Soul Chaser Betty original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist/Publisher: Brian “BMan” Babendererde
Price: $14.95 US
This graphic novel’s been sitting on My Big Pile of Books for Review(TM) for some time now, and I have to admit that my delay in picking it up and reading it stems mainly from the fact that its creator is clearly inspired by manga concepts and style. I’m not the biggest fan of manga, though there are a few high-quality books that have won me over in the past. Soul Chaser Betty isn’t one of those rare, mind-blowing books, but as I began to read it, I found a capably crafted, solidly presented piece of Amerimanga…. at first. The further one delves into Brian Babendererde’s book, the more it becomes cluttered with formulaic elements. While the creator developed a solid premise, cast of characters and a look that are clearly in keeping with the tastes of the manga niche market and used them as the foundation for this project, his tendency to keep adding and adding and adding to his mythology overburdens the storytelling. At best, Babendererde is guilty of having too many ideas and characters floating around in his head and failing to hold some of them in. At worst, he’s tried to incorporate as many stereotypical genre elements as possible in an effort to come up with a winning, magic combination, not in the name of storytelling but promotional efforts.
There is an eternal war waging on a dreamscape called Nod beyond the real world. On one side of the war is an evil creature known as the Weaver, who’s bent on destroying both Nod and the real world. On the other are seven Soul Chasers, comatose human beings whose souls magically defend Nod and the world in an unending series of battles. As long as there are seven Soul Chasers, the balance between good and evil is maintained and reality as we know it is preserved. But when one of the Soul Chasers dies and is replaced by a naive teenage girl named Betty who’s visiting her grandmother for a summer, that delicate balance is shattered and doom lurks on the horizon.
Babendererde’s art exhibits a fairly typical manga influence. His linework is fairly fluid, and I have to be honest: the flowing Geist Demons are quite attractive while still maintaining a menacing appearance. His backgrounds are lacking at times, but that’s fairly common in many manga books as well; as a result, it may be attributable to influence rather than any real omission on the creator’s part.
Sadly, Soul Chaser Betty suffers from the same symptomatic trait as a lot of well-known manga and anime properties, and that’s an unhealthy decision to sexualize its underage female heroine. Babendererde directs his readers’ attention to Betty’s pubic region, clad only in panties, far too often. The only purpose is to titillate; it adds nothing to the story. It also completely undercuts Betty’s innocence and the cuteness of her crush on one of her fellow Soul Chasers.
Fans of Japanese and other Asian comics will probably like what he has to offer here. He clearly has an appreciation for the cultural leanings and the formulas used to develop and market such books. Of course, that can be as much of a detriment as it can be a strength. With the third chapter, Babendererde starts loading up the book with new characters and concepts — sidekicks/friends; Civil War ghosts; a lesson in history, faith and mythology. These extraneous elements come along at either awkward or all-too convenient moments in the story, and honestly, I found I didn’t care about them. I wanted to get back to the plot and characters that piqued my interest in the first chapter. I also found it odd how Babendererde spent so much time establishing the concept of the seven Soul Chasers and their various powers only to abandon that structure, as well as some of the heroes in the process. 5/10