Monday, July 31, 2006
Published by Oni Press
Slugline: Polly, the long lost daughter of the Pirate Queen, is far too prim and proper for the treacherous world of pirates -- or is she?
This one jumps high on my list of books I would hand to any kid, any where, any time, and tell them to read. It lands, in fact, right next to the Courtney Crumrin series, also by Ted Naifeh.
Both Polly and Courtney have excellent adventures, NOT oversimplified, NOT oversweetened, just the right mix of cleverness and honor and humor for all-ages readers.
Polly is whisked from her boarding school into the world of pirates and treasure maps and at first she wants nothing to do with it. She even betrays her mother's former crew before she comes around. But she does show her true colors and outfox the foxes, find the treasure and mend her mistakes.
Ted Naifeh is a San Francisco resident, so he works nice historical bits like the Emperor of the United States into the story (though it's not set in San Fran.) And the art is lovely and whimsical, but I could live without the written brogues a few characters speak in. It's a minor quibble, though, in an otherwise excellent read.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Released in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga
Slugline: For a traditional fan-service-filled relationship comedy, they manage to keep things surprising.
Every time this title is about to move into standard territory, it flirts with it, and then moves away. Quite frankly, while I can tell how any particular scene is going to go once we are in it, I can't really tell which scene will be next. Which, for this type of manga, is actually kind of interesting. But while I am entertained on the macro level, the individual scenes are less interesting simply because I have seen it all before, just not in this order. I usually find fan service amusing in small doses, but these fan service titles turn me off, and I would be rating them somewhere in the one or two star territory. So this is actually pretty good for this kind of title, for me at least.
The love triangle that was set up last volume? Broken before it had time to form once the old friend realized the main characters' attraction to each other. The standard cool guy trying to move in on the girl? The girl lets him take her to a movie, then goes off by herself back to her guy. Just when you think the male lead is spineless, he goes on a maniac trip to make sure the girl is all right, bullying his friends to go with him. It would be interesting to see if he could form a spine when talking to the girl, but then this would be a very short series.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga
Slugline: If the Powerpuff Girls were alien robots... looking for pilots... fighting alien octopi...
This series is from the creator of FLCL, so right off the bat you know that things like "sanity" and "explanations" are not real high on the priority list. However, v.1 does make more sense than any given episode of FLCL and there are interesting moments and situations... they just aren't the main focus of the story right now.
The main focus of the story is what failed to grab me. Our hero, Kirio, specializes in blasé, and it's contagious; I find myself very blasé about him. Thus, I don't much care why Q-ko-chan focuses on him or why more robots drop out of the sky for his friends to pilot. Or whether they're aliens or somebody's toys and what exactly Kirio's mom's role is. I can barely bring myself to write a whole review for this, I'm so blasé.
Yes, the robots are cute. Heck, the alien flying octopi are cute. But Q-ko-chan really does just remind me of Powerpuff Girls and makes me want to see the movie again. (Buttercup rules!) Maybe that will dispel the blasé.
So give the book a try... or don't... or just rent FLCL... or Powerpuff Girls...
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Published by Seven Seas
Harem titles. Some people like them, sane people don't. Urgh, sorry, my prejudices are showing, but I just find them, well, maybe on occasion amusing, but it just strains credulity to that so many women would find one guy, especially the dopey guys that they seem to find to be the male leads of harem comedies, so irresistible. I wish that being shy and studious was all that was necessary to draw to women to me. Then again, despite being surrounded by beautiful women, the insurance premiums must be murderously high due to the constant beatings they endure.
Thanks to Seven Seas we have the logical response to harem comedies, with two college guys surrounded by yaoi-obsessed fangirls. Ah, sweet justice. Thanks to a minor sign failure that turned Yaoi House into the more innocent sounding Aoi House, these two anime fans, Alex and Sandy, and their perverted hamster find themselves in Aoi House, filled with scantily clad women whose only interest is seeing how long the guys can keep their hands off each other.
Aoi House is a fast-paced fun little story that knows better than to take itself too seriously. And knows it should make the jokes that never seem to be made in the more traditional harem comedies. Strong recommendation and a reminder that Aoi House is the Seven Seas webmanga, so you can preview it at their website, www.gomanga.com.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey
Slugline: Gangbanger Itsuki starts to discover the magic of Air Treck and his four female roomies as a way to beat the big, bad gang in town.
