The Webcomic Overlook #217: Banzai Girl
There’s a great Patrick Stewart bit on Extras that’s become something of a major internet meme. Ricky Gervais plays a struggling actor, and he’s snuck into Mr. Stewart’s trailer. Mr. Stewart is game, and he starts giving Gervais some advice. He recalls his time working on the X-Men movie as telepath Professor Charles Xavier. He says it helps to envision what you would do with those powers in real life.
“I’m walking along,” Patrick Stewart says, “I see this beautiful girl and I’d like to see her naked. So all her clothes fall off. And she’s scrambling around to get ‘em back on again, but even before she can get her knickers back on, I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen it all.”
The Extras version of Patrick Stewart sounds like the guy who would’ve written Banzai Girl. Surprisingly, it’s not. It’s actually Filipina writer, artist, and model Jinky Coronado.
Keenspot’s “About” page describes Jinko Coronado as “a 12-time beauty contest winner…a two-time parade queen…an FHM lingerie and bikini model…a pop recording artist…an international traveler….illustrator of a best-selling graphic novel series (Meg Cabot’s Avalon High)…and one of the hottest female writer/artists in the history of the comic book biz!” She seems, though, to primarily model for the covers of her own comic. Sometimes she’s shown reading a book while lounging in a tiny schoolgirl skirt. Sometimes she’s being menaced by a tentacle monster. It’s actually rather entrepreneurial of her, I think. Why compete with those rail think ladies for the cover of Vogue when you can score the cover of something that you can publish yourself? And, for the record, I don’t think that Ms. Coronado is that bad of an artist. Now, while it’s not uncommon for models to actually appear in the pages of a comic book, I think it’s pretty rare when the comic book artist is also a model. (Though I suspect that Alan Moore may have posed on a runway or two.)
Banzai Girl made its debut in print in 2002. From what I can tell, the Keenspot version is basically just a reprint of those earlier comics, so I don’t know if this is technically a webcomic or not. Ms. Coronado, though, calls it a webcomic on her personal site, so we’ll go with that ‘cuz THAT’S HOW I ROLL. Besides, we tend to cut the Foglios some slack, and they pretty much did the same thing with Girl Genius.
The star of Banzai Girl is a young
Japanese Filipina schoolgirl named … uh … Jinky. Hmmm… what a ka-winky-dink! Well, at least the character sidestepped any criticism of being a Mary Sue because, rather than being a stand-in, the character actually is the creator.
Jinky (the comic character) has dreams. Not just dreams of being model. But dreams of being a princess from a far off fairy tale kingdom. Whose … clothes fall off. This isn’t her only dream. Sometimes she falls asleep in class, and she’s a futuristic resistance fighter! Whose … clothes fall off. As Patrick Stewart would say, “Make it so, Number One.”
Jinky fares a little better in the real world. However this … ahem … exposes one of the biggest mysteries of this comic. Where in the world are the safety pins? I ask because buttons seem to be incredibly flimsy. There’s a scene where she saves a kid from getting run over by a car. She holds the kid against her chest, where her shirt has, for some reason, burst wide open, exposing her bosoms. The child looks at Jinky’s chest wistfully, perhaps imagining the good old days before his teeth had grown in an a meal was readily available under thin layers of cloth. A reasonable application of safety pins in the chest area would’ve easily avoided such a wardrobe malfunction.
Another curious aspect of Jinky’s world is the mysterious fabric that the skirts are made of. I imagine that they’re made from the same stuff those slap-wrist bracelets are. Any slight movement sends the hem fluttering upwards, exposing her pink panties. They look like the cheap kind; you know, where you can get 30 for a $5 pack? Clearly Jinky is a fan of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” song: “Victoria’s Secret/That’s reealll nice/But I can get the same damn thing/off Wal-Mart’s shelf half price.”
Look, I know it sounds like I’m the “King of the Perverts.” I assure you I am not! I am “Prince of Perverts” at most. You may be tut-tutting me over posting so many upskirt images in this review, but trust me: there’s no way to go two pages in this comic without encountering one. This is a panty comic disguising itself as an action comic. Now I got no problem with cheesecake — I gave the primarily cheesecake-y Spinnerette and Wonder Momo positive reviews. But there’s something really skeevy about a comic where the characters are constantly flashing their unmentionables while in action or getting forced into humiliating poses.
