The Frog Abides: Some Thoughts from Jeff on Sgt. Frog, Vols. 10-12

Warning: This post contains some spoilers, not the least of which is that I'm a tremendous idiot. Also, this post isn't so much a series of reviews as probably really a review of a reviewer and therefore eminently skippable. First, you should probably know about my love for Sgt. Frog, a love that I caught from John Jakala off the Interweb a few years back. Jakala had included Sgt. Frog in a list of books he was currently enjoying and, considering nearly every other book he was reading was one of my favorites, I figured I should try out Mine Yoshizaki's comedy manga about a cute frog-like alien invader living in a house with two kids.

Second, you should also know that I read Sgt. Frog. Vols. 1-10 at a pretty decent clip, maybe one every other week for the first nine volumes, then the tenth volume was published just as I finished the ninth, and then I had to wait until volume 11 was published a few months later. (I have no idea if this was the rate at which Tokyopop had always published them, or if they had cranked them out at the height of Sgt. Frog's popularity and they were now putting them out less frequently now that his popularity wanted). I waited too long, in fact--I was cued into the existence of Volume 11 by reading notice of the publication of Volume 12. Thanks to the wacky world of book availability, Hibbs was able to get me Vol. 12 almost immediately after it came out, but it took another three weeks to get Vol. 11.

Finally, I must confess an act of spectacular idiocy; I believed something I read on the Internet, and applied it indiscriminately. In this case, it was something I read a few years back as the manga wave was really beginning to hit, that someone (Dirk in his first incarnation of Jounalista, maybe?) had excerpted from a message board. There, someone explained the reason why they liked manga was that the stories came closer to resembling actual stories--characters grew and changed, and the stories actually ended. Thinking back on it, I'm sure now that the person was probably writing that in some manga, the characters grew and changed, and their stories actually ended. But stupid me, I more or less applied that as a blanket statement to manga overall.

And why shouldn't I? Akira ended. Lone Wolf & Cub ended. And the first Tokypop manga wave book I read, Love Hina, ended--even if it did so about four volumes later than it shoud have, it still ended.

So, with most of my biases and idiocies apparent, my hope is that the foolishness with which I greated the final story of Volume 10, Sgt. Frog, titled "The Last Battle: Keroro Platoon's 24 Hours," will be more readily understood. I really thought I was reading the last Sgt. Frog story.

I mean, it made sense at the time. After half an entire volume of wacky frog-related hijinks, in which ghosts were encountered, and soccer matches were mocked, and teen girls were caught half-undressed, came a story where another troop of frog invaders attack Earth, but with far greater success than anything attempted by the Sargeant and his troop (the manga had done a pretty good job of adding new members of the troop, and their human mascots over time, so that by volume ten, you had five frogs and five human mascots). At the end of volume 10, Sgt. Frog's troop has been conquered, the utterly inept Sargeant has been replaced with a frighteningly efficient clone, and Fuyuki and Natsumi, the two kids who've adopted the Sargeant, have failed in their plans to save the Earth.

So, yeah. I know it was kinda dumb, but I assumed that Volume 11 would be the final volume of Sgt. Frog and that would be the end of things. Which, now that I think of it, is probably why I was so reluctant to actually read Volume 11 and was more than willing to not think about it: I didn't want the fun to end. And when Volume 12 was announced, I was utterly baffled--the Last Battle of Keroro's Platoon stretched across two and a half volumes? It seemed kinda crazy, but I was willing to believe it.

Cut to, I dunno, the end of January, when I finally get volume 11 in hand. I pick it up--and I'm completely lost. I mean, I roughly remembered what had happened, and I recognized who was who and what was what, but I was completely and utterly baffled by my lack of emotional connection to the material. Against my will, my very first thought was "What the hell is this crap?"

This is another thing I've noticed about manga, by the way: since most of it is published weekly in manga magazines and then collected in volumes, it's pretty effortless to read continuously as one volume flows easily into the next. And when you've got a bunch of volumes all out on the market, it's absurdly easy to just suck on the teat of continuous material until you're sated or it's exhausted. (Which is why bookstores in malls have to deal with kids lying around on the floors like a bunch of pubescent opium smokers, and why a lot of us adults see those kids and have to suppress a long twitching shudder of disgust--I mean, sure, we were lazy when we were kids, but these children seem to have somehow regressed, and are sprawled on the floor like overgrown, baggy-panted infants. And it's just Ewwwww, if you know what I mean.) But if you get off the teat for a bit, it takes a little bit of effort to get back into the swing of things.

Consequently, I figured I should put down Volume 11, pick up Volume 10, and get my emotional investment in the narrative momentum going again. But it took me a long time to pick up Volume 10, and it was with a great reluctance, maybe a few pages before bed each night, and I pretty much figured, one way or another, my love affair with Sgt. Frog was over. Considering I was about twenty-eight years over their intended demographic, it probably was a bit overdue.

And yet, by the time Volume 12 finished. I was ready for more--in fact, I'm re-reading stories before bed and looking forward to Volume 13, even if it seems unlikely I'll still have the passion when the book's finally released in June of 2007.

What changed? Well, first, when Keroro Platoon's Last Stand wrapped up in the first 38 pages of Vollume 11 and nothing had changed, I was tremendously frustrated that what had appeared to be the natural conclusion for the series had been used up and tossed aside. Indeed, it seemed to me that a story in the same volume, where the Bandai model-loving Sgt. Frog creates a fully-armed miniature of himself and launches it on the household told the story behind the story--Bandai, which owns and publishes Sgt. Frog, had gone beyond making the Sargeant a loveable Bandai model obsessed marketer and was keeping the character around because he'd become a popular Bandai model himself.

(And so you can again understand my bias--between the time I'd read Volume 10 and purchased Volume 11, I'd purchased and built my own Sgt. Frog bandai model so it's hardly surprising this would occur to me. Also, I've always been prone to reading odd subtexts into Sgt. Frog--to me, its central conceit of a group of invaders from a warrior-based culture being tamed by cute kids, chores, creature comforts, and cute teen girls in their underwear, is a very clever commentary on Japan's cultural transition after World War II.)

I think the trick is, the more nonsensical and trivial a Sgt. Frog story is, the more I end up liking it, and vols. 11 and 12 are filled with such dashed off bits of charm. (Volume 12 has a story about jumping rope, for crying out loud, as well as a story about bathing. Oh, and watermelon.) Although the new characters are still proliferating, as one would expect from any franchise that has the future to think of, and the annihilation of at least one possible story conclusion renders the series one step closer to being Garfield, I advise fans of silly fun to check out Sgt. Frog. Even though this series is trying to sell you something, and you can lose your taste for the material if you go without it, you don't have to be as big a dumbass as myself to enjoy the goofiness. I give Vol. 11 a high OK, and Vol. 12 a high Good--would that all of the U.S.'s cartoons disguised as evil toy shills be half as good as this.