Friday, December 29, 2006

What else we do...

It's been a while since we talked about our other projects that are manga and anime related.

Every two weeks I put a manga review up CBGxtra review forum so just look for all the reviews there that have the Manga Review title. This week I put up a review for TokyoPop's upcoming title Phantom.

I write a monthly manga column for the Comic Buyer's Guide, a print publication you should be able to find on better newstand. This month's column in issue 1626 is a mixed bag about Shinto, the academic study of manga and yaoi. You can find some of my back columns on my general website. (Along with our RPG and other gaming work)

And I have anime/manga related articles and reviews for Comic and Game Retailer and Newtype USA.

Check out some of the other stuff we've done!


Pearl Pink, v. 1

Created by Meca Tanaka
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: A tomboy in love that remains a tomboy by the end of the volume?
Miracle of miracles!

Ah, the stories of young love, people promising to get married when they are 3 and 7. Do you actually remember much of what happened to you when you were that age? I admit, I am older than the typical age of the characters in these sort of books, so technically have more stuff to remember and some of the early stuff may have been misfiled, but really, how strong are your memories from that age? I only have a handful, and most of them are random bits. Only a couple of them are confirmably real and not imaginings.

But these sort of life-changing promises are routinely made, and worse yet,
routinely remembered in manga and are expected to be honored. Tamako, the tomboy of the slugline, received a promise from Kanji that if she was strong, he would marry her. (Why is it that the girls remember these promises in manga, but rarely the guys?) She defined the strength as physical, assertive strength, while he is strong in a quiet, understated way. (See, females and males can both be strong in manga AT THE SAME TIME!)

When the story actually talks about love, relationships, and knowing/liking
each other, that rings mostly true. And Tamako has several really good moments with her mother. But then you add in the fact this is set at the ever-popular idol agency, the rampant and actually detracting silliness of the story/characters at times, and could have been a very good romantic story has been reduced to merely average.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Revolutionary Girl Utena, v. 1 - 5

by Chiho Saito, Created by Be-Papas
Published in the U.S. by Viz

Slugline: Utena duels to save the prince she met years ago, save the Rose Bride and to claim "the power to revolutionize the world" (whatever that means.)

This is the manga version of the classic anime, and being condensed to five volumes suits the story quite well. With less time to wander, the story gets right down to the dueling and the slapping and the explaining what's going on.

Utena is a classic shojo manga because it goes so far above and beyond the stereotypes of the genre -- not breaking out of them, but amplifying them to blinding brilliance. Everyone's a drama queen, there are cute, strange pets, magic costume changes, vaguely defined powers that are never used, a crossdressing heroine, temper tantrums, and everyone gets slapped at least once. It's a tribute to the power of visuals, too: roses, wrought iron and long hair don't have to work as hard to carry it all as they did in the anime, but they are there.

Utena set the bar for the shojo that followed, and most of them fail to capture half the passion and obsession and melodrama of this series. This is a must-read for any serious fan. Love it or laugh at it, I guarantee you will not forget it.

p.s. Yes, it's complete in 5 volumes -- less, actually, and there are several short stories to fill out the volumes. They're fun too.

- Miranda

R.O.D. Read or Dream, v.1

Story by Hideyuki Kurata, Art by Ran Ayanaga
Published in the US by Viz Manga

Slugline: For a detective agency, there sure is not much detecting going on

I am just in the mood for revealing my weaknesses lately, and this time I will admit that I have a weakness for reading. As in, whatever promotes it, is good for it and so on, I am usually in favor of. Thus I am fond of the original R.O.D. anime, though I do believe that the first episode of it was the best.

I understand that this series is supposed to be related to the first one in some way, but only the barest sketches of it are apparent here. Sure, in the first story they use the ability to control paper, but then for the rest of the book, their abilities are completely immaterial. There are the standard three females: the hard nosed one, the friendly one, and the distracted, abstract one. Though I do appreciate some of the funny bits about book storage (which reminds me I need to get another bookshelf for my manga), but this is really not a funny book. The book is rated for older teens, but I really do not see why -- maybe something happens in later volumes -- because this volume, with its short simple stories, would make a decent tweener book.

Maybe this is intended for other audiences, and if I read more volumes
things would be different. But as of this first volume, this is merely a slightly cliche story about three sisters who like to read, and that love of reading gets them involved in strange adventures (ghosts, aliens). The stories are competently executed and clearly drawn, but neither do they strike me as especially well done or original.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Patchwork 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.

Punch!, v. 1

Story and Art by Rie Takada
Published in the U.S. by Viz Media

Slugline: Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" has never been so true.

Elle is a typical high school girl, pining away, hoping for romance.
Unfortunately, her family is filled with martial artists, runs a gym that trains them, and she has already been promised to the grandson of her grandfather's greatest rival, who also trains at the gym. Whenever she finds someone she likes, the gym attendees manage to find some way to convince that person that it would be better for his health to stay far, far away from Elle. Up until the day that the street tough Kazuki walks into her life.

For a story that is about a girl balanced between two boys, there is a not a lot of balancing. Ruo, Elle's fiance, is a cardboard character barely developed past the fact that he loves Elle despite her rejection, and like most manga guys he has serious problems with impulse control. Kazuki, once you get past the fact that he is often covered in blood not his own, has all of the soft bits that make teenage girls go all squee-ish.

