If you are ever in Norway, then visiting Outland is simply a must. It’s a franchise of shops specialized in pop-culture, with massive stores in several of Norway’s larger cities. I have been in the one in Trondheim several times and the sheer size of this place dwarfs any comparable store in The Netherlands. Turns out that Outland is now also a publishing label, which among other books now also has its own manga anthology: Rakkan.
Purists may feel itchy about me calling a Norwegian book by Norwegian authors a manga, but that’s what Rakkan self-identifies as. Still, it’s true that manga has very specific cultural ties and sensibilities. I was curious how Rakkan would adapt these and what kind of stories a “Norwegian manga” would tell.
Right off the bat, Rakkan caused me a lot of confusion. The book is initially printed in Western style, so you read from left to right. However, it then switches midway through, so you have turn the book around and start back on the other end, this time from right to left. I didn’t read much of the between-chapter texts, so I actually missed the prompt to switch over. I was then left very confused as to why every story started in medias res before delving into a convoluted flashback sequence. Oops.
Despite that initial setback, I eventually made sense of what I was reading. This first volume contains the pilot chapters for various different series, which bundled together aim for diversity rather than identity. There are shounen fantasy series, sci-fi adventures, supernatural shoujo, even a few character-driven drama stories. The cover art is even from the story Aurora, which is most comparable to a josei manga.
It turns Rakkan into more of a showcase for what Norwegian mangaka can do, but it also means that not every story will be appealing to you.
I will say that every story does have a strong elevator pitch to it. I was particularly interested in Last Day, which is a sci-fi story about a young couple that goes on a space vacation, only to be told that earth’s sun is dying out and their stay will thus be permanent. It’s strangely upbeat considering the apocalyptic subject and this first chapter got me interested in where it would go from there.
But is it manga? That’s difficult to answer.
I feel that it’s unfair to judge such a small, local effort by the standards of traditional manga. These creators simply don’t have the resources and experience within the medium to produce manga on par with what you’d find shounen jump. With that said, I felt that Rakkan fell short in quite a few ways.
Each story has its own artstyle, which attempt to mimic manga to varying degrees. Aurora just flat-out doesn’t even try. It both looks and reads like a traditional, Western comic; barring the reading order of the panels and text. I felt that it was really good, but it is a strange inclusion for a manga anthology and even stranger considering it’s on the volume 1 cover.
Mantikorens Kongerike, Reisen til det Magiske Fjellet, and Last Day also feel like comics, but do incorporate some stylistic elements from manga, mostly in regards to eyes and comedy bits. They resemble manga on a surface level, but can’t quite nail the underlying feel of the medium. In particular, it was annoying to often see characters with entirely different design-styles side-by-side. You get characters with big anime eyes sharing panels with other characters that don’t look anime-like at all.
I Morgen is probably the best attempt at capturing the feel of manga and is also just super interesting to begin with. It takes the NEET stereotype and uses it to tell a contemporary story about a student who struggles to stay involved with school amid the corona crisis.
Another issue is that none of the stories feature anything approaching action. There was some to be found in volume 0, but volume 1 is all talk and comedy. This puts even more focus on the artstyle, which in turn makes issues like the simplistic (or absent) backgrounds stand out even more.
Volume 1 gave me mixed feelings, but I am optimistic that Rakkan could evolve into something very interesting. With time and experience, the art is likely to improve and the mangaka will hopefully find a style that works for them. Volume 2 is already out at the time of writing, this time with Last Day on the cover. And hey, I liked that story well enough to at least pick up the next chapter.
Those interested can also read volume 0 for free online.