Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution, v. 1

By Hiroyuki Tamakoshi
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey

Slugline: Someone finally gets to see a woman's breast in a sauna!

It just seems that I am reviewing a lot of adult material lately. The next
title in this trend is Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution from Del Rey. It is an ecchi title, which means it features lots of skimpy clothing and teasing, but what earns this title its M rating is the artist's courage to show the characters topless. Usually that's a no-no, but it's actually a relief for me after years of transparent cowardice and the fact that the story is actually willing to draw a simple female breast makes it bold!

Well, maybe not really, but I am willing to give them points for breaking
the rules. I do like the art, and the character designs and costumes are very nice. But it does suffer from the old "guy turns into a girl in order to be close to a girl he likes" tropes. Now, not all of his desires are lewd, he wants to be friends with her, but by the same token he does enjoy the moments when he physically gets close to her. So it's not irredeemable, but neither is it particularly exiciting, just an above average ecchi title, which is still a damning with faint praise sort of thing.

Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Calling You

by Otsuichi, art by Setsuri Tsuzuki
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Two stories, both intended to be tear-jerkers of the first water but also showing some cleverness.

Both of these stories, "Calling You" and "Kiz/Kids" follow tear-jerker templates but do have their better details. Those details stem from consistency of character (don't want to spoil anything, though) in the Shakespearian tragedy sense (that these character aspects mean there could be no other outcome,) so I approve.

There are mild fantasy elements -- psychic "cell phones" in the first and wound transferrence in the second -- but otherwise these stories are set in the here and now, focused on realistic people and problems. Angst, anguish and alienation are plentiful and described at length. But the dialogue is good, the plots are sound and the characters consistent, so I won't say too much and spoil anything in case you don't see the twists coming.

Calling You is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Good Luck, v.1

by E-Jin Kang
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: They say Shi-Hyun's bad luck, so she's singled out... and she's actually tough enough to handle it.

Sadly, most of the manhwa we've reviewed here has been a disappointment. (notable exception: Dokebi Bride) They've mostly been rehashed mediocre manga with a too-small dash of Korean flavor.

Good Luck is different. The dialog pops and snarks and the art is both pleasantly clean and developed beyond merely manga standard-issue. Shi-Hyun and her brother are character types we've seen before, but she actually has a tough shell (Rather than either just smiling now and crying later, or breaking out into comedic violence, which are what pass for "tough girl" in a lot of manga. Neither of which, I would say, treat female anger with much honesty.) And her brother isn't quite a cross-dresser... yet.

There are several small tweaks to the staple new-girl-at-school story, all of them refreshing even when they're a bit confusing. I was just so glad to meet a female character who wasn't aspiring to be a door mat for the Cute Boy and so charmed by the art that I'm overlooking the lack of plot (it will probably be a series of small episodes, loosely tied together) and recommending this one, especially to middle-school girls.

Good Luck is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: White Maze

Written by Junichi Fujisaku
Published in the U.S. by Dark Horse

Slugline: Guns go boom. It's Ghost in the Shell, what else could happen?

Ghost in the Shell manga (this is a novel) that are released by Dark Horse have an interesting sense of hyper-reality to them as they attempt to illustrate some concepts of science fiction/futurism in a more concrete form, such as the idea of augmented reality. But in this novel only the very basic concepts are used, making it no more than another cyberpunk tale. Not that it is a bad cyberpunk tale, but it is a fairly straightforward and not a very complicated one.

Bad man makes a virus with vampiric overtones that is quickly lost, and
Motoko Kusanagi finds the bad man, who turns out, surprise, surprise, to be not so bad. But some even worse folks want to use him for worse ends. Look, I am not trying to be snarky; it is executed decently and there are some interesting character moments, but if you are looking for some hardcore cyperpunk/action or a big Ghost in the Shell post-modern metaphysics brainstorm, this may be disappointing. I suspect I will forget most of the plot of this book within a week.

Ghost in the Shell: White Maze is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Trinity Blood, v.1

Story by Sunao Yoshida, art by Kiyo Kyujo
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Goofy-but-dangerous Abel Nightroad takes out a vampire plot to destroy Rome.

Great art can carry mediocre writing, and great writing can carry mediocre art. This is an example of the former.

