When is a one-shot not a one-shot?
Seems a bit of an odd question to ask, right? Well there's a reason why I'm asking, and there's a very simple answer (which I'll tell you in a bit).
Anyway, on with the review...
Jeep and Wagon is a very odd shounen one-shot manga. The story is set in an alternate history, mid 19th century Paris. Clockwork devices and automatons (known as automates in the manga), have been steadily increasing in both power and complexity for many years, and the creators have sometimes used them for unscrupulous purposes. The French government, led by Emperor Louis Napoleon Bonaparte III, has proceeded to imprison any clockwork inventor who is deemed a threat to society - normally without trial.
One day, a giant clockwork robot attacks and conquers Paris, and the Emperor is forced to seek help from an unlikely source...
Since the manga is only 45 pages long, telling you any more would ruin the story, so I'll stop there. The plot is pretty straightforward for the most part, with no real twists or surprises (with one exception later in the story). The humour gives the story a nice, fun atmosphere, however much of the humour could have been scaled back as there is a distinct feeling that the mangaka was trying a bit too hard to make his audience laugh. Given that this is Tashiro Kenji's first complete work, this may be the reason why some things feel unfinished, while others feel too forced.
The artwork is nice on the whole. There are some panels where the work is a little more on the rushed side, however most panels are simply designed, and well detailed and illustrated. Unfortunately this has the effect of giving some of the pages a very "clinical" feel, with no real emotion from the mangaka present in the picture.
The character designs are a bit on the odd side. The sub characters are often generic, with their clothing reflecting a quasi-style of that period. The design for the protagonists on the other hand, makes Jeep Rubyhat look like a displaced cowgirl, and Wagon Rubyhat (Jeep's uncle), look like a reject from Oliver Twist.
Stylistically speaking the whole manga looks like it was made to be easy on the eye, which is a good thing for a budding mangaka to do, but can also backfirewhen taken to extremes as it leaves the finished work with a cold, sanitised feeling.
Since this is a one-shot (supposedly), there are only two "real" characters - Jeep and Wagon Rubyhat. The chemistry between the two isn't bad, however there isn't enough of it, and it feels like the mangaka didn't want to push it too far as the two characters are supposed to be uncle and niece. Overall, the characters have a disticntly unfinished feel to them, just as the whole manga does.
This is a reasonably entertaining read, however the unfinished feeling I've mentioned can sometimes detract from the story. As ten minute reads go, it's not bad at all, however I couldn't get over the feeling that there was supposed to be more to the story.
On the whole though, it's a very good first manga from a new author. It's just unfortunate that the whole point of the story feels more like an attempt to create a new series instead of a true one-shot manga (which you'll see for yourself come the last page).
So when is a one-shot not a one-shot? When it's a pilot for a series, as this may actually be.