Manga-ka: Eiki Eiki
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Released: April 2009
Synopsis: “Welcome to Minami-Kitazawa Station, where the trains run strictly on time, customer service is an important priority, and the staff is entirely made up of super good-looking guys! That’s the environment 18-year-old Asahi Saruta gets dropped in the middle of when he finds himself assigned there. Asahi’s goal is to one day become a train operator like his father, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he’d have to deal with a group of strange co-workers like this. Even though Asahi may have been chosen more for his cuteness-factor than his job skills, can he rise to the challenge, or will the day-to-day mayhem of working in a train station cause him to reevaluate his career path altogether?!”
Cross together one-part pretty boys with two parts transit system and a dash of host club vibes and you have yourself Minami-Kitazawa: a train station where the young men running it aim to please and fangirls are more than happy to indulge in the attention. Customer satisfaction is the name of the game, even if they use some unique tactics to achieve it. Train*Train’s brand of comedy may not be for everyone, but if the plot strikes a chord of curiousity for you, than it’s well worth a read.
With Digital Manga having put out several of Eiki Eiki’s older works before this (notably Dear Myself and its sequel World’s End), I want to make it clear off right off the bat that angsty romance and moping flashbacks isn’t what you’ll find here in Train*Train. While the story remains as character-driven as those before it, it takes a completely different direction, settling comfortably into the role of a comedy full of exaggerated personality traits, wacky hijinks and lots of lighthearted laughs.
The story’s lead character is Asahi Saruta, a young boy with a dream to be a train conductor. After passing the tests required, he’s assigned to his first train station as an attendant to learn more about the system and find where his skills lie. Here he joins a team of interesting characters, to say the least, ranging from an undercover pop-sensation with a subtle personality, to a supposedly ex-thug who hangs with an unsavory afterhours crowd. Holding the seemingly unlikely crew together is a kind, older station master who oversees everything that happens.
Asahi’s new job isn’t the step in his dream direction that he thought it’d be however. If struggling to come to terms with the unorthodox methods the staff uses for both profit and efficiency, to the oddities of their personalities themselves, Asahi is unfortunately not finding anything he’s good at. In fact, to his coworkers’ dismay, it’s quite the opposite. Determined and emotionally charged, Asahi forges forward the best he can despite mishap after mishap and we the readers get to giggle and laugh at nearly every attempt. He’s an adorable little guy that you can’t help but find endearing, not to mention hold a certain level of sympathy for when he’s such a hopeful little worker who doesn’t know he was hired on sheer cuteness-factor.
As a comedy, Train*Train hit all the right notes for me, using a combination of puns and shock factor to leave you stunned and smiling before it throws a plot curve ball that’s so weird it works. A couple chapters dedicated to Asahi’s pet ‘dog’ were just such an example: a little bizarre but enjoyably silly. The exaggerated manner of the characters always proved entertaining, as well as made it really easy to keep all them straight. It’s nice to have a story where the characters stand individually strong enough that you have a pretty good grasp of them all by the end of only a single volume.
The station master in particular was a strong addition to the cast even if seemingly not as important as the others. He acted as a voice of reason to the younger staff and provided some balance to a group of characters that could otherwise burn their entertainment-value out too early if left purely to the story’s devices. I really liked the fatherly role he plays, though even this fact and his age don’t save him entirely from the jokes and occasionally awkward predicaments.
On top of some quality pacing and potentially hilarious events, the artwork in Train*Train is also phenomenal. One of her most recent works, this series really showcases the evolved skill that Eiki Eiki has garnered over the years and reminds me without a doubt why I always leap at the chance to own something she’s done. Those who’ve read any works by Mikiyo Tsuda (also known as Zaiou Taishi) will see the remarkable similarities now between the artists’ styles as they’re both friends and collaborators on a variety of projects. The healthy combination of attractive character designs and chibi-styled drawings make Train*Train as fun to look at as it is to read.
Continuing as a treat for the eyes, Train*Train is another of Digital Manga’s first releases under the Doki Doki imprint and the quality remains a shining feature. The cut size is the same as their 801Media books and sports a stiff, nice quality cover with appealing design work and sharp information placement. The age-warning symbols, DokiDoki logo and other little necessary add-ons I find are really cute and so pleasantly colourful. The outer look of the book overall has a really fun feel to it which is very complimenting to the story inside. The book itself is lightweight, well binded and easy to flip through, all to my satisfaction. A stiff or needlessly heavy book already suffers harshly from first impressions but this book is quite the opposite and feels good in your hands.
Overall and simply put, I really, loved this book. It was cute, amusing and undeniably charming. Frankly it was just a lot of fun, something I don’t find as much as I’d like to when reading titles these days. It’s a comedy with a semi shoujo-styled flair that enjoys the occasional prod at boys’ love fans sensibilities and has me looking forward to volume two with both anticipation and a smile.