The other thing that those other webcomics had going for them? Something other than cheesecake. You know, characters. Plot. A tone. Anything. Banzai Girl, on the other hand, is nothing but cheesecake. Sure, there’s some of that stuff about Jinky having dreams and fighting off monsters with Liefeldian guns. All of that, though, is completely secondary; a thinly disguised device to get from one panty shot to the next. Now, while I’m sure most male heterosexual nerds, including myself, don’t mind looking at pictures of attractive women, we do also generally don’t like it when we’re obviously being pandered to. (From the standpoint of sex, anyway. Violence, classic characters, and excessive belt buckles and pouches are another thing.) Other wise, Supergirl with her short skirt and bare midriff would’ve easily been the best selling comic for years on end.
Supposedly, the comic draws from local culture, as detailed in Wikipedia: “BANZAI GIRL uses Filipino urban legends as the source of their conflict, including a sinister Snakeman beneath a shopping mall and the menacing Manananggal, a revolting, horrifying vampire that splits apart at the waist.” So, I got a question for Filipino readers out there: is “Banzai” an acceptible term now? Granted, I emigrated from the country when I was six, but I do remember my Grandpa fighting on Mt. Samat and subsequently being forced on the Bataan Death March. I mean, I understand bygones being bygones, but I imagine direct reminders of the Japanese occupation, especially one context of a military battle cry, would go over as well as a Jewish superhero who decided to call himself “Blitzkreig Boy.” I guess it would work in ironic indie fare … which Banzai Girl isn’t.
Incidentally, one of the characters also suggests “Kamikaze Girl.” “You know, like risking death to do something important,” she says. That’s a tad misinformed. It was actually certain suicide and a last ditch attempt to hold on to an Empire that Japan had occupied with utmost brutality… lands which included China and … oh, right, the Philippines.
Of course, maybe Banzai Girl really is an accurate reflection of the current Filipino national identity. Last time I was there, anime was pretty much everywhere. Thus, while the comic pays lip service to local culture, it mirrors Japanese culture everywhere else. The sexy Japanese school girl outfits. Idol competitions. Tentacle monsters. There’s even a character named Rommel, who is pervazoid number one and wouldn’t look out of place in a Japanese anime. Like, there’s a moment where he learns the girls are going to try on some swimsuits and he slobbers at the prospect. And I’m thinking, “Wait. These girls are wearing fetish gear pretty much full time in the Banzai-verse. Why would this get his libido running as opposed to what he sees every single day?” (And yes, the characters do look ten times more modest in swim gear. What are they, friggin’ nuns?)
So thematically Banzai Girl is similar to manga — you know, if it were stripped of most of the good stuff, like sympathetic protagonists, zen-like pacing, and originality. The artistic style, though, is quite different. Ms. Coronado’s artwork is reminiscent of the style generally adopted by Image Comics. It’s all exaggerated poses that emphasize the lady lumps. Now I understand this style was pioneered by Jim Lee, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, so there is a bit of an Asian influence there. I more or less associate this style as an American style, though, as the folks from American publishers generally followed his lead. While there’s nothing wrong with it stylistically, it is a little jarring to see girls in school uniforms rendered in a style that was clearly meant to sexualize. Manga’s general doe-eyed designs seem more appropriate for the character’s ages; Ms. Coronado’s style makes them look more like grownups in cosplay.
I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It makes things both more and less creepier, if you know what I’m saying.
So, as you might guess, I’m not a big fan of Banzai Girl. Incidentally, there is a comic within a comic called Katie’s World. It’s fairly innocuous, a Sunday newspaper-type strip that stars a little girl. However, these do feel kinda creepy when placed side by side with the shameless fanservice of Banzai Girl. The audience reading a comic about a girl who regularly flashes her panties in the same one reading a comic about a much younger girl who’s surrounded by cute stuffed animals.
Don’t think about it too hard.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
P.S. Incidentally, the site is very sloppily designed. Most of the buttons in the header give you a “404 Not Found” page. Keenspot levels of quality there, people.