Buy This Book: Akira Toriyama’s ‘Jaco The Galactic Patrolman’ Is Delightful, Weird, And Finite
I've never really been into Dragon Ball. I mean, look, yes, there was that brief period in high school where I was getting my one and only P.E. credit by taking a table-tennis class, and a friend of mine and I would kick off our shoes in the gym and claim that we had been using them to train in ten times Earth's gravity, but that was more down to being a couple of teenage goofballs than any particular love of the source material. I've seen the show, but I never bought a club shirt with Goku on it or anything, you know?
Even so, I was pretty curious about Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, a new manga from Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. The only thing that was really holding me back was finding out that even though it was a self-contained story in one volume, it's tied into Dragon Ball, set in the same universe and serving as something of a prequel. I wasn't sure if I'd jump on, but then former CA contributor David Brothers offered to send me five bucks to cover the cost of the first volume if I didn't like it. It turns out that was a pretty safe bet, but I'm guessing he knew going in that it had a scene where a tiny spaceman punches out a monster shark.
Suffice to say that I won't be getting the five bucks.
I did, however, get a pretty fun reading experience out of the whole deal. The most interesting thing about Jaco for me was how finite it is. I realize that this is a pretty ridiculous thing to say for someone who has read hundreds of issues of Batman and whose most recent manga purchase was getting into One Piece, which just released its 76th volume, but the biggest barrier for me to jump on manga is just how much of it there can be. Individual series -- like, say, Dragon Ball -- can run for hundreds and hundreds of chapters, and that's a pretty daunting commitment, even if you're someone who literally just sits around reading comic books all day.
Jaco, on the other hand, has something of the opposite problem. It ends up tying into Dragon Ball towards the end and wrapping up neatly as a fun little one-volume action-comedy, but it really feels like there ought to be more. Jaco himself is a pretty fun character, particularly with the way that Toriyama seems to be tapping into the inherent comedy of a four-foot tall version of Ultraman.
It's not just a matter of that potential though, although there's plenty there to work with. Even for someone who's never read a page of Dragon Ball in his life, the world that Toriyama creates here is instantly engaging and intriguing. It's the kind of thing where I want to see more of it, if only to find out why there are people just cold walking around a modern capital city with broadswords dressed like Vikings. I guess the obvious response to that is that if I want to know more about this particular setting, I could just read the 500 chapters of Dragon Ball that take place there, but the other half of the charm is experiencing it through these particular characters -- some of whom are introduced with full-on character profile pages, only to appear for two or three panels over the course of the series, making me wish that there was more to go around.
Jaco himself is, of course, the focal point, a vain but relatively well-meaning space cop who prides himself on being a member of the super-elite Galactic Patrol, but whose enthusiasm for his mission to Earth is mostly built around the fact that he's been authorized to wipe out the entire human race to prevent whatever alien catastrophe is about to befall them.
The cast is rounded out by Omori, a scientist who lives on a remote island trying to build a time machine whose home is being foreclosed on by semi-evil government agents and a young lady named Tights -- again, even I saw how that one was going to end up -- who is working as a double for a pop star scheduled to be shot into space to promote her single. Which, incidentally, is one of the most amazing bits of songwriting I've ever seen in comics:
I'm not even going to lie: I would buy that single, if only to find out whether the barfing noise was autotuned.
If that seems like a bunch of disparate ideas mashed up into one big comedy, I can assure you that it reads like one, too -- but in the best way possible. Despite the shark-punching, Toriyama's skill here isn't necessarily in character work or action. Instead, it's all about comedic timing, building these weird situations that easily lend themselves to gags, and then threading a string of logic through them all so that it all holds together and makes sense.
That might not be news to some of you out there -- I've heard that the original Dragon Ball manga is actually full of solid laughs -- but to me, it was refreshing to see the gags work so well throughout this weird adventure of trying to repair Jaco's crashed spaceship, save Omori's home and keep Tights from being blown up by a rocket with a 60% chance of making it to orbit. The only problem, such as it is, is that it all ties up a little too neatly, with Jaco returning to the Galactic Patrol at the end.
I'm pretty sure this is just the superhero fan in me who's used to long-running stories that take years to never actually get anywhere, but Jaco's fun enough that it almost feels like it deserves to be more than just a side story that leads into someone else's narrative, even if that "someone else" is one of the most successful manga of all time. But regardless of that, it's still exactly the kind of comic that I like, full of fun action and genuinely great comedy.
Plus, it's available digitally for like six bucks for almost 250 pages of comics, and that's well worth it.