Sorry, not sure what the adjective form of "squee" should be.

Other than some interesting story bits, this is just an competently
executed shoujo story that has very little conflict to drive it, at least by the end of this volume.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Updates to the Blog

With the influx of new readers, we've just finished a labeling project. You will notice a whole slew of new labels on the right hand side of the site. I think we got most of the useful types, but let us know if any come to mind.

As you can see on the label list, several companies are well represented . That's because they send us review copies. If you want your company's products reviewed, please consider adding us to your comp/review list. And if you want your favorite company's products reviewed, email them to add us to their review list.

Hopefully we will continue to add content and aids for Prospero's Manga over the upcoming weeks and months.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Aoi House, v. 2

Written by Adam Arnold with Art by Shiei
Published by Seven Seas

Slugline: Harem girls who know that they are in harem, and know enough to
mock the whole situation.

The second volume of the OEL Aoi House, I feel, suffers from its legacy of being a webcomic and being printed by Newtype USA. Sure, everyone and their cousin has either been exposed to it (heh, sorry, feeling the sophomoric humor, exposed to it, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more) via the reprints or the webcomics, but the fact that it has to be continually up, always funny, always grabbing people's attention, means that it never has a lull in the action. When you read it as a graphic novel, you need those lulls for character bits, so that the characters hit more than one note. While a couple of the harem girls did so, I think the majority of characters were more obviously one-note than they were in the first volume. I am not sure whether that is just me, the side effect of writing for graphic novel or webcomic, but it was just not as surprising as the first one.

What did take me almost completely out of the story was the Final Fantasy
riff in the middle of the volume. Apparently, I am the only anime/manga fan whose knowledge of Final Fantasy is gleaned solely from AMVs I have watched over the years. So I recognized a couple of the outfits, but the whole joke just went right over my head. Not necessarily its fault.

I still like the central conceit of a couple of hetero fanboys trapped in a
harem of yaoi-crazed fangirls. There was some movement toward an overriding story arc, but this volume just didn't get to me the same way the first one did.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~, v. 1

Story by Satoru Akahori with Art by Yukimaru Katsura, original character design by Sukune Inugami
Published in the US by Seven Seas

Slugline: A guy who is a girl, who turns into girl, gets more action then
when he, no she, no whatever, was a guy.

First off, I will have to beg the reader's indulgence. I, the bitter old
anime/manga fan, who first saw Ranma 1/2 from a tape off Japanese TV with someone the room yelling out relevant plot points since there was no such thing as subtitles, have a singular weakness. It's yuri. Romantic titles with all-female leads. Not to say my brain completely turns to mush, but I notice that I am lot more forgiving of these titles than most others. I think I have managed to be impartial here, but take what you will with a grain of salt.

Hazumu, a guy, likes Yasuna, a girl, and thought the feeling were at least
appreciated, but when he confesses to her she does not take it well. His feelings squashed, Hazumu takes to the surrounding hills, where he is squashed by a falling spaceship. The aliens, feeling bad squishing someone, decide to do some repairs, but there were only so much genetic material left (when they squish someone, they really squish someone) and they could only rebuild him as a her.

Thus, the main conflict of the series. Hazumu as a girl manages to connect
to Yasuna in a way he couldn't as a boy, and discovers a new connection to a childhood friend Tomari (a tomboy neighbor) and she isn't quite sure how to handle it. Is a boy in a girl's body a hetero girl, a lesbian, or what?

These sorts of questions could have been really delved into, but they are
only explored in connection with the main characters' relationships. I would have liked to see more about Hazumu wrestling with his/her own questions of identity. That would have been a much heavier title than the light, fluffy romantic fare we have here, which I still find it interesting, though some of the supporting characters are sillier than they need to be.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Soul Rescue, v. 1

Created by Aya Kanno
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Another entry in my list of proof that Japanese creators don't
know the difference between angels, fairies and Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Sorry, it is my genetic Catholicism expressing itself, but the portrayal of
angels and God here is just so, well, generic. They could have called them spirits, aliens or even Muggles and it wouldn't make a difference. I'm sorry, there would have been one difference -- they wouldn't have had all that cool wing imagery. I'm no dogmatic, but I do ask that if a creator uses an archetype, they do some basic research. If I did a story featuring Kabbalists, I would have done as much research on Jewish beliefs as I could.

But it's not like the creator spent a lot of time coming up with the story. It is a basic "got to save X number of people/souls/hamsters" storyline. Main character begins with an almost immediate change of heart, no real resistance, even though he proclaims his so-called resistance every change he gets. There is one good plot twist, the failure-in-success bit, which usually shows up later in these type of series, but it is still fairly standard.

Art is okay, but occasionally hard to follow. Not very much to be excited
about either way. It's just an overwhelmingly average book, and not very well executed.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Little Queens, v. 1

By Yeon-Joo Kim
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Dishonorable Mention

My brain hurt after reading this. The story tone and the actual flow of the
plot, what exists of it, jumps all over the place. I kept on thinking they had accidentally forgotten to include some panels, pages, heck, a whole chapter. Not sure why they're queens in training, and by the time they kind of gave half an explanation I didn't care. Characterizations seemed to change page to page, sometimes panel to panel. Sometimes the story took itself very seriously, other times it became very metatextual, which that is a difficult feat to pull off and the story failed in that regard. And honestly, I spent first couple chapters trying to connect the intro text to the story I was reading, and it was only after the headache started that I realized that it wasn't worth bothering. Time jumps around without explanation.

