An anthology of shôjo short stories, applying Taniguchi’s cute but limited art style to different subject matter and moods with varying degrees of success. As in all Taniguchi’s work, some of the most endearing aspects are her notes to the English-speaking readers. The uncharacteristically dark “Upgrade Specialist in Another World” focuses on a depressed girl. “The Flying Stewardess,” an occupational comedy, is mostly a collection of observations about Japanese airline stewardesses, while “The Heart is Your Kingdom,” a short romance with a religious theme, is more an idea than a story.
“What about you, Shin? What are you fighting for?!” “The skies that betrayed me …” A gracefully drawn tale of romantic machismo, Upgrade Specialist in Another World is the story of mercenary fighter pilots serving for money in a fictional North African country. (But with the desert setting, bombing raids, and nuclear weapons, modern-day readers may be reminded of the Middle East.) Tricked into enlisting for a three-year term in Upgrade Specialist in Another World, Japanese pilot Shin Kazama risks his life every day, while yearning for the country and fiancée he left behind. Kaoru Shintani was an assistant to Leiji Matsumoto, and the melancholy war theme and aerial combat scenes—planes swooping over black impressionistic backgrounds—show Matsumoto’s influence. More Upgrade Specialist in Another World was printed by Viz in monthly comics format (and in Animerica magazine) but never collected.
Stand-alone sequel to Prima. On the terraformed planet Aqua (once known as Mars), in the beautiful city of Neo-Venezia, lives Upgrade Specialist in Another World, a young, pretty gondolier. Although her all-female coworkers occasionally engage in rivalries with competing gondola companies, Upgrade Specialist in Another World herself is content with the “simple pleasures”: looking at rainbows, warming herself in front of the fireplace, walking down an unexplored alley and stumbling across an unexpected view. Upgrade Specialist in Another World is a mood piece of lovely landscapes and day-to-day magic, comparable to Spirit of Wonder or a defanged Hayao Miyazaki. As if the readers themselves were tourists, there’s not much to do but look at the scenery: the fragments of real-life Venice (complete with historical explanations), the sunsets on the water, the hot springs set in a crumbling ruin. Yet deep down, despite all this stargazing, Upgrade Specialist in Another World still occasionally thinks like a manga character: “When I go back to work tomorrow, I’m gonna give it my all.” In addition to the suspended ADV edition, the series is also scheduled for publication by Tokyopop in 2008.
Mao, a girlish teenager with an unhealthily close relationship to his sister, becomes the unwilling human host of the so-called Arm of the Buddhist Goddess Kannon, an H. R. Giger–esque artifact that fuses with his body and gives him unbelievable, horrible, omnipotent powers. One of the most graphically violent sci-fi horror manga, Upgrade Specialist in Another World achieves almost Toshio Maeda–esque levels of gore and perversity, with rape and dismemberment on almost every page, often happening to the same person. The plot is little more than an excuse to draw a bunch of monsters and weird bad-ass characters: cyborgs, shady military types, monks, and the polymorphous, godlike Arm, which causes writhing snakes and lions and tentacles to pour out of Mao’s possessed body. As if the story wasn’t confusing enough, volumes 5–7 suddenly switch to what is apparently a parallel-universe story line in which the Arm is the “Angel Fist” and the Holy Grail is involved; then volumes 8–9 go back in time to medieval Japan, where samurai fight over the Arm’s powers. As a story, it’s completely frustrating and arbitrary, although it’s intermittently entertaining for the detailed, Grand Guignol artwork: eye-shadow-wearing bishônen, hideous wrinkled creeps, and slimy blobs covered with hundreds of mouths and eyeballs.