Tomo #1: I Was an Eighth-Grade Ninja

Tomo #1: I Was an Eighth-Grade Ninja (2007)
by Zondervan
160 Pages - Black and White [ Action / School Life ]

Creators - Andrew Simmons and Rob Corley
Artist - Ariel Padilla

Publisher summary: Martial arts moves aren't just for practice anymore. Hana, a Japanese orphan, is used to working on her martial-arts skills. After she moves to California to live with her grandfather, the only place she really feels at home is in his martial-arts studio. But all that practice will come in handy when savage creatures from another world attack! In the blink of an eye, Hana realizes she has a lot to learn about herself, her grandfather, and his strange little pet.

Reviewer: UC Pseudonym | Contact | 25 November 2007

Another interesting title from Zondervan is Tomo, a mix of action and school life. Though the “ninja + school” formula made me skeptical, the series has balanced and developed its premises far better than I had imagined.

Overall the art has a simple feel that works well for the story. The style also seems authentic as opposed to an effort to emulate manga art. More than the other titles this one has Japanese elements, but at least they have the reasonable excuse of a Japanese protagonist. Perhaps the Japanese word dropping is a bit excessive, but it adds a bit of authenticity (though… shurikens?). Though the artist shows a good grasp of emotions, most of the combat expressions seem a bit off, which could become more damaging as the plot progresses. I also wish Hana wasn’t drawn almost permanently in blush mode.

However, I do have one issue with the art that is somewhat pervasive. I can’t take the younger characters seriously as eighth graders, instead thinking about them as elementary students (which makes some of the slang jarring). Though at first I thought Hana was merely short due to ethnicity, Brittany and other peers all seem diminutive.

As a whole the flow of events is fairly clear. The fighting is decent but has yet to be truly tested, as this phase of the plot requires relatively little action. It was nice to see Hana completely fail to hit Surgar, however, as there were certainly much easier ways the scene could have been taken.

Our central characters are somewhat well established, with solid characterization for both Hana and her grandfather. As for Lord Ardath… can this be? A Christian series has a compelling villain? On the negative side, Brittany’s friends are fairly one-dimensional and their apparently random racism (in San Francisco?) seems forced in order to create a school conflict. Perhaps their characters will be developed further later, but for now they are a weakness.

Which brings me to my central complaint: Tomo. For the title character, he is surprisingly unnecessary. It is obvious he has a lot to do with the plot (given his true identity) but he is mostly irritating. I think a comic relief animal is a bad idea, even if the animal is actually funny, but perhaps at this point I need to acknowledge this series is written for a younger audience. I remain skeptical as to how humorous they will find his antics and grateful he isn’t as important as many other aspects of the series.

So far the plot is still in its early stages and seems well-managed, if relatively simple. It is nice to see competent villains (especially how the fox soldiers adapt quickly enough to pose as exterminators instead of bumbling around with lame culture-shock jokes) and the story promises interesting future conflicts. The writing is fairly adept and excepting Tomo the humor is generally funny (the “Yelp! Yelp! / Worthless peasant!” panel is my favorite).

Though there is no effort made to hide where the series is going concerning Christianity, it is good that the authors felt no need to drive these aspects in from the start. Hana’s encounter with Christianity feels realistic, though I am curious how this will be developed as the series progresses. Having the Ephesians 6 armor of God as a central theme has been done before, but since this hasn’t been stressed so far I think it might be manageable. One must wonder, however, why the Sword of the Spirit isn’t a katana. I understand Argon Falls is more European-based, but it feels somewhat out of place amid so much eastern weaponry.

Tomo has the potential to be a very enjoyable series, for children or adults, based on how it develops the elements begun in the first volume. For the moment I shall follow the releases with anticipation.

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