So yeah, not loving it. If the art was truly spectacular I might have rated
it better, or if the story was an ambitious failure I could forgiven the attempt, but it is neither, merely average in both respects.

- Ferdinand

Kamiyadori, v.1

by Kei Sanbe Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Jillald and Vivi fight a war of attrition against a nasty disease in a dystopian world.

Back when I reviewed Blame, I said something about writers not having to explain everything -- but there's a certain minimum that has to be put out there. Blame fell a bit too short on that, for me. Kamiyadori is an example of one that falls on the "just enough" side.

Of course, only so much explanation is needed when the primary goal is to shoot big guns at nasty mutant sick people and have as much casual female nudity as you can get away with. Too much exposition just gets in the way. However, there is enough to hint at an underlying world that might be interesting if the writer can bring together the elements -- some of which seem kind of random.

("The holy is coming." The holy what? And why does it seem to be making things worse?)

Jillald is a Right Arm, an elite commando, who may be losing his edge but he's still got his improbably ass-kicking shotgun. Vivi is his sidekick and a poorly socialized indigent, which gives her license to not say much, cause all kinds of trouble and go bare-assed frequently.

The two of them shoot infected people, traumatize small children, and deal with those trying to capitalize on the plague. Volume 1 ends mid-storyling, giving it somewhere to start in v.2, but I do wonder how many volumes you could do before this all gets repetitive. Maybe v.2 will introduce a larger story arc.

- Miranda

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Someday's Dreamers, Spellbound, v.1

by Norie Yamada & Kumichi Yoshizuki
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Magic-user Nami fumbles her way through high school and meets Ryotaro, motorcycle boy.

Nami is the basic puppy-eyed manga girl -- prone to screw-ups, ambitionless, miserable. Ryotaro is the basic gruff manga boy -- snappish, defensive, yet harbors a "soft side." That they are going to fall in love and overcome various obstacles is a foregone conclusion. The story is set in a carbon-copy Japan with one little hook thrown in to make it different -- except it rings hollow.

Nami is a magic user. A screw-up, but a magic user. The other characters treat this as only mildly unusual, so one must assume that there are a fair number of magic users in the population. So it's odd that the world does not seem to have any real support structure for her ability. There are self-help books, apparently, but no special magic class at school, no magic social clubs, no magical version of team sports -- and considering that she's supposed to get a certification to practice, you'd think there'd be as many magic-test-prep courses as there are SAT-prep-courses. We don't even see one other magic user, in v.1.

It's as if the writer threw in Nami's trouble with her magic just to give her something to feel bad about. Which is a mighty shallow reason to include magic and all the implications that magic brings with it. There are plenty of odd problems Nami could have without even leaving the bounds of modern-day Japan.

That her getting a handle on her skill is a part of the story is obvious -- it's poor writing, though, that in the whole first volume there's no sign that magic has been integrated into the world the writer has created.

- Miranda

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Question for our reader(s)

You may have noticed our switch to the new Blogger and the change in our index -- it's now by tags. Everything is indexed by ranking and I also created a few other groupings: yaoi, original English language, and manhwa.

Question: are there any other groupings that would help you find the reviews you want? We've debated whether to do a shojo group, or a science fiction group or what, so why don't you all tell us what would work best?

Comment to post an answer.

- Miranda

Train Man

by Machiko Ocha
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Ikumi emerges from his otaku shell with the help of online friends.

There are several versions of the Train Man story ou there, but here's the basics: an otaku stands up to a drunk on the train, meets a girl as a result and is encouraged by online friends to date her and develop a relationship.

This is the shojo version, so the emphasis is very much on his fears and the support of his friends -- and their ascii art, the likes of which I haven't seen since my bulletin board days. The story is sweet in an ordinary, everyday way, and the writing does attempt to treat the unseen, unmet friends as real people by showing them hanging around their computers waiting for news. But on the other hand the art is standard-issue and there aren't exactly any surprises.

Plus, our hero isn't the most otaku of otaku... he bathes. His place isn't a mess. He seems to have a little spare money that he hasn't spent on manga/anime/cosplay gear. And while it was amusing to see ascii art and proto-133tsp33k again, it's a bit of a disconnect in today's world of IMs and Flash-laden webpages.

- Miranda

Gakuen Heaven

by You Higuri and Spray
Published in the U.S. by Blu

Dishonorable Mention

Even by my slightly lower porn standards, this is a flop -- main character's a Mary Sue, everyone's perfect, the plot drowns in tearful gratitude, the bad guys exist only to create hurt/comfort scene, and it's just generally boring.

- Miranda

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nosatsu Junkie, v.1

Created by Ryoko Fukuyama
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: For once, it's the female character who has "the darkness" around
her and the guy has to "rescue" her from herself.

This has been a tough rating to decide on. In our system, 3 stars means that the title is average. This is a shoujo title that has some of the standard tropes -- cross-dressing, people who want to become idols/models to get back to their exes -- but they do put a nice little twist to it. In this case, it is the female lead who is dark, whose appearance puts people off, and the male lead who starts to see past that and helps her start to come out of her shell. It is not the most original concept out there, but it was nice little twist, and managed to be entertaining.

