Comics and animals are some of my favorite things in the world. Animals that aren’t traditionally considered likable by humans getting drawn cutely? Even better by my tastes. All this is just to say that from a conceptual standpoint, Takuya Okada’s Crocodile Baron sounds like it should be right up my alley. The all-ages humor manga stars Alfardo, the titular crocodile baron, and Rabbit Boy, his young friend who’s exactly what he sounds like. The pair go on all manner of odd adventures both humorous and heartfelt. The series’ final installment, Vol. 3, was recently published by Kodansha Comics. Is it good?
When this manga is good, it’s really good. The most memorable moments are mostly humorous, often involving characters making unexpectedly dramatic statements. A prime example of this is when Alfardo goes to a restaurant and meets a boar who’s eating curry much spicier than he can handle. When the boar says he has a reason for doing so, Alfardo immediately replies “Your wife brought up a divorce?” There’s no prior indication that this would be the case, yet he ends up being right on the money. Sudden tonal shifts like these carry a lot of charm. Okada grabs the reader’s attention by juxtaposing cute animals with serious subject matter before moving into more earnest character development. This usually works quite effectively, making the manga more poignant than it initially looks. The most touching moments mostly concern Alfardo and Rabbit Boy’s friendship, which forms the emotional backbone of the series.
The manga also owes a lot of its success to its artwork. The comedy is heightened by Okada’s visual timing, which results in some of the best panel sequences I’ve seen in recent memory. The previously mentioned curry divorce scene is up there, as is a two-panel sequence in which Alfardo gets surprised. The first panel is just a standard side shot of him with his mouth closed, and the second cuts to him with his big toothy maw open and saying “Gasp!” In addition to the baron’s charming design, most of the supporting characters look great as well. One particular highlight is a peacock with all the expected dramatic plumage. The catch is that she’s female so the feathers aren’t originally hers, leading other characters to ponder how she obtained them. The nature imagery and backgrounds throughout also tend to be quite pleasing to look at, thanks largely to the shading and Okada’s consistently cartoony style.
This volume’s biggest con is simply that its quality wavers a lot, especially in the second half. Alfardo’s brother James is one of the best minor characters, and he makes an appearance early on that’s entertaining. When he shows up again later he seems to have undergone quite the personality shift, but unfortunately we don’t get to see much of what caused it. There are also a fair number of stories that are just forgettable and neither as humorous or as emotionally earnest as others. The cherry blossom festival chapters are instances of this, as is a story about Alfardo and Rabbit Boy finding a mermaid. Okada definitely tries to make these events emotionally resonant, but there isn’t enough build-up for their respective climaxes to fully hit home. Some of the humor in these chapters can also get a bit one-note.
Overall, Crocodile Baron Vol. 3 is a good book. The art shines throughout thanks to both lovely backgrounds and fun, creative character designs. The titular baron is a very likable protagonist, and his friendship with Rabbit Boy is well-written and poignant. There are also a lot of downright hilarious moments throughout, often involving effective use of tonal whiplash. Unfortunately, the volume’s second half includes a lot of stories that just seem weak in comparison to the rest. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a cute and unique all-ages read then I would recommend Crocodile Baron.