Friday, June 30, 2006

New Lanchester Strategy, v. 2 & 3

New Lanchester Strategy: Sales and Marketing Strategy for the Weak vol. 2
New Lanchester Strategy: Sales and Marketing Strategy for the Strong vol. 3
Written by Shinichi Yano, illustrated by Kenichi Sato and translated by Connie Prene
Released in the US by Lanchester Press, Inc

Slugline: Learning to beat your business opponents, manga style!

I thought I would try something a little different from what you are used to. A business theory manga. The Lanchester business theory deals with how to beat business opponents by focusing on their weak points and so on. This has been used in Japan as one of the theories employed in their post-WW 2 recovery. This title was translated by a small specialty press in the late 90s that focuses on Lanchester theory works.

The reason I chose to review this particular title is that it is one of the few examples I know of a non-fiction manga, showing the width and breadth of the medium. Because it's not just about which titles tell good stories, it's about what kind of information manga can be used to communicate. And the answer is anything, because stories are just information, theories are just information. This sort of manga has not reached our shores yet, but I hope this can show what other sorts manga can turn up if the market keeps expanding and demanding material, even material that we may not yet realize we want.

This is a three part manga series, but right now only the last two are available via Amazon. The story is told through the eyes of a group leader, striving to do his all for his company, facing opponents both within and without the company. He talks to friends and fellow company members, each time illustrating one particular point of the business theory in an accessible, commonsense way. Nothing really earthshattering about the theories, but it does take some interesting approaches on understanding and applying business theories, both offensively and defensively.

- Ferdinand

p.s. Now seriously, you thought manga was all sailor girls and bishonen, didn't you. As boring as this manga might sound, imagine how much more boring it would be without pictures...

- Miranda

Our other manga reviews

Just a reminder, I do manga reviews at the CBG site, and just posted one on Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days at the Reviews and Retroviews forum over the Comic Buyers Guide website. Never mind my monthly column in the paper edition of the Comic Buyers Guide.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

School Rumble, v. 1 & 2

by Jin Kobayashi
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Tenma love Oji. Kanji loves Tenma. Despite their best efforts, there's not a single clue between the three of them.

The writer has grouped the short, self-contained chapters into "sharps" and "flats" (as in the musical notations) -- the sharps are about Tenma and Kanji's wacky attempts to get the attention of their crushes. The flats are about Tenma's sister Yakumo, who is far more serious and has some psychic ability.

It's an interesting juxtaposition. Tenma's and Kenji's stories are amusing in their desperate, doomed frenzy, and Yakumo's more insightful stories about deflecting attention balance them out. Otherwise, it would just be light and amusing but prone to repetition and sympathy fatigue.

Don't expect anything to come of the romances -- everyone's far too thick-headed and hapless -- and don't be surprised that the writer uses some torturous series of coincidences to pull the jokes off. For a high school comedy romance, School Rumble keeps it light and short and funny, rather than trying to build elaborate misunderstandings that could be solved in two seconds. And I appreciate that, having sat through quite a few of the latter in both English and Japanese.

UPDATED!: Series Update for School Rumble here.

- Miranda

Monday, June 26, 2006

Devil May Cry 3, v.1

by Suguro Chayamachi
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Dante, who ought to find a new job if he hates this one so much, is set on a collision course with his long-lost brother.

Let's face it, there's a reason why video games are not known as good source material for books or movies. It's because even the most story-oriented game is required to provide the players with fight sequences, level bosses or something to do. Like a summer blockbuster, the plot structure is well established and allows only a little room for the other three elements of the story: character, dialog and worldbuilding. Like summer blockbusters, they can be amusing but they won't do much more than that.

DMC3 is very much caught in the game plot structure. Dante shows up, fights, then goes somewhere else and fights some more. Things are told to him, and the reader by extension, but he is a passive receiver of it all. Strange, perhaps, to say that the guy with the two guns and the kung fu is passive, but he only goes where the story requires him to be and does what the story requires him to do. There's a little snarking on the side and a dollop of angst, but it's not much spice, to my tastes.

The art is competent and fans of the game may enjoy reliving their favorite sequences, but for the rest of us it's just some nice pictures and rather obvious use of Lewis Carroll characters. I ought to be able to hand out yellow cards for that sort of thing.

- Miranda

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kuro Gane, v.1

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

Slugline: A samurai prodigy is resurrected as a clockwork man by your friendly neighborhood Dr. Frankenstein and returns to his home town to settle some debts.

Or, at least I think he's a robot -- he gets stabbed a couple times and bleeds. (oils?)