But, while the art itself was fine, the layout of the panels and pages were at times confusing, jarring me out of the story at several places, forcing me to go back over pages since I was think I must have missed some connecting panel. Which character was which was sometimes not intuitively obvious just looking at the panel, and you had to rely on the dialogue balloons.

Despite that, I still rank it as a three-star, because I do feel that
sometimes that I am little hard on shoujo titles, and the story was pretty good.

- Ferdinand

Friday, November 24, 2006


Created by Maki Kusumoto
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: College is even more emotionally screwed up than high school?
There is no escape!!!

Dolis is an odd little thing, a one-off story of a doomed little romance
between a college-aged couple, of people that don't know who they are and simply don't care about others. The question I had when reading this was whether I could care about the characters, and except for a few instances I just couldn't. The use of text served to distance the reader even further from the characters. This is an interesting character sketch, but not really much of an interesting story.

What is very interesting is the use of color in the title. Supposedly many
manga titles in Japan, at least when they are first published in magazine, use one or two additional colors rather than just being black and white. Each chapter of Dolis uses a different set of colors, which makes it a very visually striking book, even if the actual line work is merely okay. I actually feel sorry for the editors and layout folks for this title, because originally each chapter was in a separate issue, surrounded by different stories, whereas here it is the same story, so some of the color schemes seem to clash.

So if you want to see some interesting use of color in manga, Dolis is a
good choice. Beyond that, I don't find a lot of excitement in the title -- if anything, it serves to drain you of it.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Recast, v.1

Created by Seung-Hui Kye
Released in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Just try to focus on the pretty, pretty pictures and avoid the
word balloons. They will only sadden you.

The pictures are pretty.

And that's the limit of the good things I can say about Recast, a fantasy
action manhwa. The story is all over the place, things seem to happen for little reason, and you have to rely on story notes and explanation pages to get vital information that you need in order to meet important characters and understand what is going on, and...

Look, I can see something good in all this, but it is so buried in confusing, pointless plot bits that I have little hope it will be salvaged. While the art is nice, even the fight scenes are not very well constructed, with confusing panel to panel sequences. Maybe that is enough for some people, but I require an interesting story that makes sense.

- Ferdinand

Airgear, v. 2

by Oh!great
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Dishonorable Mention

This book made me laugh. It was almost as funny as Samurai Champloo, in fact. Problem is, I don't think the writer intended it as a comedy.

Oh, and the publisher had to change the girl's assless chaps into jeans for the front cover. Because if you're flying through the air on magic rollerblades, assless chaps are exactly what you want for those rough landings.

- Miranda

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rose Hip Zero

by Tohru Fujisawa
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: There's a rose on her hip. I don't know what the "zero" is all

Rose Hip Zero is a series from the creator of GTO, which would normally be a great motivator for one to check this out, but not so much in this case. Rose Hip Zero is about an almost supernaturally competent female teenage assassin, Rose, and the bad boy cop Kyoji as they take on the teen terrorist organization ALICE. It is an exactly manga-by-the-numbers action story. With a teen girl in a school uniform who likes to do flips (no fan service there!).

There are a couple weird story bits, which in GTO reflected the wackiness of
the main character and his effect on the world, but here just seem odd when compared to the terrorist-derived storyline and the implied stakes in the story. I tried to find out more about the story and series, but apparently this is the second of a three-series set. As far as I can tell, Rose Hip Rose, the predecessor story, has been released in the US, and Magnum Rose Hip, the successor is currently being serialized. I suspect they may shed more light on some of the things here.

While the art is nice, sometimes parts of it are mislaid so that the full
impact of the story is lost. For instance, there is a full page spread, which is nice, but an important story bit is hidden in the crease so that you can't see it. So while this is a good action story, that's all that it is, despite attempts to try to draw you in and build a backstory.

- Ferdinand

Junjo Romantica, v.1

by Shungiku Nakamura
Published in the U.S. by Blu

Slugline: College student Misaki falls for famous author Akihiko and Hiroki
falls for Nowaki. Caution: explicit gay porn.

This is a story in two parts, and Akihiko seems to be the only connection -- Hiroki had a thing for Aki, but it's not clear if this is parallel to Misaki's story or not. Maybe it doesn't matter. The transition threw me for a loop since I kept confusing Hiroki with Misaki's brother.

I'm not a big fan of romance stories, partly because there seem to be a set
number of ways for the relationship to develop and one of them involves what would normally be prosecutable cases of sexual assault. That would be the style featured in Misaki and Akihiko's half of the volume. The theory that the ends not only justify the means but somehow make it more "romantic" has never sat well with me. Hiroki and Nowaki's relationship reads more easily, after an initial case of home invasion.

Both stories contain well developed characters with heartaches and fears and
a life outside their porn, but the plot focuses solely on getting two guys in bed with each other. Along the way, some funny moments and snarking kept the drama from getting too thick. The art is all right -- the guys are prone to having gigantic shoulders, though, and too-small heads -- and the sex is explicit without being hardcore, obviously drawn within the bounds of Japan's censorship laws...

- Miranda

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Queens, v.1

by Sung-Hyen Ha
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Pil-Hyun desperately wants to be more "manly" and apprentices himself to a manga artist to do so.

