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Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Manga Review: Off Beat, Vol. 3

I waited nine years to find out how Jen Lee Quick's Off-Beat concludes, and this is it? Thank you to Sparkler Monthly for bringing vol. 3 to reality but I'm left feeling a little too much the way the story ends--feeling a love that will remain forever unrewarded. (Sorry but I'll be discussing some concluding plot elements here.)
When a manga series ends, it's all we're getting, never mind that there may be some attempt to revive it later. Strange how often a beloved manga series concludes with a major dose of disappointment. Any and all glaring plot holes stand out. Nothing's going to get fixed or smoothed over to balance out the lack of logic. We're often left saying "I could've done better myself."  (Sometimes that's how fanfic gets born, to clean up the mess the work's legit creator left.)
What TokyoPop sold us back in 2005 and 2006, with the first two volumes of Off-Beat, was American (original English language, or OEL) schoolboy yaoi.
When Sparkler Monthly revived and concluded the series in 2013, what we ended up with is more a routine Young Adult coming-of-age graphic novel with GLBT overtones. I could handle that--if the ending--which Quick supposedly had seven years to get right--wasn't so logic-defying, most glaringly because of an impossible timeline.
Key episodes in Off-Beat are given exact dates, starting when New York schoolboy Tory first encounters his new teenage neighbor Colin on "Saturday, Sept. 25, 2004," and ending finally on "Friday Dec. 23, 2005." The conclusion simply cannot exist within those dates for several reasons.
Let's shatter Quick's timeline quickly. In vol. 2, on Sat. Dec. 3, 2005, Colin comes to dinner and steals Tory's journal (which Tory conveniently never misses).
That would make next Saturday, Dec. 10, when the boys confront each other about their secrets. Vol. 2 ended with that cliff-hanger of a confrontation, which continues in vol. 3, but by Chap. 16, we sense an eerie foreshadowing that this is no sweet yaoi romance.
Throughout Chap. 16, Tory counts the days Colin mysteriously disappears until he gets to 13 days--that'd be Dec. 23. All's well with that except Chap. 17 begins on Dec. 22, 2005, and it's not a flashback.
Quick had seven years to give us a believable timeline and this is what we got. If we believe Quick's timing, the final two chapters all happen Dec. 22-23, 2005--the finding of Colin's plant on a weekend (impossible), back at school with Mandy's invitation (with "plenty of notice") to her Dec. 23 Christmas party, the preparations to attend Tory's mother's office party on the same date, the last we see of Colin. Yet the panels and dialog give the impression that much more than one day is passing. (BTW what mother just drives off and leaves her son literally running after some neighbor guy when he's got a duty to her?)
On first reading of Chap. 15-16 I suddenly sensed Pearl Jam's "Last Kiss" getting stuck in my subconscious. It was on to something. Without giving too much away, this schoolboy couple's first kiss is their last. The bonus scenes we've been treated to--the boys holding hands in Colin's room, playing with 4th of July sparklers, walking while clutching a bouquet--are part of an alternate universe where the main canon doesn't go.
Disappointment lies not in the bitterness of the ending but the finality of it. Again without giving too much away, my interpretation is that one character is dying (of an "offbeat" heart) and he doesn't want the other to know. The conclusion's clearly a permanent parting, allowing no room for any other possibilities, save for perhaps somehow correcting that impossible timeline.
Quick herself was perhaps troubled by her story's finality. As if giving us a ladder to climb out of the abyss she's dropped us into, she adds a bonus chapter that flashes forward about ten years but does nothing to correct the situation--other than to change this manga's theme song from "Last Kiss" to "Somebody That I Used to Know." A second bonus chapter focusing on one minor character and one new character is equally irrelevant.
While waiting nine years for Off-Beat, vol. 3, I'd built up my own set of expectations and now find them unfulfilled. Colin's medical condition is left unresolved, and so too is Colin's apparently troubled past in South Africa (in vol. 3 we learn he's mixed race, but nothing comes of it) and the Gaia project, probably a state secret, but again, never explained.
I still love Off-Beat but in the way I still love that memory of a long-ago infatuation that never happened and never will. It doesn't even matter how it never happened anymore.


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