Review: Tao the Little Samurai, vols. 1 and 2
Tao the Little Samurai #1: Pranks and Attacks!
Tao the Little Samurai #2: Ninjas and Knock Outs!
Written by Laurent Richard, illustrated by Nicolas Ryser
Lerner Graphic Universe, 2014
Tao the Little Samurai is your basic mischievous schoolboy story with a martial arts setting. It’s a charming, very well drawn, sort of funny book with a lot of kid appeal—and one big drawback. Let’s deal with that first: Culturally, it’s a mess. Tao and his fellow students Ray, Lee, and Kat, are all going to a dojo to learn to be samurai. They also study origami, pretend to be ninjas, and get run over by sumo wrestlers, so a bunch of Japanese cultural elements are all tossed together rather haphazardly. And then the authors toss in some Chinese elements as well, including an acupuncture gag and a cat named Bruce Lee. Even the kids’ names don’t ring true. Richard and Ryser go to the trouble of mentioning and explaining various elements of martial arts, but they seem to think China and Japan is one big place where everyone is doing stereotypical Asian stuff. It’s also a little sexist, with three boys and one girl as the main characters; the girl is better than the boys at some things but is also awfully concerned about clothes and hair accessories.
On the other hand, hey, it’s a story about a kid samurai, in a modern-day co-ed dojo, so it’s all pretty incongruous to begin with. It seems to be set in some vaguely historical era until the kids bust out the roller blades or the video games. The stories are short, just one or two pages each, although there are a few storylines that crop up more than once, such as Tao’s crush on Kat and the bumbling attempts of the master at a rival dojo to steal the books from Tao’s dojo’s library. Mostly, though, it’s slapstick stories about Tao trying to goof off, playing tricks on his teachers and fellow students, or trying to avoid trouble but failing. The stories are entertaining but only mildly funny; what makes these books so good is the art. It’s sort of halfway between Tintin and the cute manga style known as chibi. The characters have huge heads and simple, rounded features, but Ryser has a nice knack for depicting exaggerated expressions and action sequences, giving his panels the feel of an animated cartoon.
Both volumes have about 50 pages of Tao stories, which the reader can easily dip in and out of, as each page is self-contained, plus some extra material in the back. At the end of the first volume, the artist and writer introduce themselves and explain how a comic is made. It’s witty and well drawn, starting with the device of the writer moving from the comic to the “real” world by going through a doorway. The second volume ends with a mini-lesson on drawing cartoon characters, including Tao. While they aren’t classics for the ages, these little books have a lot going for them with their lively art and engaging characters. Just be aware of the cultural confusion.
Filed under: Reviews
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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