...because they are such paragons of manhood. Especially the female ones. Yes, the kid is doomed.

This is, in fact, an interestingly different look at the "femmy" boy character type. I'm not saying that all guys who like teddy bears or wearing dresses should aspire to be more "manly" -- I think you should be yourself and hold out for the people who will understand you, but at the same time I know how hopeless that can seem when you're a teenager.

Overly "feminine" boys turn up frequently in manga (this is a manhwa, though) and they don't seem to face the same problems that such a guy would in the U.S. Pil-Hyun's quest for "manliness" gives the reader a window on how masculinity is defined in Asia -- where it's obviously both similar and different from the American definition.

Along the way, I'm sure there will be a look at the less glamorous side of being a professional artist, which is also worth seeing.

If it weren't for that, Queens would be a moderately amusing comedy of failures, mistakes and bad luck. Those aren't exactly uncommon, though this one puts a bit more effort into developing the characters. The art is competent but unexceptional. I'm a bit surprised to be recommending this title and looking forward to volume 2.

- Miranda

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Penguin Revolution, v.1

Created by Sakura Tsukuba
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Beware armed penguins! (Which is true only in the most
metaphorical way.)

I usually do not like shoujo titles, because they seem to use the same three
or four plots over and over. When I first read the cover copy for Penguin Revolution I was very tempted not to bother. We have cross-dressing characters and it is set in the talent agency. I've only read about a dozen titles in that ballpark.

But while Penguin Revolution is not the salvation of the shoujo genre,
neither does it fall headlong into all of the traps that I expected. The cross-dressing, while played for laughs, isn't because of romantic misunderstandings. While the reason that it is happening isn't an especially sound one, let's admit it, how many sound ones can there be? And our lead character isn't trying to beat the odds and get people to see her obvious talent, but instead just trying to help out a friend and trying to avoid living on the streets.

The main character Yukari has the ability to sense a person's creative
talent by seeing an otherwise invisible set of wings on the person, the greater the wings, the greater the talent. Considering how she grew up, she craves stability and wants to avoid the entertainment industry but she still ends up living with a talent crossdressing as a girl and she has to get into entertainment to help keep his secret. While she is fond of him, she is not reduced to a simpering mess by his or any man's presence (except by the brilliance of his wings, but then again any set of wings can affect her) and she can defend herself.

The art is straightforward and tells the story effectively and while there
is nothing in the title that speaks of brilliance, sometimes executing the same old thing in a good way is worth more than you think.

Finally, this is a CMX Manga title, which may leave a bad taste in fans'
mouths, but the company has learned from their previous mistakes and this book at least seems solid.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Good Witch of the West, v.1

Story by Noriko Ogiwara, Art by Harahiko Momokawa
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Daughter of a missing princess turns up in a small town, and is chased by mysterious bad guys.

It's a story that turns up often enough in the fantasy fiction shelves -- princess disappears with her lover and a pretty girl turns up a generation later wit all the indicators of royal blood. At the same time, there's trouble in the kingdom from a mysterious cult/coven/etc.

In this version, so far, Firiel has no apparent abilities other than making sure the boys in her life stay fed. Except for a lucky kick she gets in. Still, it's the kind of story that can be entertaining when it's done well and there are some interesting details. A book of standard Western fairy tales makes an appearance, but they're not well known stories in this world. Firiel's friend -- and her father's apprentice -- may have a dark side lurking within.

Volume 1 is a standard beginning to the story: Firiel finds out about the missing princess and is stripped of her childhood -- and volume 2 will be a big influence on my opinion of the series. Though if it were a fiction book and the first 200 pages couldn't tell me if the story was any good I'd have gotten bored already, but hey, it's manga.

- Miranda

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dokebi Bride, v.2

by Marley
Published in the U.S. by Net Comics

Slugline: Sunbi is plagued by evil spirits and the strange new world of the big city, but she gets some advice on how to fight back.

This volume has it all: horror, philosophy, jokes, Korean folklore, tragedy... I get a lot of manga for free, but I went to the store and bought Dobeki Bride and I plan to do it again.

Here in Seoul without her grandmother's guidance, Sunbi struggles to settle in while being tormented by various nasty spirits. It's not easy to sit through class with a demon chewing on your head. Her human acquaintances range from the cousin who hates her to the paranormal buff with the Kirlian camera to a monk who helps Sunbi out of a bad spot. She's hurt and confused by it all, but remains proactive and starts searching for ways to protect herself from these demons.

The art has occasional perspective problems, but segues easily from the mundane world to hyper-detailed horrors of the paranormal. It's not a horror story, though. It's the sort of strong heroine story that I would recommend to anyone, along with Polly and Eternal Sabbath.

I'm hoping I can find an equally good boy-centerd series to go with these, in all honesty.

The back page says v.3 was due in September '06... I'll have to see about that, and order it straight from the source if my book store isn't keeping up.

- Miranda

My Hime, v.1

Written by Kimura Noboru and Illustrated by Ken-etsu
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Whose brilliant idea was it to have distraught schoolgirls battle each other and have 'children'?