Jintetsu was found dying and picked up by a wanna-be mad scientist (he's a bit too nice to be a mad scientist.) Waking in a very retro-robot body, he finds he has no voice, but he's alive. The scientist uses Jintetsu to get revenge, but dies in the process, leaving his creation to take a talking sword and head home to get some revenge of his own.

The art is rough and there is some allusion to Jintetsu's memories and being demon-haunted, but not much comes of that in v.1. The sword does his talking for him and carries on one-sided conversations trying to figure out the robot's motivations. (He can't be bothered to even nod yes or no, apparently.)

The plots are fairly standard, but the characters are likeable, especially Otsuki, his former girlfriend. This is very much an introduction to the world, as no long-term goals are set and each of the three stories are resolved. So I'm curious where the writer will take this idea in v.2.

- Miranda

Our other Manga reviews

Just a reminder, I do manga reviews at the CBG site, and just posted one on Angel Cup at the Reviews and Retroviews forum over the Comic Buyers Guide website. Never mind my monthly column in the paper edition of the Comic Buyers Guide.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Last Fantasy, v. 1

Written by Creative Won with Art by Yong-wan Kwon
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Two brothers try their best to be real in a fantasy world which conspires against them.

Last Fantasy is a clever little take on fantasy stories and gaming, with the characters showing all the traits of classic Monty Haulers, grabbing anything of even marginal value to be sold at the nearest town that has disreputable merchants. Tian (the magical one) and Drei (the brawny one) seek their fame and fortune, mostly fortune, yet never really make the big time. Meanwhile, a dangerous presence lurks the background, planning something not nice.

Sometimes it is hard to create real characters in a parody/humor title, since they are used for such broad purposes that you don't really need to create that much detail in them, and too much detail actually makes it hard to believe that they would act in such broad ways. But this title does play around with some of the fantasy tropes in an interesting way, and the only reason it doesn't rate higher is because I think they are setting up some conflicts, and I am not sure how those later conflicts will play out.

It is interesting that this manwha was written collaboratively, according to the end comments, in a deliberate attempt to rectify a perceived weakness in the overall writing of manga/manwha. Which to a certain extent I can understand, for there has been an interesting argument in US comics (see Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics) that the disciplines of art and writing have been moving apart, and when you try to reintegrate them together, there is bound to be problems. People tend to focus on the art, since that is what you can tell immediately whether or not it is any good, while "anyone can write." Of course, writing well is another thing.

What, did you expect a writer, even one of reviews, not to stress the importance of writing?

We may be biased, thinking that most manga is well written, but let's face it, the bad stuff never gets translated, so we are seeing the top ten percent of manga and thus may be missing the hordes of beautiful but horribly incomprehensible stories. (You can find the comic-book versions of those in any comic book store, though.)

And, oh yeah, after all that, I do think they have put together a pretty strong story. So at least that problem has been solved with them at least.

- Ferdinand

Monday, June 19, 2006

Loveless, v. 1

by Yun Kouga
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: A troubled young boy finds out that a secret world of magic duels led to his older brother's murder.

This title has virtually every aspect of a success: modern-world magic, dueling, mysterious sexy guys, lots of yaoi fanfic fodder, and, most importantly, kitty ears.

Oddly, it's the kitty ears that contribute to the more interesting side of the story. The kitty ears (and tail) are a mark of sexual innocence, apparently, so even the boys wear their purity openly.

Our young hero, Ritsuka, has his ears but everything else about him is damaged goods. His mother is abusive, both physically and mentally. His older brother was gruesomely murdered. He's emotionally detached and may be developing a set of multiple personalities -- a self-defense mechanism against severe abuse.

And then Soubi, his brother's dueling partner, appears and spouts off such an emotionally manipulative speech that it set off my sexual-abuser-alarms, and I'm not even a parent.

Between that and the fact that dueling apparently involves bondage gear, the entire story takes on tones of a metaphor for childhood sexual abuse.

I wonder if that's the writer's intention.

Either way, I guarantee you'll see more boys wearing kitty ears at your next anime convention.

UPDATED!: Series Update for Loveless here.

- Miranda

Other reviews we do...

Just a reminder, I do manga reviews at the CBG site, and just posted one on I Luv Halloween at the Reviews and Retroviews forum over the Comic Buyers Guide website. Never mind my monthly column in the paper edition of the Comic Buyers Guide.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Rebirth, v. 1 - 3

By Woo
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Powerfull vampire is re-constituted from ashes to seek revenge and/or save and/or destroy the world.

If you like big, DBZ-style magic fights, read no further and go buy this manhwa. (Korean manga, ICYDK.)

For the rest of us, Rebirth starts with a fairly standard set of characters (angry anti-hero, two girls struggling to be useful, snarky sidekick, emotionless female killing machine) and gets a bit distracted by its own massive combat sequences for the first two volumes.

