Johnny Hiro vol. 1 Half Asian, All Hiro tells the story of Johnny, a busboy, and his girlfriend living somewhere in New York. Simple, right? But it’s much more than that. This story has surprising depth and philosophical meanderings about life. Johnny’s life with his girlfriend, Mayumi, is constantly being interrupted by odd and supernatural events which Johnny has to overcome after which he often comes to a realization about his life.
Written and drawn by Fred Choa, Johnny Hiro tells a done in one story every issue but it has story elements that continue from one chapter to the next. In the first story a giant lizard monster, à la Godzilla, breaks into the Asian couple’s bedroom and kidnaps Mayumi, the daughter of Ami Murakami a member of the Super A-OK Robot team who defeated the monster when it attacked Japan in 1978. As it can be expected, it’s up to Johnny to rescue his girlfriend but in the end she’s really the one that saves the day with her savvy New Yorker knowhow. It’s a pretty dense first story but Chao keeps it breezy. During all this giant lizard chasing action, Chao also establishes the relationship between Johnny and Mayumi, adds an appearance from Mayor Bloomberg, makes a metatextual comment on the ridiculousness of living in a New York in which superhero catastrophes happen on a daily basis such as in the Marvel Universe and sets up one of the main plot elements that pops up in nearly all the following chapters.
Fred Chao does an excellent job with his characterizations. Johnny feels a bit lost and confused. He’s searching for something, he’s trying his best to work towards making a better life for Mayumi and himself. Mayumi is absolutely charming. She’s very capable and even though she has her own thoughts regarding her future with Johnny, she’s there to support Johnny throughout all his challenges.
The book is sweetly funny. There are no lough out loud moment but there was a lot quiet laughter and little smirks on my part while reading the book. The whole comic had a comforting feel to it. Perhaps it’s because I relate to what Johnny and Mayumi are going through.
Johnny Hiro reminds me of Scott Pilgrim and to a lesser extent Sharknife. Johnny Hiro is more down to earth than the other two but not because of the contents of the plot (see above) but because of the tone. More than anything, Johnny is trying to be responsible and seems to almost force himself to mature whereas Scott Pilgrim is a young adult being forced to mature. The similarities with Sharknife has more to do with rival restaurants then it does with the plot and themes of Johnny Hiro but there is still something I can’t put my finger on that links the two in my mind. It's important that I point out I'm a very big fan of all three series and that I'm not comparing them in order to rank them, simply to point out some of the similarities and differences.
Chao’s art separates his book from the other two. IT doesn’t have the same manga influences in both the story telling, the bouncing line work and the heavy inks. He uses thin lines which gives his drawings has a light and airy quality to the art. He doesn’t use many lines. It’s very clear and Chao seems to have a desire to use as few lines as possible but in a way to keeps the art simple but without using a minimalist style. The best way I can describe it is that he’s precise with the lines that puts on the page. For a seemingly simple style, there is a surprising fluidity to the character’s movements. This fluidity and kineticism is aided by Chao’s inventive use of panels during certain scenes bet it introducing Mayumi to their new apartment or running around in back alleys of the Lower East Side while being chased by cooks from a rival restaurant.
Johnny Hiro is about doing what is right, it's about working hard so that you can give the people you love what they want the most. As a hero, Johnny is selfless. All the samurais, giant fish, prize lobsters, rival restaurants, back alley and rooftop chases just happens to be a colourful way to portray everyday tasks that shape a young man into a young, responsible but still fun, adult. In short, Johnny Hiro is about life and growing up and you should give it a read.