This is one of those manga that at first glance seems relatively, but when you start really taking it apart it starts mildly creeping you out. The two female leads, Mai and Natsuki, are driven by duties to others. Because of these duties they create mystical creatures called children with the main male lead Yuuichi, and even though they do not like him, their try to focus on their child. They are called princesses (the English translation of hime) and they are both protected and isolated, made to serve others. And in the process of doing so, they are revealed to the male eye in tons of fanservice.
I've never formally studied feminist theory, and my thought processes do not usually turn to it, but this work I suspect revealed far more about what the expected Japanese roles for women and gender relationships than the creators intended.

And to show how bad I am at feminist theory, I am now going to put it all aside, and try to talk just about the manga as presented.

The story is basically about an Academy that is under attack by entities called Orphans, and school students called Hime use their psychic abilities to defend the school, with the story revolving two of the Hime and the new male transfer student who is a Key that helps the Hime create Childs, psychic creations that boost the Himes' abilities.
Okay, one of the non-lead female students says to the male student "Please, open my keyhole..."


Okay, the art at times is a little confusing, with lots of fan service and the plot is, well, thin. Painfully so and unrealistic even by manga standards. I find that there are some good character touches and moments that rang true, for instance, real sexual tension in this sort of highly charged environment must have considering the sort of relationships that exist between Himes and Keys. I haven't watched the anime that this is based on, so if you really liked it, this is supposedly a re-imagination of aspects of the original story and you may want to read it because of that. Otherwise this is just something to looked at, experienced on a surface level if you like fan service and pseudo-sexual imagery, but otherwise, eh, not enjoying it.

- Ferdinand.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, v.1

by Shiki Satoshi
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Bored teenager wants to be a secret agent.

This story is so resoundingly ordinary that I have very little to say about it. It's been decked out with various science-fiction trappings -- underwater cities, super-duper-jet-skis, government agents in scanty outfits -- but it's just another bored teenager with an unlikely job and a couple "oddities" thrown in.

Ai spends her time in school or test-driving high-speed jet-skis because her dad is a muckety-muck scientist and she gets involved in chasing some escaping terrorists and running into the special agents assigned to eliminate said terrorists (I'm sure there are "secrets" the government's suppressing that the terrorists want to educate everyone about) so Ai wants to be a secret agent and she's kidnapped by the terrorists but saves the day and... gratuitous boobs, hooray.

There's nothing particularly bad about Daphne, but there's nothing noteworthy either. This author also wrote Kami Kaze, which I found more interesting and I'd recommend over this title.

- Miranda

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Judas, v.1

by Suu Minazuki
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: "Eve", possessed by "Judas" (no relation to any Biblical characters) must slay lots of bad guys.

But there's more to it than that, it seems. The "bad guys" are themselves possessed by another spirit, one claiming to represent life to Judas's death. There's an organization involved, somewhere, and recurring cross-shaped hypodermics. And at the end we meet Zero, who's cast as Judas's nemesis.

That's the interesting stuff. On the other hand, Eve is a boy and a crybaby to boot. Mizuki, a 16-year-old medical/computer/all-around supergenius, joins their quest to kill 666 after Judas kills the priest who ran the orphanage Mizuki grew up in. The group also picks up Kogiku, who seems to attract animals and is slightly more useful than Eve. Judas himself is tiresomely petty and bossy, most of the time.

But there are some genuinely strange moments and enough of the underlying world-building, mentioned above, to hold my interest. I found the artwork to be occasionally unclear about what was going on, sometimes forcing me to backtrack in the middle of an action sequence. It's not so great when a portion of the swirling cloud effects turns out to actually be a giant scythe. I'd like to know about these things before we get stabbity.

Whoever wrote the back cover blurb didn't read it, I'm thinking -- there's more to this than just killing 666 people. At least, that's what I'm hoping. 3 stars, with a bullet.

- Miranda

Making Comics

By Scott McCloud
Published by Harper Paperbacks

Slugline: Everything else you need to know about making comics

I've said before that we will occasionally review stuff here that are not precisely manga, but will be of interest to manga fans even if they do not seem to at first blush. In the western comics, Scott McCloud is one of the foremost theoreticians of comics. Calling him a theoretician makes him sound very dry and possibly boring, but he approaches his work in a very entertaining style, packing it with ideas that explode like grenades in your consciousness just a few minutes into reading the book. And reading the book is not a very difficult task, considering it is a comic book with Scott McCloud himself guiding you through the work.

Making Comics is not about art, or how you draw chibis, but instead about the more abstract and more important issues about what you draw, how you frame, how much space should be between panels or should there even panels at all. He doesn't give you any concrete answers, but points out what the questions should be. If you have ever looked at a page and wondered why it just didn't feel right, Making Comics offers a concrete list of questions you can ask to help you discover just why that is.

While he does mostly focus on western comics, McCloud has been looking at some of the
regional differences between comics, and he does have a short section about some of the differences between American and Japanese comics.

Considering just how many "How to Draw" books there are on the market, and how many of
them are manga-focused, if you want to learn how to draw that is well covered. But if you want to do more than just arrange them one after another, if you want to tell a story with your pictures, to turn something good into something great, Making Comics is an invaluable toolkit to have, just as important as pencil and paper.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Banya, v.1

by Kim Young-oh
Published in the U.S. by Dark Horse Manhwa

Slugline: Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night... and not siege armies or monsters either, apparently, will stop this delivery man.

