Saturday 30 October 2010

Review: Mo-Bot High by Neill Cameron

Asha’s new school is insane. Everyone has giant robots that launch out of their mobile phones! She’s only been there five minutes when the school bully challenges her to a fight. So now it’s not just about figuring out who’s cool and who isn’t. She has to learn to pilot her Mo-bot. And fast. But while Asha gets to grips with her Mo-bot’s moves and customises her DMC, she’s being watched… Her piloting skills are about to be put to the ultimate test, and there’s nothing her new friends can do to help.

This is a pretty rare thing on The Book Zone - a review for a book where the main character and all the key secondary characters are female, and there is hardly a boy in sight. And yet it is still nothing short of brilliant and a must-read for any graphic novel-loving boys of aged 9+, especially if they love manga and have grown up watching any of a variety of made-for-kids anime on TV. Add to that the fact that this is another release from the brilliant DFC Library and you know you have a quality publication in your hands.

Asha is the new girl at school, having moved with her father from London to small-town-Britain Middleford. She has the same worries that any new student at a school has - will she fit in? Will she make friends? Will she be bullied? But many of these concerns get pushed to the back of her mind within minutes of her first walking through the school gates when she witnesses her first Digital Mobile Combat (DMC) bout, i.e. two big digital robots beating the crud out of each other in the school playground. And these robots come out of any regular mobile phone. A little weird, yes? But not to all the other students at Midford High who just take it all as the norm. Asha, with jaw still almost touching the ground, is then rudely reminded of her earlier concerns as she comes face to face with the school bullies, a group of girls determined to assert their authority over the newbie, but obviously they do this Midford way - by challenging her to a Mo-Bot duel. Asha has to very quickly learn how to control the digital mechanoid that leaps out of her phone, but it very quickly becomes apparent that Asha is something of a natural.

Behind the day-to-day scenes at the school there is something else more sinister seeming going on. The dinner ladies and cleaners are very obviously linked to the software that is sent to the students' phones, and they very quickly have their eye on the new girl, proclaiming her to be "the anomaly they've been preparing for, all this time" .... "the Harbinger". The use of the school's domestic staff as insiders to an as yet unknown plot, whilst the Headteacher runs around trying to sort out the everyday goings on of a typical high school (whilst totally unaware of all the Mo-Bot stuff) is both very clever and also adds a delightful touch of humour to the proceedings (I shall certainly be keeping an closer eye on our school dining room staff in the future).

In this book we find out little more regarding the so-called Harbinger as this is only the first instalment in the Mo-Bot series, and is very much about setting the scene for what is still to come. This worries me a little, as The DFC Library is still in its infancy and there is no guarantee that it will continue so will we see more from Neill Cameron's Mo-Bots in the future? I really do hope so as this is hi-octane stuff and I would love to see where Neil takes the story in the future. That said, even if we never see a continuation of the series this is still a book that sits nicely on my shelf along with my other DFC Library favourites and is well worth buying for the set-up story and the artwork alone.

Yes, the artwork - I haven't mentioned this yet. Heavily influenced by manga and anime Mr Cameron's work is incredibly dynamic and bursting with colour during the superb robot fight action sequences, and then suitably toned down for the day-to-day school scenes. He also brings a great sense of menace to his pages whenever the story shifts its focus to the machinations of the sinister dinner ladies. As the books has very few male main characters the palette is occasionally a little more feminine than some graphic novels, but that is so much the case with a lot of the Japanese output where incredibly popular and long-running series often feature female main characters. The focus on girls also means that between the robo-battle scenes they occasionally discuss the 'fashion' of their Mob-Bots, and what makes a good colour scheme, etc. This should not put off many boy readers as it somehow just makes those quieter moments more true-to-life.

In Mo-Bot High Neill Cameron has delivered a modern comic book that has strong appeal to both boys and girls and he should be commended for this - I hope we see much more from this series in the future, but that will only happen if fans of this method of storytelling go out and buy copies of the various DFC Library releases. Believe me, they are well worth it. The book was released on the 28th October and should therefore be in many good book stores by now. My thanks go to the kind people at David Fickling Books for sending me a copy of this to review.

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