Maybe not "mediocre" so much as just sloppy -- it's nothing a good editor could not have tightened up or nudged them to be clearer, more precise. But it's the kind of lovingly detailed, uber-manga art (influenced by Geiger, I'd bet) that makes you forgive vagueness. And unlikely weapons. And standard-issue characters. And... well, you get the idea.

Abel Nightroad is the sort of goofy-when-he's-not-deadly guy that comes from the same mold as Vash in Trigun (right down to the glasses). Sister Esther is the usual victim/window dressing girl, so far. Dietrich, Iqus, Radcon and Gyula are decently sketched, character-wise, even amusing in some ways. The plot does have one unexpected bit of treason to flavor the melodrama.

But the strong point is most definitely the art and the costuming that throws down a big gauntlet to cosplayers. My first anime convention of the year is only a few weeks away, and I'm wondering how many Nightroads I'll see.

Trinity Blood, Vol.1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Anyway I Want It…

Anyway I Want It… and all other explicit titles have been moved to Prospero’s Manga – Mature, a review blog for explicit manga titles. Please check there for reviews of such titles.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Last update

And for the last bit of blog updates for the foreseeable future, we have updated the Amazon Astore, so it is organized, and has ratings attached to the entries. For instance, we have a section where just our 4 and 4 1/2 star titles are listed, and so on. There has also been some neatening up here and there, and corrections/editing of some old reviews. Nothing that like changing ratings, but basically splitting up entrees that were posted together in order to make it easier to search, and things like that.

And tomorrow we go back to posting reviews again!


Friday, January 19, 2007

More blog improvements

Some more improvements...

Some people asked us to add a google search, and after a couple hours of fiddling, no google search is better than just the search function on the navbar on the top of the page. Just reminding everyone that sucker is works better than you think.

We are going to add Right Stuf, Intl., links on some of our reviews. Some of the reviewed titles (okay, the adult ones) do not have a Amazon.com presence, but do on Right Stuf., and probably vice versa. We are going to add them in to give everyone the best chance to get the titles we mention, if they want to.

We have added a donations button on the right hand side. Are we paid to do this site, no. We have no site-specific advertising (those google ad clicks are certainly not adding up), the only thing we promise companies who give us material is a review, and you can see we are not afraid to give bad ones. So if you feel generous, feel free to help keep us in manga/anime. But don't worry if you don't, we are in this for the long haul.


Blog Improvements

Added some more functions here, including a handy dandy feedburner button and creator links. Any creator who is published, or has at least been solicited, and want their webpage linked, contact us and we will make it happen.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Imadoki! v.1

By Yuu Watase
Published in the U.S. by Viz

Slugline: What else can bond a boy and a girl but a love of horticulture?

I don't know why I do this myself. Yuu Watase's Fushigi Yuugi was like junk
food. You know it's bad for you, but you can't help scarfing it down anyways. In my case, it was her female lead. After a while, the lead was so clueless I was hoping that the male leads competing for her attention would decide to dump her and go yaoi. But I still watched the whole series, and this was back when there wasn't a legit copy of it circulating in the US.

Imadoki! has a similarly relentlessly cheerful heroine, Tanpopo, who has transferred from a rural high school where everyone was her friend to an elite Tokyo school. She manages to almost immediately alienate everyone by claiming the standoffish Koki as friend, for they had a brief conversation about a flower the day before school started. It turns out Koki is connected to a wealthy family and has to hide his true nature, which gets Tanpopo in trouble immediately. Her relentless cheerfulness is nice at first, but by the end of the book I was getting annoyed by it. But I still want to read the next book.

Like I said, it's like candy. Bad for you, but you can't stop reading.

Imadoki! is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

When Worlds Collide

by various artists
Published by Iris Print

Slugline: Anthology of yaoi romance titles themed on the "opposites attract" principle.

As with any anthology, some are better than others in this collection of short stories. The art is of varying quality but generally good, and the writing is necessarily condensed and requires a few leaps of faith from the readers.
On the whole, it's a pretty decent book.

My main point to make is that this is not a porn anthology. There are a few explicit frames, but the emphasis here is clearly on the romance. There's nothing new about explicit romance, of course, but if you're expecting porn this isn't it.

