By Akira Toriyama
208 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

When Viz published Akira Toriyama’s Sand Land a few years ago, I was excited to see something that post-Dragon Ball coming into English. And while I enjoyed Sand Land, it was merely good, not great. Well, it turns out what I was really hoping for all along was COWA!; sure, I’d never heard of it and I’m still not entirely sure what the title even means, but none the less, this was it.

In the town of Batwing Ridge, most of the inhabitants are monsters: vampires, ghosts, mummies, were-monsters, you name it. For Paifu (a half-vampire, half-were-koala), there’s nothing better than playing with his ghost friend José Rodriguez or spying on former sumo wrestler (and actual human) Mr. Maruyama. Then one day, the Monster Flu hit the town, and without the antidote it looks like all the monsters will die. Can Paifu, José, and Mr. Maruyama get to the Witch of Horned-Owl Mountain in time to save all the monsters of Batwing Ridge?

COWA! is, through and through, a really cute all-ages book. It’s got just about everything you could want; action, adventure, drama, humor, and even a few really touching moments. It’s also expertly set up; COWA! doesn’t begin with the Monster Flu, but with a couple of chapters just showing everyday life in Batwing Ridge, so that you get to know the characters and what their everyday life is like. That way, when characters start getting sick, it actually means something; you know that despite being monsters, these are good creatures, and you want them to succeed. The search for the antidote is a tremendous amount of fun as well, with a lot of really clever bits peppered throughout the book. Even the basic character ideas are fun. Who ever heard of a half-vampire, half-were-koala? It’s incredibly silly but Toriyama is able to both use the humorous aspects of the character as well as make it work on a serious level. And, while it’s an all-ages book, there’s just as much entertainment here for adults as well as children; I made the mistake of reading COWA! in public and I’m sure the people around me were trying to steer clear of the man who kept snickering as he read his book.

Toriyama’s character designs are surprisingly cute in COWA!, from José’s look being a cross between a ghost and an alien, to Arpon’s strange spiked hair and fish-like features. Even background characters like Émile (the big yeti-esque monster) look distinctive and carefully crafted by Toriyama, or details like Paifu and his mother living in a gigantic jack-o-lantern for a house. And of course, after years of drawing Dragon Ball, Toriyama can handle fight scenes like nobody else’s business. Maruyama’s fight against Baroaba is crisp and smooth; the scene where Maruyama is crouching while Baroaba whips his two swords around is beautiful in its elegance and flow, all in a single panel. Reading COWA! makes me want to go back and give Dragon Ball another try, this fight scene is so well-drawn.

It’s funny, while I was really sad to see COWA! come to a conclusion at the end of the book, at the same time I’m thoroughly satisfied. COWA! handles its beginning, middle, and end perfectly, never overstaying its welcome. Don’t get me wrong, if Toriyama announced a sequel to COWA!, I’d run out and buy it in a heartbeat. (All right, I would probably wait for an English translation first, since I can’t read Japanese.) This is a thoroughly fun book, and a good reminder why Toriyama is one of Japan’s biggest manga creators.

Purchase Links:

4 comments to COWA!

  • Ian

    so true.. I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a manga like I have this one. Great characters and pacing, and also made me want to go back to the dragon ball z stuff. Good write-up!

  • […] Manga Recon blog, Erin F. takes a peek at a one-shot all-ages manga, Cowa! Greg McElhatton gives his take as well, at Read About […]

  • Summer

    I absolutely love how you’ve described this petite description on Akira Toriyama’s, Cowa!. Sadly, I can’t agree with you on SandLand, I absolutely adore it! Even if it’s not very rememerable.
    When it comes to video games, art, and all of Akira Toriyama’s work, I tend to think of them as a mother would her children. Nothing is better than the other. You just have to look at them all with a wide perspective thoroughly to where you could enjoy them equally.
    Anyways, excluding what I meant about picking favorites, I find that Maruyama is my main man at the most part. He reminds me so much of Yangus from Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Though he immediately came before him.
    Even Akira Toriyama can make the biggest of people, look much as important as a beautiful sylph, or the next person.
    I think you alot for sharing your facts and perspectives on one of Akira Toriyama’s greatest abridged comic book series! Arigatoo Gozaimasu!!!