This is the sort of fantasy world where everyone wears neo-traditional garb except for the teenage girl (of which there is only one.) She, of course, must wear something inspired by current teen fashion.

The three kids, including Banya, all work for the Desert Post Office (without a boss or even a town in the vicinity) and are similar go-getter personalities. Bany is particularly known for his over-the-top stunts to deliver a package, so when a wounded messenger has to pass his burden on, it goes to Banya. Bad guys show up in pursuit of the message, and the chase is on.

There are plenty of over-eager, over-competent teens in manga, plenty of mysterious bad guys, random monsters that eat your camel, and plucky girls to back up the main man. Overlook these sorts of standard fantasy tropes and Banya is a fun enough action story. There may not be any noble sacrifices -- everyone's got to pony up the delivery fee -- but it'll be a fun romp since nobody seems to be taking this too seriously. At least not until people start getting killed.

Well, maybe not even then.

- Miranda

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Re:Play, v.1

By C. Lijewski
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Re:Play is another one of TokyoPop's OGM's created by a winner of the Rising
Stars of Manga contest, in this case Christy Lijewski. Though she was discovered that way, she is also producing a monthly comic for Slave Labor Graphics, which after reading Re:Play makes me want to check it out.

Re:Play is a musician manga, but I'll try not to hold that against it. Eh, it's not
that I have anything specifically against manga featuring musicians, but it seems to be popular out of proportion to its actual usefulness. I mean manga, or any comic for that matter, can not actually convey the music that is such a central part of the story. Of course, that may be the attraction, that you don't have to be concerned about the music.

Cree is the singer of a small-time band that was starting to take off when their
bassist ditches both the band and her. But fortunately she finds a new bassist Izsak, who is a amnesiac homeless street musician. Nothing can go wrong there, right? Needless to say she starts to fall for him, despite her best friend Rail's misgivings. There may be something to his concerns, since there are some very odd people that are overly interested in Izsak. Plus Izsak himself has some strange needs.

Okay, I said earlier that I usually have problems with musician manga, well this is
one that proves the rule by being the exception. The art is a jagged style, which fits the characters and the story. Cree is fairly well established character-wise, while the others are described as far as they are needed to keep things moving. Surprisingly enough, Izsak's secret wasn't revealed at the end of the volume, which would have been a good capper, but instead the story ends on a emotional note. There is some strangeness and action, but it is understated and hinting, rather than being full out. I definitely want to see more.

- Ferdinand

Welcome to the NHK, v. 1

by Tatsuhiko Takimoto & Kendi Oiwa
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Satou has a love-hate relationship with his otaku-hermit lifestyle.

A "hikikomori" is a college-age dropout, usually male, who goes into voluntary seclusion. Apparently it's a growing phenomenon (or is perceived to be -- sounds a lot like my brother for the last ten years) in Japan. Satou says he's been a shut-in for four years and he's starting to try to emerge from the solitary confinement.

This is, of course, easier said than done.

The story is rather disjointed, as Satou is prone to massive overreactions (in his own mind, at least) and is easily distracted. His internal self-flagellations are both amusing and sadly familiar to any shy person struggling to pry open their own shell. Safe to say that Satou's gone a bit stir crazy in his confinement, and the two friends he makes aren't terribly helpful.

One is Yamazaki, hentai collector, who is also a hikikomori and seeds a crazy idea in Satou's head to invent an erotic video game.

The other is Misaki, a pretty girl whose existence tortures Satou with visions of porn. She claims to have a sure-fire cure for hikikomori (I suspect it includes a job and a girlfriend) and she lures Satou out of his apartment for "sessions."

NHK is funny and fast-moving, but it's also guaranteed to be a long string of failures and humiliations for its hero. It has some raunchy moments and some predictable moments, and the characters aren't quite as unique as they sound. So I put it in the middle of the pack.

- Miranda

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Octopus Girl, v.3

by Toru Yamazaki
Published in the U.S. by Dark Horse Manga

Slugline: If Madmagazine is too tame (or, possibly, too high-brow) for you these days, then suffer no more. Truly bizarre gross-out comedy has been brought to us by the good folks at Dark Horse.

This isn't a Dishonorable Mention, but I'll be brief because I'm not usually found hanging around the horror/comedy crossroads. I need to go bleach my eyeballs after reading this.

Octopus Girl is a semi-anthology of two girls who sometimes have the bodies of an octopus and an eel and who have strange, gory and sh*t-filled adventures. The art is hideous, but that's intentional. The dialog is flat, but that hardly matters. Believe it or not, I'm giving it two stars for inconsistency -- not all the stories are pointless or even sh*t-filled.

If you've got a friend who's into gross-out comedy and you're looking for a present for them, there's three volumes of this stuff for sale at Amazon.

- Miranda

Snow, v.1

Created by Morgan Luthi
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: A fluffier, more easy going but still destructive Akira.

Morgan Luthi is another of the TokyoPop artists who were discovered through the Rising Stars of Manga contest. He actually has an interesting story about winning, in that he had been applying for several of the contests in a row, being turned down each time, but slowly gaining in skill until he finally was one of the winners published.

