rain and cold without a proper roof or jacket. If we had some sequence, just a couple pages or two, to craft this immediately memorable image of how terrible her life was, rather than the scant few frames we do get, it would make Chloe feel more defined as a character.

The best we get is a sequence where Chloe remembers what first set her on the path to stardom, but that feels like a near-miss in terms of explaining her origins. Then there’s the fact of the matter that Chloe actually loses interest in her pursuit of acting quite quickly. By Chapter 3 she’s more hungry for fame, wealth, etc. just in general, without a clear, set goal. But maybe that eagerness for wealth, rather than fame, actually makes more sense. A pursuit of fame and stardom doesn’t sit naturally with the life of destitution that she supposedly crawled out of. Typically, when people escape poverty, their hunger is not for fame, but rather financial security, as they are determined never to repeat that portion of their life. Maybe a pursuit of fame, rather than security makes Chloe unique, but it doesn’t make logical sense, and that can leave Chloe feeling less earnest a character, particularly as she becomes unsure herself of what she really wants. Heck, that’s a problem unto itself. The less defined a character’s goals are, the harder they are to become attached to. If they don’t know what they want, why should we care if they’re struggling to attain it?

Even if Chloe’s ill-defined characterization doesn’t bother you, there’s still the matter of some uncomfortable sexual comedy/antics. First off, Chloe finds herself attacked on the casting couch. Her producer, unannounced to her, becomes possessed by a ghost. What follows is a sequence where the producer attacks Chloe in a way reminiscent of a sexual predator preying on young actresses. It’s actually the Ghost trying to possess her (although every attempt of possession has a sexual/rapey connotation to it). Chloe fights him off and then runs out, cursing out the industry for bringing out the very rage her agent is always complaining about. The problem with this sequence, and really any of the manga’s references to the struggles women face day to day regarding sexual harassment, is how irrelevant it is to the plot. The manga doesn’t concern itself with addressing that topic in a meaningful way, bordering on making any of these instances feel either like comedy in poor taste or exploitative for sensationalists sake.

Keeping in theme with inappropriate sexuality, there’s then the matter of Kai. Chloe isn’t out of the producer’s casting room long before she’s assaulted by Ghosts again. Apparently Chloe has an exceptional genetic makeup, making her perfect as a Spirit Medium. It’s here Kai pops onto the scene, a handsome devil of a man, who as it turns out is a spirit himself. He saves Chloe from the ghosts, while also boldly declaring himself a Lolicon. A Lolicon, for those who don’t know, refers to someone who enjoys generally erotic art of young, often pre-teen girls. While the series doesn’t have Kai get up to any typical Lolicon behavior, that bold declaration takes a certain kind of comedic taste to appreciate.

To be fair with either of these awkward sex gags/elements, both exit the series by Chapter 2. Any talk about a woman’s struggle with sexual assault is absent post Chapter 1, and Kai’s Lolicon nature is all but erased moving forward. Though in some ways that just further begs the question of why any of it was here in the first place.

But their erasure from the series’ ongoing narrative is probably for the best because at its heart, Ghost Reaper Girl is really just your typical fantasy/action manga. A young girl finds herself partnered with a wild fantasy character, Kai in this case, and has her life increasingly turned upside down. Chloe agrees to allow Kai to possess her and help her fend off the ghosts, becoming a permanent fixture in her life, whether she’s thrilled with that notion or not. Even our author’s propensity for harem story-telling begins to shine through as Chapter 2 adds another pretty boy to Chloe’s burgeoning line up of suitors, an Anthropomorphic Cat Spirit that Chloe and Kai save from a horrible curse.

Ghost Reaper Girl faced some serious push back when Chapter 1 first launched, as the author insisted audiences read it in the traditional western format of left to right. Whatever the reasoning for it, I really think that controversy is the least of the series problems. We still need a concrete visualization of Chloe’s childhood and for her to settle on a clear, personal goal for herself. The visualization of her past doesn’t have to be a whole chapter, even just a handful of pages would do, but something that grounds her experience and helps us to understand exactly where she is coming from, and could even help to define what she wants for herself. Then, as long as Kai keeps his Lolicon nature to himself, and we don’t deal with any more difficult topics in a flippant way, Ghost Reaper Girl could right itself enough to keep readers coming back. The trouble though is really how many are willing to give it another go after Chapter 1? The series has a lot of work to do in order to overcome its own first impression.

That’s it for this week! Let me know your own thoughts on Ghost Reaper Girl!

Ghost Reaper Girl is published irregularly in Shonen Jump.

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