There are many sound, well-known laws of physics surrownding flight and human beings. This book ignores all of them. It's easier to think of the Air Treck rollerblades (yes, rollerblades) as magic flying talismans because no amount of mumbo jumbo is going to convince me that rollerblades can give you that kind of altitude without blowing out your knees and/or leaving you with serious road rash. I don't care if you weigh 50 pounds and are made of rubber, as Japanese teens seen to be.
That said, these kids live in a fantasy world of no grownups, no responsibilities and no reality checks. Itsuki's motivations are no deeper than a puddle of testosterone, with the occasional heroic moment, and his cronies are all too eager to adore him. The four girls, like most bestowers of power, aren't inclined to tell him much about the magic rollerblades in an attempt to make them more mysterious. And the bad guys all come out of a cookie cutter, your usual gang of terrorizing sexual molesters -- which is not why Itsuki wants to beat them, by the way. He just wants revenge for his own ass-kicking.
So it's hard to take this story seriously or sympathize with anybody. There's a grand total of three interesting moments that keep this from being a Dishonorable Mention blurb.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Just a reminder, I also do manga reviews for the Comic Buyer's Guide, and just posted one on Fullmetal Alchemist at the Reviews and Retroviews forum over the Comic Buyers Guide website. This is in addition to my monthly column in the newstand edition of the Comic Buyers Guide, which this month is about how manga handles traditional European style fantasy.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Published in the U.S. by Go! Comi
Her Majesty's Dog, despite the rather provocative name, is not quite the fetish-laden story that the title would make it seem. Well, no more than most other manga titles. Still, there is little fear that it will be found shrink-wrapped or up on the top rack where you need a step stool to reach it.
Her Majesty's Dog is a cross between a horror and a shoujo title. While being set in a high school, and featuring a couple who are involved, it is more than the typical high school relationship. While Amane is distant from the rest of her classmates and often bullied, she has a good reason to be a little off. She grew up in an isolated village with the power to be a powerful priestess. Still, she wanted to experience the outside world a little, and thus went to high school. Her village, concerned about the risks, insisted on sending her guardian with her. Hyoue is a typical pretty boy who is always sneaking kisses from Amane, but he is also a spirit creature that needs the energy transferred by touch to him by her to function. The fact that he has managed to convince Amane that the energy needs to be transferred by a kiss is only a bonus from his viewpoint.
The early stories of this collection are more along the lines of straight horror, including some disturbing images of a dog, but as the book progresses more typical high school concerns emerge, though they never completely submerge the horror. From my understanding, the later issues of the series does trend more toward the typical high school stories.
And as for the title, since Hyoue is dependant on Amane, he's a bit of the underdog in the relationship.
(UnderDOG, get it? I crack me up.)
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Published in the U.S. by Dark Horse Manga
Slugline: After being mysteriously imprisoned for ten years, our hero is set free and starts looking for answers.
I saw the Korean-made movie version of Old Boy (it's out on DVD now) so I have the disadvantage of knowing how it ends (maybe/probably.) It's not a gory movie, but it's violent and mean-spirited. (Some people compare it to Pulp Fiction... which may be true in attitude, but not much else.)
That attitude is laid out in the manga, but more dilutely. In v.1, our nameless hero is released from his captivity and only just begins to start looking for answers. Meanwhile, the bad guys are keeping an eye on him.
The movie is tightly paced and efficient, in the tradition of revenge thrillers, but the manga shows every sign of moving at a distinctly more manga-ish pace. The art and writing are perfectly competent, but it lacks a sense of urgency, for me, and the novelty of the situation can't be re-created because I've seen the movie. So my rating may be biased, but this manga just doesn't stand out enough to be above average.
If you haven't seen the movie and you like dark thrillers, check Old Boy out in manga form and give it a chance. If you did catch the movie, get the DVD and enjoy it again, with extras.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Published by TokyoPop
Slugline: Gothic-inspired dreams challenge two friends in an old New England town that's a perfect backdrop for their adventures.