- Miranda

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Akira v. 1 - 6

by Katsuhiro Otomo
Published in the U.S. by Dark Horse Manga

Slugline: Tetsuo rides the psychic-power rollercoaster amid chaos, apocalypse, and his ex-best friend trying to kill him.

I haven't read Akira in at least ten years, and I was a bit worried it wouldn't hold up after so long in the otaku world. But it does, and I know exactly why it converted me to the fandom.

- Crystal clear action. None of those big, vague, swooshes, no wondering whose ass that weapon came out of, no fudging of geography, physics, or biology.

- Excellent application of psychic powers. It's still some of the best telekinetic combat on paper. Makes Obi-Wan look like a noob.

- Consistent, if limited, characters. Especially Kaneda, who is not only an ass, he's too clueless to realize he's clueless and is the kind who brings a knife to a gun fight. A butter knife.

- Lovingly rendered military equipment. No roses or sparkles in this one, and a couple ass-kicking ladies that I can root for.

- Mass destruction. Tokyo gets flattened, and more than once.

- Plot never loses focus, even in the chaos of a freshly ruined city. We don't get sidetracked into tangential flashbacks. Everyone's relevance to the story is quickly established and we keep moving.

All these qualities are a bit unusual for a manga, in that they are rather Western and much closer to what Hollywood et. al. have trained Americans to expect. But it's Japanese enough to stand well apart from them, too. That's what makes Akira such a good "conversion" manga (and anime) for action/scifi/apocalypse fans.

If you have a friend who's curious about manga, I'd recommend Akira unless your friend's into sensitive romances (try Utena on those friends.) And I think the bridge can work both ways: read Akira and then pick up Dark Knight Returns,

V for Vendetta, Sin City or Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Akira is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Mai, The Psychic Girl, The Perfect Collection, V. 1

Story by Kazuya Kudo with Art by Ryoichi Ikegami
Published in the U.S. by Viz

Slugline: You really wouldn't want to get this schoolgirl angry.

Mai, the Psychic Girl was one of the first manga that was widely released in the US. Originally released in floppies in the late 80s, it was a title that showed me, regardless of what Miranda says about Akira's influence, of just how nasty and explodey-heady psychic combat could be. Mai Kuju, daughter of a line of shrine guardians, has telekinetic ability on a truly high order, and is pursued by an international conspiracy for world domination called the Wisdom Alliance. The first book of the perfect collection reads very quickly, for most of the story is either kung-fu action or extended chase sequences, as Mai and her father realize the danger that they are in. Actually, I remember that being a problem at the time that it was being released, but the 22 page issues went by so quickly that it didn't make it really worth the time to pick up individual issues, and at the time the idea of collections were still very new.

The plot is rather straightforward, and at times it seems to be
relying on the power of coincidence to make things flow, but this is not a story that asks for much deep thinking, merely that one sits back and enjoys the pretty explosions, bashed bodies and the downhill ride. It does have a couple bits of unnecessary but not really exploitative nudity, and a couple of places where if you stop and think you may say "ick," but nothing too bad, at least in this first volume of the perfect collection.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Angel Cup, v. 2

Written by Dong Wook Kim and Illustrated by Jae-Ho Youn
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Girls hit hard, especially against boys.
A little while ago I suggested folks to check out my other reviews over at CBGxtra, which reminded me of one of my favorite books to review, Angel Cup, a Korean manwha about girl's soccer. I waxed pretty lyrical about it, but I really thought it was a good title and fit in well with the comic shops' attempts to do outreach to readers other than the normal comic store readers. (My Comic Buyer's Guide reviews are centered around that, oddly enough.) So when I got a chance to pick up Angel Cup vol. 2, I did so.

But the last half of a soccer match took up virtually the entire volume.
Some sub-plots were moved forward, and some things were confronted, but there was nothing really surprising or that I wasn't expecting, except for the final score. Underdogs can win without winning, and with the odds stacked up against them, the girl soccer team made a good showing, with the implication that once they pull together and get organized, a rematch's result is far from certain.

I am half-tempted to tell you to skip this volume, but I'm loathe to suggest
that for fear that one or two details may end up really mattering, so while the big game is a cliche‚ in sports manga, I am still more interested in the stuff before and after the game, and that intrigue was lacking in this volume.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

O-Parts Hunter, v. 1

Story and Art by Seishi Kishimoto
Published in the U.S. by Viz

Slugline: Repackaged, extruded fantasy by-product never tasted so good!

