Fans of Full Metal Alchemist and Jyuushin Enbu will be familiar with a good chunk of the work produced by mangaka and series creator Arakawa Hiromu. As I've said in another review though, she is also noteworthy for creating some highly original and inventive one-shots.
Stray Dog is the first manga created by her, and was originally released in 1999 in Monthly Shounen Gangan, where it was extremely well received by fans and critics, and was won the 21st Century Shounen Gangan award. The manga has a style and pace that is prevalent in much of her work since and, whilst it may be short, there
are echos of the great things to come within it's pages.
The story follows a mercenary and sometimes robber known as Fultac, a wanted criminal with a bounty of two million on his head. During one of his robberies he comes across a small girl with golden eyes, who is locked in a cage. She is a "military dog", a product of superior magic and chemistry, created to be as intelligent as a human, with the strength of a dog, and absolutely loyal to her master. Fultac decides to become her master, and the story fast forwards to three years later....
And that's all I'll say about the story. Surprisingly, this one-shot is packed with far more than one would expect could be fitted in to 49 pages but, like most of Arakawa's work, she is able to convey the story in extremely simple terms which are often far more effective than pages of text (the phrase "a picture paints a thousand words" is actually rather fitting in the case of this, and quite a few other, manga). The pacing is ideally suited to the length of the story, with nothing feeling too rushed or sudden. Plot-wise, Arakawa has isnerted some nice little twists to keep things interesting and, surprisingly, these twists actually make the actions of Fultac more understandable come the end.
As far as visuals go, the manga shows very clearly that it is an early work by someone who isn't absolutely confident in their ability. The characters have a certain "blocky" look about them, with lots of angular jaws and features. The designs are good on the whole, but are again reflective of the fact that this is her first solo effort as she has chosen the "safe" option with regards to looks, clothing and apparel.
I should point out that this isn't a bad thing though. For a mangaka to be recognised they need to ensure their work appeals to as wide an audience as possible. It's only when they become established that they true style can develop fully. If you compare the art here to FMA for example, this difference is plain to see.
Fultac is actually a pretty decent character on the whole. His attitude and personality are very much that of the anti-hero, however he also has a bit of a soft side to him as well (which he hates showing). The revelations about him later on in the story actually add to his overall persona, and although the manga is short Arakawa has managed to give him some depth and purpose. Unfortunately the same can't be said about the other characters, hower this is simply a reflection of the fact that this is a one-shot with only one real character.
This is a story about Fultac and his ties to the beings known as military dogs, so the other characters, with the mionr exception of Kilka, are pretty much window dressing.
I have to admit that I do like a good one-shot. It's always nice to be able to sit down for 10 minutes and complete an entire story, so it's important that there is something there to get your teeth into. On that front, Stray Dog is definitely better than many other one-shots I've read.
It may be short, and it may only have on real character, but for a first solo work this is about as good as they come. I just hope that Arakawa produces more one-shots in the future, as the ones I've read are all pretty good entertainment.