(So distracted that a bunch of supposedly hungry monsters spend most of v.1 standing around with lunch in their hands -- take a bite! Up the tension! Doesn't the girl look yummy enough?)

In volume 3, the story launches into some good questions and answers, but then throws in a rather pointless fight and some unsurprising character background for the busty female "Catholic" preist/exorcist.

The characters are solidly developed, but not very interesting... dialog is good in places but mostly flat... plot keeps getting sidelined by combat... worldbuilding... well, it doesn't suck, specifically, except for the vampiric parts.

- Miranda

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Midnight Opera, v. 1 & 2

By Hans Steinbach
Published by Tokyopop

Slugline: Ancient, undead musician has taken up goth rock when his past comes a-knocking in the form of werewolves, zombies, witch-vampires, holy paramilitary orders and romantic trauma.

These two books bother me. First problem: there are some really cool sequences, such as volume 1's combat through a hospital and volume 2's introduction of Elizabeth Bathory. Second problem: the art sometimes isn't clear when it needs to be. The worst example was when a section of wall turned out to actually be a train. (This was sometimes a problem in another title that I really, really wanted to love: Poison Elves by Drew Hayes)

And never mind that I'm not clear on what part of being undead includes having children who can grow into adults. Or being a werewolf. But I'm willing to let it slide.

I suppose I should be thankful, too, that I took French in high school (a thousand years ago,) because he keeps lapsing into it (and German and Italian, once or twice.)

Steinbach's got talent, I'm not going to argue that. There's wittiness and fast-moving combat and werewolves howling atop Notre Dame. There's a beautiful moment in v. 1 when Ein says "You are safe here, my friend." He uses a scratchy-pen art style that reminds me (fondly) of the early issues of Sandman. But the storytelling is rough and sometimes unclear, and in one important place the dialog just doesn't carry the weight needed to convince me that the likes of Bathory is going to change her mind.

I want to see what he writes when he's finished A Midnight Opera.

- Miranda

Monday, June 12, 2006

Kami Kaze, v.1

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

Slugline: Girl with mystical significance is sought by many bad guys and protected by one good guy. Both blood and guts are well represented.

You get your money's worth with this one -- 250 pages for the same price -- and a lot of solidly good combat. The characters are nothing new -- a girl who doesn't know her powers, a stern, untalkative hero -- but the plot both clips along and explains itself adequately, which is good because it also brings its own vocabulary. In some titles, like Basilisk, it can be a bit of work to keep up, but Kami Kaze doesn't bury you in new words (the master of this being, of course, A Clockwork Orange.)

Despite familiar characers and motivations, the story held on to me by sketching out an element-based power structure and a quest to summon 88 beasts. (What are the chances they'll be joining us in a few volumes?)

While not the goriest manga ever, there is slicing and dicing of innocent bystanders and enough sexual innuendo to hint at the possibility of some nasty stuff to come. Like Basilisk, I expect things will escalate quickly. Given the choice between Basilisk and Kami Kaze, though, I would recommend you pick up this one. Slightly more meaning to the gratuitous violence, if you know what I mean.

UPDATED!: Series Update for Kami Kaze here.

- Miranda

Madtown Hospital, v. 1

by JTK
Published by Netcomics

I'm going to give Netcomics this one as a mulligan. Check out some of their other titles... just not this one.

- Miranda

Friday, June 09, 2006

Secret Chaser

Dishonorable Mention:
Secret Chaser, v. 1
by Tamayo Akiyama
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Obviously, the writer being an original member of CLAMP doesn't guarantee anything. The first 50 pages turned me off so badly -- viral hypnosis! bossy 12-year-old CEOs! Look, ma, I'm Sherlock Holmes! -- that I only skimmed the rest. It didn't get better.

- Miranda

Dogby Walks Alone 1

Created by Wes Abbott
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: When there is a murder mystery in the happiest place on Earth, only Dogby, mightiest of the mascots, can be counted on to solve it.

Dogby Walks Alone is a continuation and extension of a Rising Star of Manga-winning short from the second collection. The never-revealed Dogby is the unofficial force for justice in HappyPlace, the happiest theme park in America. Except for the ex-Russian mafia security forces, amuck mascots from rival theme park Illusion Valley and the Bondian-villain-like HappyPlace management. Despite the chaos of place, and the mass disgruntlement of the workers leading to a robbery of the day's receipts, Dogby cares about only one thing.

The Princess has perished.

And someone has to pay.

