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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/07/2005 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Sokora Refugees"

Sokora Refugees
Story: Segamu
Art: Melissa DeJesus
Publisher: TOKYOPOP

Review by Tom Good

When I found out that Sokora Refugees stars Kana, a flat-chested high school girl who goes through a portal in the girls shower room into a magical world where she mysteriously has much larger breasts, I lowered my expectations for it. I figured it would be at best pointless, at worst unbearably juvenile, but I was completely wrong. Actually, this is a very entertaining and impressive first graphic novel by artist Melissa DeJesus and writer Segamu.

This manga works because of the relationships between the characters. In the land of Sokora, the elves Tristan and Tien work through conflicts typical of two brothers, while Salome the sexy raccoon-girl hopes that her feelings for Tristan will lead to something serious. All three fight together as "The Sokora Organized Resistance" against the goblins that hunger for their flesh, as well as other evil creatures. Back on Earth, Kana is a high school girl whose best friends are tough, athletic Tamara and sweet, studious Julie. These two worlds collide when Kana gets drawn through Tien's portal into Sokora, and finds that her body has changed into that of a voluptuous elven sorceress.

From there the story travels back and forth between Earth and Sokora, weaving together the magical and the mundane, action and character development, the sexy and the silly. These elements all balance out nicely, making Sokora Refugees pure fun to read. I expected a scene or two with Kana in the shower -- I did not expect a scene of Kana in the shower with a goblin!

Like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, this manga uses magic and monsters not as an escape from everyday teenage issues, but as a way of exploring them from a different perspective. In her human form, Kana literally cannot keep up with Tamara athletically, nor is she as popular with the boys. She also lacks Julie's academic skills. In her elf body, Kana becomes a sexy bombshell who turns every male head, including Tristan's, but she finds that this is not always an advantage, since it often makes her uncomfortable and self-conscious. With two worlds and two bodies available, the possibilities for character interaction multiply, and the book takes full advantage of this.

The art has a smooth, clean, uncluttered look, with a variety of appealing character designs. DeJesus uses exaggerated facial expressions to good comic effect, in a style reminiscent of many Japanese manga. I really did not stop and think about the art very much during my first reading of this book, and I mean that as a compliment: the art effectively immersed me in the story and got me interested in the characters. This type of art accomplishes a lot while making it all seem easy and natural. A six page bonus section at the end of the book contains annotated character sketches and explains some of the artist's decisions. As a reader, I always appreciate extra material like this.

Sokora Refugees is worthy of a place on any manga fan's reading list. A debut this good is likely the start of a great series.

Replies: 2 comments

Posted by segamu @ 04/12/2005 05:38 AM PST

Actually, I am quite glad you enjoyed the book, Mr. Good, and thrilled that we were able to overcome your intial reaction. Your impression is exactly what we were striving for from day one. Much appreciated.

And to the individual who feels compelled to speak for me above, I'm quite capable of expressing my own thoughts, thanks.

Posted by Segamu @ 04/14/2005 04:10 PM PST

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