This week, I take a quick look at two recent arrivals: Sherlock: A Study in Pink, a manga adaptation of the popular BBC series, and We Never Learn, the latest addition to Shonen Jump‘s digital line-up.
The characters in A Study in Pink look and behave like the actors who portrayed them on Sherlock, but lack the distinctive presence of their flesh-and-blood counterparts — an apt metaphor for what’s wrong with this mangafied version of the popular BBC show. Plot-wise, the manga adheres faithfully to Sherlock‘s first episode, recreating Holmes and Watson’s meet-cute, visiting the scene of a puzzling suicide, and showing us how Holmes solves the case. The script transfers the characters’ on-screen dialogue directly to the word balloons, offering a decent approximation of the original program. In following the show so closely, however, the manga never finds its own groove; it reads like a fan’s meticulous recreation of A Study in Pink, rather than an imaginative adaptation of the show from one medium to another. The stiff, light-box artwork, sterile fonts, and portrayal of Holmes as a cheerful — if brilliant — spaz further erode the sense of place and character that were fundamental to the show’s appeal.
The bottom line: Sherlock completists may enjoy A Study in Pink, but other readers will find this comic-book treatment too bland to be interesting on its own terms.
We Never Learn follows a tried-and-true shonen formula: an ordinary joe finds himself at the apex of a love triangle with two pretty girls. The points of this particular triangle are Yuiga, a bright, hard-working student from a poor family; Ogata, a math whiz whose classmates call her “Thumbelina Calculator”; and Furahashi, a budding literary talent whose classmates call her “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest.” (Something tells me those nicknames were funnier in the original Japanese.) In keeping with the dictates of the genre, Ogata and Furahashi are physical and temperamental opposites: Ogata is petite, cold, and disdainful, while Furahashi is lanky, spazzy, and cheerful. Both girls initially appear to be out of Yuiga’s league, as they outperform him in the classroom and outclass him in looks.
The story takes an interesting turn midway through chapter one: Yuiga’s school hires him to tutor Ogata and Furahashi, both of whom are blissfully unaware of their natural strengths. Ogata dreams of enrolling in a prestigious liberal arts school, while Furahashi hopes to attend an engineering college. In trying to help Ogata and Furahashi achieve their goals, Yuiga discovers that his high EQ is a better asset than his book smarts. Yuiga knows how to cope with failure: as we learn in a flashback, he was once a mediocre student who gradually improved through trial and error. Ogata and Furahashi, by contrast, are portrayed as naturally brilliant in their respective fields but lacking the experience or maturity to master their weaker subjects.
Of course, there are plenty of elements you’d expect to see in a shonen rom-com: gratuitous shower and bath scenes, melodramatic proclamations, and a supporting cast of interchangeable classmates, none of whom make much of an impression. The manga’s generous portrayal of its principle characters and its genuine sincerity, however, suggest that We Never Learn has the potential to be sweetly funny without making Yuiga into an insufferable know-it-all or a dweeby doormat.
The bottom line: Try before you buy! The first chapter is available free on the VIZ website; readers wishing to continue the story can do so through the digital version of Shonen Jump.