One thing right out of the gate, O-Parts Hunter was created by the brother of Naruto's creator, so artistic and stylistic similarities are to be expected to a certain extent.

On the face of it, this is a story that we have seen a hundred times before. Boy who has a terrible force within himself tries to compensate by becoming more powerful, along with a girl who has to be cheerful to make up for a family secret. Ancient unknown civilization has left weapons of unimaginable power lying about for anyone to find.

But at the moment when everything is about to fall hopelessly into cliche, they draw back. The darkness that is within Jio, the main lead, is not potential but actual, with a real bodycount, and it's implied that along with not-so-nice folks, some actually random folks have been killed by his darkness. True, the character has some distance from his dark acts, but by the same token he is still doing it, a far more difficult choice to pull off. And his goal of world domination is quickly and ruthlessly undermined and laughed at, and what he really wants is revealed.

Sure, the female lead is not as well drawn as I would hope, at times the action is hard to follow, and there is one case of deus ex machina that is really close to the traditional god coming down of the sky to take out an offending foe, but I see that there are some interesting character bits that hopefully the creator will explore in later volumes.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Samurai Girl: Real Bout High School, v. 1

Story by Reiji Saiga and Art by Sora Inoue
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: It's a sad day when a story about hot girls in school uniforms
that kick ass makes me just go "eh."

A school with too many martial arts club ends up holding special fights in
order to mediate the conflicts between the clubs, with the head ass kicker being a new transfer student who wants to take on all the highly skilled martial artists at the school and has arranged the fight system in order to do so. Our heroine is Ryoko, who loves samurai movies and thus has learned how to kick ass with a sword, and lusts after the head of the kendo club but has a strange attraction to the mysterious newcomer.

There are some interesting fights, but that's about it. Silly, over-the-top
opponents, the fight formula, the love/hate relationships, the competent girl that still needs help on occasion in fighting yet is not confident in herself and so on.

I've seen all of these elements before. Admittedly, Real Bout is sort of
shameless in the way that all of them have been all shaken together into a single pot, but while the art is nice, unless you really want another school based fight manga, eh.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

IC in a Sunflower

by Mitsukazu Mihara
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Another anthology of varyingly dark stories from the Gothic Lolita creator.

The costuming is not as elaborate as in volumes like RIP, which will be a disappointment to the costuming fans. The individual stories are up to par with Mihara's other works so far as dialog (good) and structure (good) and worldbuilding (quite good and efficient) but the characters are similar to others he's written and there is not really a unifying theme. Except maybe the "mature" elements like sex and murder, but those certainly aren't unique to this volume.

This still makes for good reading if you like stories with a dark side. There are some mild science fiction elements, but Mihara generally focuses on modern complications of old problems and the jaded modern people who run into them. Mihara is also one of the few manga writers who has both a fair volume of material published in the US and it is all of consistently good quality, so look for his name. I enjoy his gothic-modern writing, but I also hope to see him tackle other styles, someday.

- Miranda

Mugen Spiral, v. 1

Created by Mizuho Kusangi
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Look, you can see the female lead's spine disappear before your

Yayoi is a female mystic who has to fight off and capture demons, which
includes Ura, son of the Demon King. She is strong, powerful and has her own agenda.

She is, of course, doomed to irrelevance.

Because Ura is a hottie, he gradually takes over the story, becoming more
powerful (or more properly, recovers to his true level of power), directing the course of the story so it is about him and what he wants to do, and while Yayoi does not suffer a depowering event, for some reason her abilities are just not as effective as the story goes on, eventually rendering her by the end of volume 1 as the helpless hostage.

Look, a woman does not have to be weak and rely on the man in order for
there to be a valid romance. And I am not just saying this because Miranda would go off on a rant about it. It just would be a refreshing change of pace if once, just once, the female who starts the series competent ends the series just as competent. For once!

I actually had hope for this volume because it started out so strong, but it
managed to sink very quickly into the normal tropes/tripes, and so despite being competently executed and not bad on the face of it, I give it a kick a little further down on the rating scale because this title has no reason to exist. We've seen it all before, and before, and look, over there, here is the same damn plot line of the romantic female lead becoming marginalized!

- Ferdinand