Manga has really started taking off in the UK, and it is a testament to it's burgeoning popularity that this series is hitting the shelves here.
Sgt. Frog focuses on the Hinata family - fan of the unexplained and all round occult nut Fuyuki, his fiery and athletic older sister Natsumi and their sexy but scary mother Aki - who stumble upon the frog-like alien invader Sgt Keroro hiding out in their house. After coming into contact with humans Keroro's scouting mission is compromised and the hidden invasion fleet retreats, leaving him stranded on Earth, and at the mercy of those he wished to conquer. However, Fuyuki - thrilled that aliens do actually exist - just wants to be his friend and he soon finds himself living in a kind of captivity with the Hinatas, unable to go outside in case anyone sees him and forced into a life of domestic servitude in return for living with them. Keroro still harbours dreams of conquering the world, but will need to find the rest of his scattered recon unit first and avoid the ever suspicious and violent Natsumi. Things aren't going to be easy for any of them though, not only does the sergeant's arrival lead to more supernatural and otherworldly occurrences than Fuyuki could dream of, but there is also the small matter of the addictiveness of Gundam models, people with split personalities and the end of the world at the hands of the lord of terror to contend with...
Amongst manga available in the UK Sgt. Frog is pretty unique in that it is written for an audience of anime and manga fans. It revels in fandom, dropping in numerous references to popular franchises ranging from Neon Genesis Evangelion through to Parappa The Rapper, poking fun at itself and the medium as a whole whenever it can. The whole volume is rammed with pop-culture references and visual gags, and the fact that invasion is soon forgotten when the good sergeant discovers the wonders of Gundam model kits is also sure to raise smiles! Sgt Frog is a fan's story written for fans, and in many ways will be a bit lightweight for newcomers. There isn't really a great deal of plot development, or much depth to the characters, but in fairness this isn't the point.
Sgt. Frog vol 1 is great fun, and that is all it tries to be. It's fast paced, light-hearted and highly enjoyable with a great individual art style which succeeds in being both clear and distinctive. The chapter-long stories are throwaway and sometimes clichéd, but nonetheless entertaining with plenty of laughs to be had. At the moment the no-nonsense Natsumi steals the show, but even the really predictable characters - such as the rich girl with the split-personality Momoka Nishizawa - add something to proceedings. The situations, which includes the obligatory trip to the beach, make for some great comedy, mainly due to the author's superb sense of comic timing and love of slapstick.
It is true that people new to manga won't get as much out of it as existing fans, but the artwork is superb and it is great fun to read. Sgt Frog vol 1 lacks depth and, to an extent, originality, but is nonetheless a great light read with plenty of amusing situations and a great eye for slapstick comedy. If you are an old-guard manga fan you will find plenty to like here, and if you are not this book is still enjoyable, but as you read more manga you will discover new parodies that will breathe fresh life into it. Great fun, and one of the best manga comedies currently available in the UK.
As well as the nice metallic effect cover, Sgt. Frog vol 1 is one of the relatively few manga books to retain the colour pages at the start, with the first four pages in colour and the following eight using shades of green alongside the black & white art. As well as this there are the usual adverts at the end of the book, a preview of volume 2 and some fun 'sergeant sightings' along with descriptions and drawings of the sergeant and an interview with him! Great stuff.