ComicsOne was a distributor of licensed English-language manga whose company went belly-up, with all of their catalogue going to Dr. Master Publications. Unfortunately, much of said catalogue went out of print. Fortunately, the titles still available can be obtained for VERY low prices.
One such title is this fun little three-volume series by Hideki Kakinuma. Junk Force, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/comedy/adventure story with an eerily plausible premise (given the way our technology is advancing, I could see something like this actually happening one day. Hopefully long after I’m dead), follows a single boy, Louis, and his three beautiful female companions: Liza (who is actually the leader), Wooty (a big-busted babe with one hell of a kick) and Mill (the soft-spoken one who can’t cook). In this future version of Earth, water is a treasure more precious than gold, and lead ingots are currency. Liza, Louis, Wooty and Mill, the titular Junk Force, travel this world in their armored trailer looking for scrap to use for parts and stuff to sell to get by.
Things get complicated when, during a visit to a town, Louis gets caught up in a woman’s desperate flight from a bounty hunter. The hunter wants the woman’s daughter, Mamet, a quiet girl with a major secret. Louis only meant to do a little shopping and not embarrass himself in front of Liza and Wooty, but before they know it, the Junk Force find themselves doing whatever they can to keep Mamet from being captured.
The chapters in the excellent second volume present an interesting balance of sorts, as the earlier chapters feature plenty of the series’ trademark comedy and fan service, while the later chapters, which still feature these elements, bring in a much stronger line of dramatic events, making the story much more engaging. The Junk Force meet far more Martians this time around, something that does not bode well. It appears there’s something more sinister going on than our heroes had any reason to suspect.
The earlier comedic chapters, whose gags revolve largely around nudity and gender stereotypes (or lack thereof in a couple of cases), present mostly for-fun plots, ranging from helping a crash survivor whom Wooty actually falls for to a hilarious fight that breaks out as a result of the trailer’s engine overheating, requiring a shut-down of the air conditioner. One of these chapters, in which Liza meets a man with face just like someone important she once lost, features a nice twist I wasn’t expecting and leads into territory Junk Force left largely unexplored in Volume One.
When the focus again turns to Mamet and how she’s a wanted fugitive, Junk Force goes full-throttle and shows that it is just as capable of gripping drama as it is of screwball comedy. The importance of defending members of one’s family comes to the forefront, and any doubt of the Junk Force members’ loyalty to one another is wiped out. Sure, they may harass and fight with one another quite frequently, but when put to the test, their sense of family carries them through. Their encounters with a ruthless unit out to get Mamet leads to a twist that can be seen coming by attentive readers but is brilliant in spite of it.
As our heroes progress ever-closer to their goal, stranger and stranger obstacles stand in their way, including a forest of giants and a castle with a horrifying secret. However, there’s a new face in the mix: a mysterious woman named Illian. She is a Martian who is apparently after the same thing the Junk Force is after, but for what reasons…?
The group’s sense of family is tested again in Volume Three, though this time mainly through an act of carelessness on Mamet’s part, and when Illian shows up good and ready to do her own thing, she is confronted by something she didn’t count on. There also seems to be more than meets the eye between Illian and one of Earth’s defenders that is unfortunately really only implied and not expanded upon. In fact, Illian as a whole is not developed as much as she should be, but she is given enough to be fascinating rather than flat.
The only real fault with the series — mainly the final volume — is the apparent hurry it’s in to wrap things up once it crosses the halfway mark. I don’t know if this was due to the authors being restricted to a certain number of pages, a too-heavy-to-manage workload or something else, but they really should have taken more time building towards the climax and pacing it a little more carefully. What ultimately happens is a combination of intense action, dramatic suspense, and slightly too convenient solutions. Some of the things that occur are almost dismissed as quickly as they’re presented, severely reducing their impact. It doesn’t kill the story, but it certainly hampers its overall effect.
Another minor gripe is the apparent lack of proofreading on ComicOne’s part, since there are a few annoying spelling errors that pop up (“your” instead of “you’re,” for instance) that prove distracting.
Like any good series, Junk Force left me wanting more, and despite its weaknesses, it’s a good series and very worth checking out. The elements of the story and comedy are very familiar and a bit predictable, but they’re still a lot of fun, and the lively writing and great art certainly help. The characters get into some situations with rather interesting problems, and they way they ultimately arrive at their solutions is part of the series’ charm. It’s just too bad this was never adapted as an anime series, considering how perfectly suitable it would be. However, the series has been adapted into a series of light novels, showing that there is still some life left in it. Fans of post-apocalyptic and mecha manga should find this series quite entertaining. I know I did.