Ranging from serious to tragicomic, Dogby Walks Alone is a detective story wrapped up in homages to dozens of different works, from Chinatown/Chinatoon to video games to the Blues Brothers. But around it, though the creator tries to undercut it deliberately, is the core of the story of Dogby wanting to do justice for the Princess, even though she couldn't respond to his own caring about her. While the art and sometimes the story is uneven, the characters ring true to their own world, and if you can appreciate some ironic humor, Dogby Walks Alone is for you.

- Ferdinand

Other reviews we do...

Just a reminder, I do manga reviews at the CBG site, and just posted one on Unearthly at the Reviews and Retroviews forum over the Comic Buyers Guide website. Never mind my monthly column in the paper edition of the Comic Buyers Guide.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Platinum Garden, v.1

by Maki Fujita
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: "Indecent Proposal" meets the antiquated Japanese extended family structure, with a dash of weirdness.

Kazura's grandfather died in debt to a very rich boy, Mizuki, so naturally he offered his granddaughter as collateral. Mizuki requires her to move in and be his fiancee.

I am glad to say that some things are explained fairly soon after these odd (and illegal) requirements are announced. Some of the developments are not surprising (Kazura will be going to Mizuki's school too) and some are more interesting (Mizuki's role in the family business.) Some of the characters are stock stereotypes (the "perverted" 20something male) and some are... close to being stereotypes (Kazura puts up a bit of a fight at first, but she's softening up fast.) The dialog is well translated and the arguments are amusing, balancing out the moments that felt forced and/or arbitrary.

So it balances out to a 3, and could go either way in the next volume.

And in case you were wondering, Ferdinand will be back after his many writing deadlines ease up, including his manga column in Comics Buyer's Guide and his weekly manga reviews on

p.s. "Oops?" It's called burnout, Ferdinand. I'm so out of opinions that Secret Chaser couldn't get more than an eyeroll out of me.

- Miranda


Mistake on our part folks, a new review was not posted last night, a new one will posted tonite and then back to the normal schedule tomorrow.


Monday, June 05, 2006

No Man's Land, v. 2

by Jason DeAngelis & Jennyson Rosero
Published by Seven Seas

Slugline: A Civil War vet hunts demons in the wild, wild west. And yes, it's partly his fault that they're there.

Pick up volume 1 of this OEL so you know that we're in the middle of a showdown with one of the bad guys. After the fight -- which is just as over-the-top as any manga -- the story pauses a bit to fill in some background.

This being a horror title, No Man's got a dark past, linked to both Lincoln's assassination and the disastrous spell that unleashed demons into the world. The incident cost him his wife and son, as one might expect.

These are story elements we've all seen before, so here's what sets No Man's Land apart from other demon-hunting stories: it's a well done "weird west," which I have a soft spot for, (doesn't everybody?) and it doesn't have the cultural misperceptions that crop up in Japanese manga. For example, the Quakers are correctly portrayed as pacifists.

(I would never hold it against a Japanese title for getting American cultural details wrong, but when Catholic nuns start waving magic wands topped with the star of David, it gets really distracting.)

IMO, Seven Seas is a publisher to watch. Everything they publish is OEL and quite faithful to the manga style, right down to the reverse-reading. I'm looking forward to watching Western and Eastern graphic literature hybridize and develop its own style.

- Miranda

Friday, June 02, 2006

Kamui, v.1

by Shingo Nanami
Published in the U.S. by Broccoli Books

Slugline: A paranormal paramilitary organization recruits a wandering stranger whose secret goal is to take back the thing that just might be giving them their powers.

The elements of this story are quite familiar: a stranger with significant powers, a group of jaded, infighting teenage "generals" (since in manga everyone turns into a pumpkin on their 21st birthday) with paranormal powers, sidekicks in the snarky and overly slavish flavors, post-apocalyptic monsters, and a lost McGuffin that will Fix Everything. However, Kamui presents it all in a fresh, energetic manner.

Atsuma is searching for Okikurumi, a spirit -- aka kamui -- and finds a city controlled by NOA, a paramilitary replacement for the previous government, which was destroyed by giant earthquakes. NOA is headed up by various angsty and otherwise preoccupied officers and their lackeys; Atsuma's arrival shakes things up a bit, and will probably soon shake it up much harder.

Not the newest storyline in the genre, but Nanami-san has a good director's eye in his artwork, doesn't fall into angsty monologues for more than a panel or two, and keeps everything relevant to the plot. That way, things click right along and he gets two volumes' worth of introductions done in one. I may be getting older, but I'm not slowing down -- I've got things to do and places to be and if a writer's stuck in the mud, I can find something better to read.
Kamui is, let's see, fourth or fifth in a cluster of pretty good stuff, though. I may be getting spoiled.

- Miranda