Monday, November 3, 2014

Meka: Not your daddy’s Gundam story

Meka: Not your daddy’s Gundam story
by rick olivares

I first saw the graphic novel Meka, as printed by French publisher Delcourt, at Gosh Comics in London. I didn’t pick it up right away because I was perilously close danger to overloading my luggage.

Imagine my relief and happiness when American comic book company, Magnetic Press acquired the rights to re-publish the book across the Atlantic and also for Southeast Asian consumption.

So now, I hold it my hands. And what a gem of an addition to my collection!

The story takes place in a future where civilization is defended by giant, humanoid vehicles known as “Meka.” In reality, it is a grunt story as the two pilots learn of a Meka deal with the consequences of their unquestioning dedication to military duty as their vehicle is incapacitated at the center of a city that has been turned into a war zone.

Meka was originally published in 2003-05 in two parts titled “Inside” and “Outside” by Delcourt before it was compiled into one format. “Inside because the first part takes place inside the Meka while “Outside” finds the protagonists on the ground after their unit is disabled during a battle with alien invaders.

What initially struck me about Meka (there was a browsing copy available) was not the obvious influence by anime and manga, but more because a couple of French creators came up with it. It is always good to see others interpret that kind of style.

And for writer Jean-David Morvan and artist Bengal, it isn’t merely a carbon copy but they manage to put their own stamp on the Japanese art form albeit with a European bent. The Meka robots aren’t of the Gundam-ish sort that influenced every single robot design since 1979 including Marvel Comics’ Armored Avenger, Iron Man, of late. In fact, they aren’t of the sleek sort; they look even more humanoid but are run very much like the Jaegers of Pacific Rim (but way ahead of this Guillermo Del Toro film) with two drivers whose neural control dictates the action.

Morvan’s writing is taut. He keeps his prose to a minimum and allows Bengal’s lovely artwork with its beautiful compositions, perspectives, and colors take center stage. There isn’t enough talking during war and both creators respect that. And thankfully, Bengal doesn’t go overboard on the violence. He leaves the rest to your imagination as these massive Mekas wreak havoc and destruction.

The Meka, thankfully, isn’t that larger than life hero of the story. It’s the two pilots of the downed Meka – Lt. Enrique Llamas and Corporal Ninia Onoo – who are polar opposites in their view of military duty and obligations. On a couple of occasions they are literally at each other’s throats as the arguments dangerous turn to physical altercations. Yet they must rely on each other as they make their way to the dangerous streets of this unnamed city and planet. They have to fight off robots, the city’s angry populace, and later, scavengers, not to mention alien invaders.

Like every good war story whether real life, historical, or even sci-fi, Meka deals with the consequences of war and the choices by soldiers embroiled in them or the civilians caught in the crossfire. And that is what makes Meka a cool read as well as the heir to the Kou Urakis (the young and inexperienced Gundam pilot in the most excellent Stardust Memory) of this world.

But the genius behind it is that Meka is really a war story in a sci-fi/anime-manga setting. And that makes it a fun read.

Now this bande-dessinee classic is released to a larger audience by the impressive Magnetic Press (Zaya and Doomboy are two of my recent purchases from this company). Meka is re-printed in English for the first time with the 96-page tome bound in textured hardcover with curved corners. Meka is priced at $19.99 (about PhP 1,100) and can be ordered through Comic Odyssey.

The original cover to the French edition of MEKA as published by Delcourt.

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