For many years, there has been a divide between manga and Western comics, especially when it came to fanbases. This is mostly due to poor translations of Japanese media, if they even had them at all. A market waiting to be explored was left rotting due to a language barrier. Then came the internet, and with it, an explosion of manga and anime popularity followed. At every convention, there’s plenty of Batmen, Wonder Women, and Spider-men. Now there’s also Deku’s, Sakura’s, and Luffy’s showing their pride on the show floor.
This merging of East & West is on full display in the second volume of Greg Pak’s & Takeshi Miyazawa’s, all-ages, Mecha series, Mech Cadet Yu. A comic with so much energy, heart, and fun laced into the pages that I couldn’t put it down, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Story so Far
Following right after the climactic battle of the alien insect menace, the Sharg, and the newly formed team of Sky Corps cadets, this volume wastes no time in getting us into the action. Stanford, Park, Olivetti, & Sanchez finally come together to defeat a rampaging group of Sharg, with a little help from their mentor, Skip Tanaka. But the victory comes at a cost and the punishment for disobeying direct orders is clear: Grounding.
The pace only ramps up from there as these four issues pack in a ton of story. Secret training missions with Skip turn Nerf battles in lessons on war. Another Sharg invasion, this time with more personal stakes on the line as they battle inside the Academy without their Mechs. This all concludes with a betrayal of trust, an impromptu journey into space, and coming face-to-face with a Sharg Mothership.
Character is Key
Enjoyment of this comic will ultimately boil down to the characters and, more importantly, their relationships with each other. Standford Yu had to adjust quickly from being the lowest rung on the totem pole to being one of only three Sky Corps cadets to get chosen by a mech. His childlike enthusiasm and passion are refreshing to see. Especially when Stanford could’ve easily been a droll, down on his luck character.
One thing I adore about his character is that he’s always playing to the top of his intelligence, which is an improv term that means to make choices that are honest to your character. Standford doesn’t always make the right choice, but he makes the choice that feels the most honest to his experience and his character. Greg Pak didn’t just make a kid who pilots a mech. He made a character that bonded with a mech based on his character choice. That’s good writing.
There’s plenty of small character moments littered throughout this collection that speaks volumes. Not only about the character themselves but of the relationships that they have built. Whether it’s Standford’s mom, Dolly Yu, becoming a Sergeant in the Janitor Corps to protect her son. Or Park, Standford’s rival, having a crisis of conscience as she learns a dark secret within the Sky Corps. One of my only gripes with the series is that these small moments rarely extend past a select few characters. This is especially the case when talking about Olivetti & Sanchez, the other recruits with Standford & Park. Most of the time they’re regulated to background chatter and so far we have learned next to nothing about them. Which is a shame because I feel like the best parts of the comic are these complicated relationships between the recruits.
Pretty Doesn’t Make Perfect
Comics are at their core a visual medium and Takeshi Miyazawa is proving that he needs to be brought up when you’re talking about complete artistic storytellers. The acting in these drawings are off the charts and that’s not even mentioning how he gives life to mechs. Small gestures in Buddy, Standford’s mech, add personality to what could’ve been a hunk of metal. The design of characters, mechs, and tech continue to be a standout as it skews more mechanical than digital. There’re gears to turn, oil to spill, and faceplates to be screwed on. It gives the mechs a tactile nature to them that makes them different from their contemporaries.
My absolute favorite thing he does is how he renders the Sharg. Gone are the clean lines that define the look of the series. Enter a rough, dirty, & textured aesthetic that truly places these abominations as otherworldly. The fights illustrate this beautifully as every Sharg feels dangerous, even when standing next to a giant robot.
Mech Cadet Yu Vol. 2 is a comic about A Boy and His Robot, but it’s also an all-ages book that doesn’t talk down to the reader’s intelligence. A gripping sci-fi war story that has as much heart as it does set pieces. It’s a brilliant look at how to illustrative humans as real people, giant robots as living beings, and aliens as aliens.
How do we rate it? 5.5 Sodas!