Snow is a story about the apparently identity-less newcomer to the Hub, the back end
of the galaxy, a galaxy that seems to be under random assault by the Warmongers, a race of giant robots, whose greatest weapon is the Ghost, a psychic of unprecedented power. On the Hub, there is a gang that battles the other gangs to help the city function, called the Crows, led by Katarina. Needless to say the other gangs do not share the Crows' altruism, and the Warmongers are looking for the Ghost.

I wanted to like this, and to a certain extent I do, but when I start unpacking the story I keep on hitting on elements that just didn't seem to work. Katarina's unusual background comes up, but then doesn't really change anything. The reveal of the Ghost is handled casually, and the reveal at the end of the episode is anything but believable.

The art is very open and fluid, both futuristic and old at the same time. The story
moves very fast, but there does not feel like that there is much story actually there. Part of that may be the panel layout, which is very open, which means that there are fewer panels per page. Luthi has a very good sense of design, with the title pages and other administrativa of the book seamlessly flowing in with the story pages.

I think this series still has potential, and these structural flaws can be fixed, so
that is the sole reason I haven't given this manga a lower score.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Saihoshi the Guardian, v.1

by Kosen
Published by Yaoi Press

Slugline: Saihoshi agrees to bodyguard Prince Anel on the way to meet his arranged bride. Needless to say, things go wrong. Caution: softcore gay porn.

Yaoi Press has been boldly forging ahead with an all-OEL list of titles. This is the first story of theirs that I've read, and it was a pleasant surprise.

It's a fairly amusing story of a horny young prince trying to catch his bodyguard's eye and getting into trouble when his journey is interrupted by an ambush. It's a fantasy world stocked with gay boys (did I even see a single woman? will his "bride" be female?) who like a lot of leather straps. And get this, Saihoshi wields a giant pair of scissors for a weapon. He runs with scissors. It had to be done, I guess.

As noted, the porn is softcore -- no frontal nudity, just a lot of butt shots and convenient drapery. Not that there's anything wrong with nice butt shots.

The characters are solid and even have an occasional twist, the story is straightforward and the dialog got an occasional smile. I read a special edition handed out at a retailer convention which included a short, yaoi version of Gawain and the Green Knight that I'm less impressed by (I'm a little too fond of the original) and an snippet preview of a title called Stallion (which looks pretty formulaic.)

As yaoi goes, Saihoshi is light and angst-free and that's a nice change of pace once in a while. I am kind of curious to find out if his "bride" will turn out to be a boy in drag, or maybe a hermaphrodite (in the apparently-well-entrenched hentai style...)

- Miranda

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Q-ko-chan, v. 2

by Ueda Hajime
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Dishonorable Mention

Review of v.1

Since this was written by the creator of FLCL, I should've figured the second volume would resolve exactly nothing.

Amusingly, these two volumes comprise the entire story. I think the translator's note at the end says it best, and I quote, "So what happened? I wish I could tell you."

Thanks for killing tons of trees so we can all be confused together.

- Miranda

Peach Fuzz, v. 1

Created by Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: A pet primer and younger kids title, all in one.

Peach Fuzz is one of the first of the TokyoPop original creator titles, and is aimed
at younger readers. Amusingly enough, I am pretty sure I remember its creators, Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges, for the adult work that they did beforehand.

Amanda wants a pet, and so at the pet store she chooses a ferret which she names
Peach. However, Peach's apparently gentle nature at the pet store is mostly because she was napping, and once she awakes she is not happy. Peach saw herself as a princess, and now sees herself as a prisoner of a dungeon, under the sway of the evil Handra, which she has to fend off with bites. Amanda's mom doesn't want to keep an animal that will hurt her daughter, but Amanda wants to keep Peach.

What I like, in its humorous and roundabout way, is that this story points out that
pets don't look at the world the same way that humans do. Peach Fuzz hides it under the idea that Peach sees the world as a medieval kingdom with as her as a princess, but when Amanda uses animal behaviors that Peach learned from her ferret-mommy, Peach and Amanda finally get to an accommodation, one that is limited by the fact that Peach will still on occasion nip just to make a point.

I actually would suggest giving a copy of this book to a kid who wants a pet, to help
illustrate that what they think and what the pet thinks may be entirely different things. And the unmeaning and casual cruelty they may unknowingly visit upon the pet. As a story, the art is very good, very open, very friendly to non-comic-experienced readers. I do feel that while the story is more geared to younger readers, older readers will find some bits to entertain themselves with.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Kuro Gane, v.2

by Kei Toume
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Jintetsuo tries not to get involved with two old friends and the politics of revenge.

Volume 1 review

One gets the impression, from this volume, that Jintetsuo doesn't know what he wants -- other than to not get involved, which he doesn't do a very good job of. And I'm not sure what happened to the interesting ideas I saw in the first volume, because other than the hero waffling back and forth, the stories are retreads of standard Japanese-style revenge by underage, overenthusiastic orphans.

It seems, also, that Jintetsuo is less of a robot in this volume -- he eats, he drinks, he still doesn't talk but the talking sword now claims it can read his mind. Which may be more convenient for the writer, but it removes most of the mystery and another point of uniqueness. And if Jintetsuo's just another closed-lipped samurai watching others kill each other and feeling guilty, what's the point?

It may be that in v.3, he will find something to do that can carry the further volumes, but as sophomore slumps go this is a tough one and I don't know if I'll be there to find out about v.3. I've got a lot in my to-read pile.

- Miranda