Bizenghast is the story of Dinah and Vincent. Dinah's parents died when she was very young and she is in the care of her aunt, who lives in an old New England town called Bizenghast, in a former asylum/burned-out boy's school. Needless to say, the traumas make Dinah a bit "fragile" and make Vincent protective of her, which she resents and needs at the same time. When exploring the woods surrounding the town, they come across a mausoleum, and Dinah is forced into a contract to free the ghosts from their dreams by the caretakers of the mausoleum.
Bizenghast's art is very much in the gothic Lolita style, very pretty, with intricate designs that seem very fine and detailed. As if smearing the ink with your fingers would ruin the entire page rather just a few details. My concern is the story, because this graphic novel feels disjointed, cut up into episodes dealing with various ghosts. They skip some of the challenge scenes, and it seems otherwise disconnected. It may be the continuation of the dream logic of the story into other areas, but it still rough.
Also, the timing of story seems off. At the end of the book, there is an introduction to a new character who explains the story background. It is an weird place to end the book, on a distinctly low note, and feels like it should have been at the front of the next book rather than at the end of this one.
I like the story and love the art, but I can't shake the feeling that the story logic is a aching tooth in your jaw, nagging at you when you least expect it.
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey
Just plain sloppy writing. All else aside, it's just plain sloppy.
A series of disjointed scenes, transparently convenient coincidences, and cookie-cutter pre-teen melodrama do not a story make. I can see how it might work -- barely -- in an animated show, but television shorthand does not work in printed media, especially not black-and-white.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Published in the U.S. by Netcomics
Slugline: Sunbi, who grew up in a small town with her shaman grandmother, has to move to Seoul to live with her estranged father and his new family.
The plot isn't yet clear, or this would've been a 4-star book. Volume 1 covers Sunbi's childhood in flashback and the problems of growing up with a shaman's ability to see the spirit world. And even though no goals are laid out -- her mother died because of spirit trouble, but Sunbi doesn't seem motivated by it, and the guardian spirits of the small town are leaving, but then again so is she -- I enjoyed the story very much.
Partly because of the dragon. I haven't seen many traditional Eastern dragons in manga, strangely enough, so it made me smile when a shaman from out of town accidentally summoned the town's guardian sea dragon. We also meet traditional Korean goblins called dokebi and learn a little about guardian spirits. Maybe this is all old hat in Korea, but it's the sort of thing that makes me devour a book even faster.
By the end of the flashback, we know a bit about why Sunbi has moved in with her father and stepfamily, but there isn't any conflict to speak of. Not yet. I expect this title will be climbing in the ratings as the story continues, because the writing and the art show a great deal of promise.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop
Slugline: Meet Eikichi Onizuka and his pal Ryuji Danma as teenage thugs desperate to get some tail. This is a prequel to Great Teacher Onizuka, but fandom of that is not a requirement.
I'll be honest -- I don't like this art style. Never have. And I'm not much for the toilet humor or the mindset that women are puzzles to be solved for a reward of hot monkey sex.
So it's a bit of a miracle that I didn't hate every page of this huge volume. (344 pages, Amazon says.)
Masturbation, diahrrea and STDs are played for laughs and there are plenty of street fights to go around. But Eikichi and Ryuji manage to do something resembling the right thing at the end of each of the storylines. Oddly, at 16 their biker days are already in their past -- they're making an attempt at finishing high school -- which makes me wonder how young biker gangs are in Japan. 15? 14? Don't you need a license to drive those gussied-up choppers?
(For a hilarious example of gussied-up motorcycles -- and a hilarious movie in general -- check out Kamikaze Girls, if you can find it.)
Eikichi and Ryuji's chances of getting laid are slightly worse than a snowball's chance in hell, but anyone who's seen GTO already knows that. It's not my cup of tea, but I'm still giving it three stars and I'll go so far as to say that the train scene after Eikichi gets a Buddha haircut was funny.
Monday, July 03, 2006
There will also be no posts on July 21 and 24 because we will both be at the San Diego Comic Con (which I highly recommend if you can get to it, for both Western comics and manga, and scifi/fantasy/horror/niche genre movies too.)
No post August 4th as we will be at Otakon wallowing in manga and anime, and that will be the last scheduled day off until November.
Stay cool, everyone.