Half a year ago, a giant spiderweb appeared across the sky. For a while, it got a lot of media attention. Eventually, when nothing seemed to be happening, people carried on with their normal lives, ignoring the spiderweb. Amedome Tsutsuji lives his daily life under the spiderweb. At school, people have nicknamed him "Ninja," since it's so easy not to notice he's there. Even automatic doors won't acknowledge his presence by opening for him. But he can see what others can't: aliens are coming down from the spiderweb, taking humans bodies as hosts, and eating people.
For that reason, he uses his ninja-like ability to carefully guard his crush, Mizuno, as she goes home from school. In other words, he stalks her, but with the best of intentions. He's determined to be there to protect her when the spider-aliens attack. To that end, he teams up with another, friendlier alien named Tsuda, who gives him a powerful weapon: a faucet. Will Tsutsuji be able to protect Mizuno from the parasitic spider-aliens with his trusty faucet?
After contributing another unfavorable review to Chimoguri Ringo to Kingyobachi Otoko by the same author, I feel obliged to note that this work by him is much better. I am (cautiously) enthusiastic about Vanilla Spider.
My caution stems from the fact that the translation for this manga has just started. Yeah, I know. One of these days people from MAL will track me down and hit with something heavy on the head for reviewing early. I hope I’ll get Darwin award for it, I sorta like awards.
Thus it’s understandable that the overarching plot of Vanilla Spider hasn’t become visible yet, though the available three chapters
all were self-contained little stories, so maybe it will be episodic, and what is there undeniably shows potential. While having a premise almost as crazy as that of Chimoguri Ringo to Kingyobachi Otoko, Vanilla Spider remedies a lot of problems which that work had, like having a much more palatable name, or, most importantly, being genuinely engaging. So how has it managed this feat?
Firstly, Vanilla Spider presents a pleasant cast with decent chemistry between them.
The protagonist is both easy to empathize with and interesting enough to want to follow, yet not overpowered. At some times, he is surprisingly adequate: enjoys adventure, is not stupidly bright-eyed, likes his nickname “ninja”, as anyone would. At other times, you think that maybe he really inherits ninja genes, not only is he hard to see for other people, he is also a bit out there mentally. I don’t wat to spoil, so I’ll give only one example – at some point he seriously and earnestly considers to bug his crush “for her own good” with three listening devices. Stealth in this manga is tied with teen anxiety, as it often is, but it also has been made empowering, and I seriously can’t predict which side of it is “real” or more important, the author masterfully keeps up the thematic intrigue.
The main character dynamic is close to that of Mob Psycho. The protagonist gets a mentor who offers him wisdoms in return for, probably, using him for his own unclear goals. Only this time the mentor is potentially dangerous – an alien, masquerading as a human.
The only problem with the cast is that the love of our main character doesn’t come off as a living person, but I am able to overlook it, since the protagonist idolizes her and doesn’t see her straight himself – it may be reflective of his point of view.
Secondly, Vanilla Spider has a world with clear-set rules, and one that easily draws you in, because it’s darker, more dangerous. Aliens really eat people, and with a giant spiderweb covering the sky the city itself looks and feels alien. As it often happens in stories with stealth, we get to see the darker side of city life – run-down streets, waste grounds, shady hide-outs. A strong vein of sarcasm pulses underneath: nobody in their world seems to mind the death threat, which literally hangs above their heads.
There’s certain playful strangeness to the world too, with a flying saucer looking like an actual teacup on a saucer, a mighty weapon being a faucet, and a giant girl just randomly existing in a normal school.
The fights, if I can call them that, are just plot devices, it’s useless to read this manga for the sake of battle choreography, but personally I can forgive this for my love of stealth and for other unique things Vanilla Spider offers.
I like the writing. As I’ve mentioned above, this manga is self-aware and somewhat cynical. For all the surrealism, there’re real stakes and real painful lessons for the main characters to learn – he won’t and can’t become a conventional superhero. Some corners are cut, well, a lot of corners are cut, but the story looks like it won’t dissolve under the pressure of its own quirks.
On the other hand, I started to doubt the drawing ability of Youichi Abe. I understand it’s stylization, but still… There’re his usual cutesy oversimplified characters, though they are on the darker urban style, there’re monsters that remind of grotesque kid toys, there’s the detailed grimy world of backgrounds, but that fox … I still hope that its paws were meant as moefication, because paws don’t work that way, it was painful to look at. Thankfully, the character designs are pretty nice, and I’ve noticed attempts at more imaginative panels, reflecting inner thoughts of the characters.
In short, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen so far.
The concept is crystallized, what remains to be seen is how it will develop. Can this manga fall apart? Of course. But if you’re not troubled by unfinished stories it’s worth to read the available chapters or add this series to your watch list.
I look forward to seeing what the alien mentor wants, what the main character turns into and what the bad aliens will do, when they find out someone hunts them. I am also extremely curious about what vanilla has to do with all of this. In the end I simply want to see more of Vanilla Spider. I hope the translation will go on, and many other readers will discover this peculiar and fun work.