For one wannabe samurai, the path to martial arts stardom is paved with mischief and hijinks.
At Master Snow’s martial arts school, Tao likes to pretend he’s a grandmaster but more often ends up playing the role of class clown. Impetuous and energetic, he struggles with silent meditation and archery; it’s a shame his knack for samurai video games doesn’t help him with his actual studies. This graphic-novel series follows Tao’s scrapes and adventures through a sequence of one- to two-page episodes, each focused on a single gag. Though some later vignettes build upon earlier ones—Tao’s puppy-love crush on his classmate, Kat, develops over the course of the simultaneously publishing sequel, Ninjas and Knock Outs!—there’s no overarching plot to the volumes or series. Ryser’s playful, roly-poly art complements the graphic novel’s silly humor, but unfortunately, Richard’s worldbuilding is a disappointing, stereotypically “Oriental” mishmash, apparently including everything he can think of: origami, jogging sumo wrestlers, conical hats, gongs and more. The students learn both Japanese and Chinese martial arts—including karate, judo, kung fu and tai chi—as if those disciplines and cultures were interchangeable.
Good for a few laughs but only for readers who are willing to overlook the cultural cluelessness. (Graphic fiction. 7-10)