What makes a good story? For many people the answer to that question is very simple - enjoyment. For some though, enjoyment is only part of the equation. Originality, innovation, technique, development and visualisation are all integral aspects of the storyteller's art, and even though there are tales that utilise themes, plots and settings that are already prominent in manga and anime (school based romantic comedies for example), the application of these techniques can turn something mundane into something very, very different.
Wakusei no Samidare (or, The Lucifer and The Biscuit Hammer - although a more literal translation of 惑星のさみだれ might be Planet Samidare or Samidare's World), is a strange and slightly demented tale by Mizukami Satoshi that follows the lives of thirteen disparate people who have been brought together to protect the world from the mage Animus and his dreaded Biscuit Hammer. Amongst them are Amamiya Yuuhi, an antisocial college student who wakes up one morning to find a talking lizard in his room, and Samidare Asahina, the "princess" and leader of the Twelve Animal Knights who is the living embodiment of the power that opposes Animus.
There's just one problem though. Unbeknownst to the most of the Animal Knights Asahina wants to destroy the world herself, which is the only reason she fights against Animus, and to make matters worse, Yuuhi secretly agrees to help her.
One of the main problems that some people may have with Wakusei no Samidare (I refuse to call it Hoshi no Samidare), is that the story can, at times, be a little on the convoluted side. In addition to this, there are occasions where the author seems to have a little trouble getting to the point and at times the manga seems to simply ramble on for a few pages. However, those who are willing to overlook these relatively minor gripes will find a rather strange and interesting tale that plays on several well known themes.
The plot is broadly centred around the stereotypical "sentai" format (think Power Rangers et al), with several key differences, the main one being a sense of maturity as the manga moves away from what one would expect as the story develops.There is also a lot of subtext added that is often missing from other sentai tales that may not be readily apparent at first. One example of this is Asahina's use of the name "Lucifer", which signifies her deception of not only the other 11 knights but Animus as well. The irony is that this nomenclature is also applicable to the story itself as while it may look like a "normal" sentai tale and feature the stereotypical princess and knight pairing, it's actually something a little deeper (more on this in a bit).
Wakusei no Samidare is an unusual looking story as Mizukami Satoshi has opted for a look that doesn't really fit with today's manga offerings, and unfortunately this is the main reason why people may not read this series. The characters, for example, may look like individuals, but they all follow the same core design principles and because of this the series is rife with strange body positions and evil grins. That said, the simplistic approach to character design works surprisingly well throughout the series, and makes for some interesting situations and set pieces.
Mizukami has also rendered the backgrounds and settings in a manner that is reflective of the mentality of the series, with much of the scenery following the same simple method as the character design. Surprisingly, this approach actually enhances the characters in a way that, again, may not seem obvious at first, and because of this many scenes have more impact on the reader than one might expect.
My gripes with the artwork though, were the minor ecchi moments as they seemed totally unnecessary, but thankfully those occasions were few and far between.
Now any story that features a host of characters will undoubtedly face some issues when it comes to development, and while Wakusei no Samidare does encounter some of those problems, the majority of gripes one might have are nothing more than nit picking. That's not to say the characters develop in the standard manner though, as Mizukami has clearly tried to be innovative in his approach where they are concerned.
Many readers consider Yuuhi and Asahina to be the two main characters of the story, however this manga is written in a manner that brings not only each of the knights and Asahina herself to the fore, but also focuses on Animus and the "opposing power". There is a fair amount of time spent on Yuuhi as he is the only knight who knows of Asahina's plans, but it quickly becomes clear that he is not the only important character.
One aspect of the writing that I loved was that the other characters are equally as important as the two leads within the bounds of the tale. What do I mean by that? Well, there are several figures who aren't key to the main story but have a lasting impact on the characters and their development. In addition to this the series isn't afraid to leave the main characters out of the picture completely, and there are whole chapters that don't feature one or both of the leads.
Wakusei no Samidare is a very odd manga that features odd characters and situations and wraps them up in what appear to be stereotypes, and I loved every page of it. That's not to say it's perfect, as although I wasn't really bothered by the look of the story, it's understandable how people would be turned off by it.
One thing that does bear mentioning though, is that this tale isn't exactly what it appears to be on the surface. Yes, there are elements from a number of other manga used throughout, but one of the things that the reader needs to understand about Wakusei no Samidare is the importance of the relationship between Yuuhi and Asahina, as it's not as straight forward as it first appears. At first glance it's a typical princess and knight format, and that perception is reinforced by the usage of those titles. In actuality though, the relationship between the two is that of the sorceress and the knight, which is a very different concept, and one that harks back to older folklore and legends from around the world.
This relationship is only one of the less obvious aspects to the story, and while readers may not appreciate the difference at first, it is relevant as it allows for a very different approach to developing the plot, as well as a different understanding of events by the reader. One of the nice touches was that Mizukami made the effort to camouflage these aspects rather than hitting the reader over the head with them.
It's just a shame that so many people judge a manga by how it looks.