Manga Review: Mameshiba on the Loose!

Mameshiba on the Loose! is a fun adventure comic that is goofy enough for kids but smart enough to make adults smile as well.

Mameshiba are cute little rounded creatures with the facial features of cartoon dogs, no limbs to speak of, and a propensity for spouting random bits of trivia. ("Mameshiba" is a made-up Japanese word that combines "mame," or "bean," with "shiba," a type of dog.) They first appeared in short television cartoons devised by the Japanese ad agency Dentsu to fill unsold slots, but they sort of took on a life of their own and became popular with viewers. Still, the cartoons are very short and very minimal.

In Mameshiba on the Loose!, writer James Turner and artist Jorge Monlongo have done an incredible job of endowing these little bean-dogs with real personalities, while staying true to the basic concept. Starting with minimal character descriptions (the three peas are always together; Edamame is adventurous and loves to travel; Lentil is smart and geeky), the creators bring a whole world of beans to life and kick up the silliness by several notches.

In the first story, the three peas are water skiing and diving in formation in the kitchen sink when one of them accidentally goes down the drain. The other beans follow him into the sewers, and the story that ensues involves mutant sewer chickens, emergency unicycles, and underground, pea-worshiping carrots. In the second story, the beans head out to outer space and end up at a lemonade stand on Mars. Turner and Monlongo carry off these extremely silly stories with impeccably warped logic that makes them seem natural rather than contrived. The stories are done in an American comic-book style, in full color, and the art is very dynamic—the beans are always sailing across the page, heading away from one peril and toward the next.

The book also includes a few one-page shorts, drawn by Gemma Correll, that are more in the spirit of the original, very simple and more WTF? than laugh-out-loud funny.

The dialogue in these stories is funny and well timed, and Monlongo does an outstanding job of endowing the beans with personality using just a few simple lines. I'll admit I didn't have very high expectations for this (Mameshiba are the creation of an ad agency, after all), but Turner and Monlongo have made a complex—and very funny—story out of a few simple ingredients. Mameshiba on the Loose! is a great comic for kids and kids-at-heart alike.

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