Manga-ka: Akira Toriyama
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: All Ages
Release Date: July 2008
Synopsis: “Paifu, a half-vampire half-were-koala, is always getting into trouble with his best buddy, José the ghost. But when the Monster Flu sweeps through town, the fun and games are over. If the monsters don’t get the medicine soon, everyone will die! With all the adults sick, it’s up to the kids to save the day! Paifu and José are off on a big adventure, but will they get the medicine in time… or will they become victims themselves?!”
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the creator of the ultra-violent Dragon Ball Z can also do cute and funny. What’s really surprising is how well he does it. Cowa! Is basically Yotsuba&! If the kids were monsters, and if that doesn’t sound great than I don’t know what else to tell you.
The story starts out by showing what life is like in Batwing Ridge, a town where humans and monsters live side-by-side. The first couple of chapters introduce Paifu and the haunted-house-like world he lives in. The stories are cute and funny and if the manga had stayed in that episodic vein I wouldn’t have minded.
Eventually a plot does emerge: monster flu is spreading through the town. Someone needs to go to a witch and get medicine before monsters start dying. Paifu volunteers himself and his friend Jose, a ghost, to go. Paifu’s self-appointed rival Arpon also insists on coming. Last but not least, Paifu convinces a scary human named Maruyama to go with them when he lies and says the town will pay him when he returns with the medicine.
From there the manga follows the four on their quest. For the little monsters it’s the first time they’ve left their village and they are amazed by what they see in the human world. There’s a great moment when Paifu and Jose see a neon sign for the first time, keeping their eyes on it until it’s out of sight. It’s little things like that that make me compare it to Yotsuba&!. The manga presents the world as it looks through a child’s eyes, even if in this case the child is a half vampire, half were-koala.
The main adult character is pretty interesting himself. Maruyama used to be a sumo wrestler called ‘The Volcano’ but an unfortunate incident forced him to retire early. As the story progresses he’s shown to be not as scary as he looks, though he’s still plenty dangerous to the foes the group meet along the way. The manga does a really good job with Maruyama’s character development. He doesn’t become a nice guy all at once. It’s a gradual process that’s a direct result of the events on the trip and spending time with Paifu and co.
While I could tell from the cover that the manga was cute, I was pleased with how funny it is too. The jokes are a nice mix of slapstick and jokes that come from the characters interacting. The art is great too, with really interesting character designs. I especially liked Toriyama’s take on classic monsters, giving the old standards like mummies and ghosts his own twist. The human designs are well done as well, if not as eye-catching. Maruyama has a great design in that while he’s a big guy (a villain calls him a ‘mysterious fatso’) it’s still believable to see him fight (and win).
The only point where I felt the art distracted from the story was during a sequence involving a martial artist. He’s just a minor character, but his design looked like something straight out of Dragon Ball Z. That’s not too surprising, seeing as both it and this were done by Akira Toriyama, but it still pulled me out of the manga I was reading as it clashed with the general look of Cowa!.
There are a few fight scenes, all of them very well-done. It helps that they’re short and don’t overstay their welcome. The way the panels are laid out reminds me more of newspaper comic strips than manga. For the most part the panels are tiny squares laid out in neat rows. As the manga goes along the layouts become less rigid, especially during the action scenes.
I have to admit that I am a sucker for anything that uses traditional monsters in a fun way. If Halloween is your favourite holiday (or at least in your top three) then this is worth checking out. Cowa! is a cute and funny all ages manga that is all treat, no trick.