Unlike the staggeringly beautiful artwork that graces the cover of last month’s Xanadu manga, Popful Mail’s is a little more, um, ‘basic’ and I have to admit that seeing the main cast’s faces composed of 95% shiny eyeball put me off really sitting down with it until just a few days ago (possibly-totally related to me finally finishing the excellent Mega CD version of the game). Thankfully the dubious cover art instantly gives way to some full colour pages featuring illustrations originally used in the Popful Mail Paradise drama CD inserts, as well as a short two-page story on the same premium paper.
There are six self-contained stories inside this 1996 manga, and they all weigh in at around thirty pages each. The first two are classed as ‘Popful Mail’ stories, meaning it’s just Mail plus guest-star-of-the-week, and the final four are ‘Popful Mail Paradise’ tales featuring Mail, Tatto, Gaw and Paradise co-stars Coam and Kachusha – another bounty hunter/magician pairing who act as friendly rivals to the main gang.
Trying to cram so many unconnected stories into a single book wouldn’t turn out so well for most RPG adaptations, but as Popful Mail was already ‘Ninties Fantasy OVA: The RPG’ it all works out just fine – quick-tempered treasure hunter Mail is either chopping things in half or dreaming of money, Tatto’s the reserved sensible one who will always follow Mail wherever she goes (Not that he secretly like likes her or anything, of course…), and Gaw is, well, Gaw – the cute lesser sidekick with the amusing speech pattern who on the whole shows up in the book because that’s what he’s supposed to do. If you’re looking for a retelling of Falcom’s colourful platforming RPG you will not find it here, and neither is it really an attempt to document their adventures after the credit roll in any serious or canonical manner either. But this scattershot method suits the setting just fine, with straightforward characters getting stuck into straightforward adventures that will raise a smile and can be idly read while sitting down with a cup of tea.
Popful Mail reads very much like an old Saturday morning cartoon, with your favourite characters bashing a new evil person and/or monster each episode and no matter what happens it always turns out OK in the end - but never so OK that everything isn’t mysteriously exactly how it was before the story started. Mail may never get that big win, Tatto may never get that kiss, and Gaw may never find a fish big enough to satiate his appetite, but it doesn’t matter one bit. The art and tales inside this book aren’t the sort of thing that will leave you gasping at the author Yuu Aizaki’s talent but there are some eye-catching moments and they do grasp the atmosphere of Falcom’s RPG well without making the mistake of confusing ‘light-hearted’ with ‘gag manga’. This isn’t the most important book you’ll ever read, but it is a very enjoyable one.