Kakashi, or “Scarecrow”, is aptly named. He’s a scrawny little tyke with an unruly bush of pale hair, a ragged suit of clothes and a head stuffed full of dreams. One day he’s going to cut loose from his little seaside town and go around the world — fulfill all the fantasies that his father’s adventure diary touched off in him. The only problem is his total lack of a plan. A bicycle-driven propeller screw does not a seagoing vessel make, and Kakashi and his two (increasingly disgruntled) friends find this out the hard way.
Then Kakashi’s luck takes a turn, when a luxury airship — a rare and eye-popping spectacle — puts in to port at their town’s airfield. So desperate is Kakashi to see the world that he risks life and limb to stow away on board the airship in the cargo hold, where he quickly makes friends with another stowaway — a puppy. And in another part of the hold is yet another bunch of stowaways, the “Man Chicken Gang”, hijackers who ransack the passengers at gunpoint and toss them overboard into the ocean. (Well, they did give them life rafts…)
The gang leader, Tequila, a bullet-headed man with a pencil mustache and a perpetual frown, has no room for “kids or dogs” on hisairship. His job is to get their loot and the rest of the gang to his hideout, and that’s that. Kakashi, on the other hand, is willing to risk anything, including life and limb, for this one shot at freedom — and when the airship comes under attack, the dog turns out to be far more valuable to their survival than anyone dreamed. When disaster arises, the dog transforms into a giant wolflike monster and lays the smack down on anyone threatening his people.
Even the dog isn’t enough to keep the airship from breaking up, though, and Kakashi and the rest of the gang are separated — right when the kid was earning Tequila’s respect, too, and maybe even connecting with him emotionally. But Kakashi doesn’t let this get him down: once on the ground, he continues his voyages and picks up anotherco-adventurer of sorts: Dorothy, a cheerful young girl with a whirlwind martial-arts style that leaves Kakashi bug-eyed. She also elects to call the dog “Toto”, against Kakashi’s wishes — and if by this point you’ve missed the Scarecrow+Toto+Dorothy / Wizard of Ozalgebra at work here, then you haven’t been reading very closely.
Kakashi and Dorothy don’t think much of each other, but decide to at least share a ride on a (stolen) motorbike as far as the city of “Emerald” (get it?), and it isn’t long before they’re in trouble all over again. Seems the army has an eye for Toto and his powers, and will do pretty much anything to get their hands on it…and yes, that includes sacrificing little boys and girls if need be.
Toto!’s been aimed at younger teen readers, and the one place that shows through most clearly is in Kakashi’s character. He’s almost all bluster and energy, with what personality he has derived entirely from those traits, so if you find that kind of character grating (the “Proto-Naruto”, as I call it), you’re going to be gritting your teeth a bit. On the other hand, the book seems to understand that someone like Kakashi’s most interesting when other people enter the picture — like the gang boss, or Dorothy, each of whom tease out different parts of Kakashi’s personality. I’m actually reminded of many of the dynamics in One Piece: in many ways, Luffy’s the most predictable character, but his behavior’s also used as a catalyst to make things happen. I’m betting Toto! will unfold like that, too, but I mean that in a good way.
Art: Yuko Osada is both artist and author for this series, and the visual style adopted for the book is actually another good point of comparison with One Piece. This isn’t to say that Osada’s art looks like Eiichiro Oda’s, but some of the same visual ideas can be seen: “fisheye lens”-type exaggerations to widen the scope of a panel, and also slightly gangly, leggy character designs. And given that this story’s about Kakashi’s adventures out in the great unknown, there’s a fair level of attention paid to the backgrounds and environments. My only real gripe is that so far the “steampunk” look of the world isn’t terribly distinctive — it doesn’t have the design flair that something like Kia Asamiya’s Steam Detectives did — but again, maybe that’s something we’ll see refined more in future volumes.
Translation: The other week I ran a poll on AMN to see which manga publishers were held in high regard by our readers, and Del Rey came out way on top. This didn’t come as the slightest surprise to me, really: their translations and localizations have always been top-notch and consistent across all their titles. Toto! has all the same polish and panache: great print quality, right-to-left printing, effects unobtrusively annotated on the page, and a glossary of difficult-to-localize terms in the back. Downside: there’s no bonuses other than a sneak peek at a few untranslated pages from the next volume.
The Bottom Line: Toto!’s nothing if not consistently entertaining — the story snaps along from one outlandish development to the next, with Kakashi’s brazen spirit shining through all that goes on. It’s a good start, but I’m still hoping for the series to really flex its muscles in future volumes.