Thursday, August 31, 2006

Jim Henson's Return to Labyrinth, v. 1

by Jake T. Forbes
Published by Tokyopop

Slugline: Toby's charmed life leads him back to the Labyrinth, where we meet new characters and familiar faces.

While reading this, I tried very hard to set aside my sentimental attachment to the original movie so as not to bring the Star Wars effect to bear. And I reminded myself that Jareth is not actually developed too much in Labyrinth, so some character flexibility must be allowed.

Even so, the story is about as elegant as the robot guard at the gates of the goblin city. Maybe the writer is inexperienced. Maybe the movie is a hard act to follow (well, David Bowie certainly is.) I'm willing to forgive the slashiness dripping off this Jareth and the illogic of things like inviting Ludo to a ball. The characters are simply predictable, the dialogue's clunky and, worse yet, the art isn't very interesting.

I didn't expect Terry Jones and Brian Froud, but... I'm disappointed.

Despite it all, I want to forgive this volume and hope that v.2 is better. I'm not saying this is a travesty like Star Wars Episode 1 -- it's not. But it's no Wrath of Khan. Maybe more like the second Matrix movie: has its good points, but lacks the soul of the original.

All will depend on whether the writer can give Toby some quirks of his own, lay off the cameos and generate some real tension in the story, whether plot-driven or character-driven I'm not fussy.

- Miranda

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Life has taken a turn for the crazier and necessitated a complete change of my daily schedule. Thus, the erratic posting. Hopefully things will settle down after Labor Day.

- Miranda

Suzuka, v. 1

By Kouji Seo
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: What a surprise that another high school guy works in female-only bath. Is there a law or something about that? Caution: Mature Content

Del Rey seems to be putting out a lot of titles that are heavy in fan service. Not sure if that is a deliberate choice on their part or a coincidence due to their contacts in Japan, but they seem to be one of the few companies that are unworried about having their titles shrinkwrapped in the stores. Pastel, a series that I am enjoying despite my better instincts, is from Del Rey, and they continue this trend in Suzuka.

Of the two, I am enjoying Suzuka more. Let's get the setup out of the way; country boy goes to Tokyo to live with his aunt while going to high school, an aunt who runs a female-only apartment building with a spa/bath attached. So he is the only guy in a building full of single women. There's a girl the same age as him in the building, so it is almost a given that they will fall for each other. But they are actually attempting to forge a relationship, rather than just having them both like each other and not revealing it because of a series of unbelievable coincidences. Both characters are right now in that stage of quasi-friendship, with a bit of hormones thrown in, but that is something that is understandable and believable.

So I like it. Sure, it is set in a hothouse, and there is some partial nudity in it, but not all nudity means X-rated (so far), and not all stories in manga set in bathhouses have to stretch reality. Maybe just credulity.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Laya, the Witch of Red Pooh, v. 1

by Yo Yo
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Dishonorable Mention

Laya makes potions and lives with her friend Niky, a crow in human form called Snowy and a cat named Puss, who smokes. And wears boots.

Oh, and they have four-page, non-linear "adventures" in which everyone can show off their cuteness and attempts at witty dialogue.

If you need a massive dose of cuteness, this book is for you. Here, take it. Please.

- Miranda, the Grinch

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Kamen Tantei, v. 1

by Matsuri Akino
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Two high school students want to be mystery writers and try to solve mysterious deaths. Yup, just like Murder, She Wrote.

Matsuri Akino also wrote Pet Shop of Horrors, and like that, Kamen Tantei seems to be trying a bit too hard. Clues are tossed around, one or two reasonable questions are asked, the "mysterious" masked detective shows up to say something less than useful, and then the solution spontaneously appears. Only once in the four stories did Haruka get to point a finger at someone, and that time it was the most obvious answer.

I'm not a fan of murder mysteries, and stories like these are part of why. The characters have no stake in the story, no reason to solve the mystery but their own moral indignation or, maybe, bad weather trapping them in the house. The stories are more for showing off the writer's ability to manipulate facts than tell a story, and sadly Akino-san's stories were neither complicated nor original. I doubt a true fan of mysteries would find them interesting at all.

And aside from the lack of tension in the plot, the dialog and characters are flat and the worldbuilding effort amounts to "maybe ghosts are real" with way too many exclamation points.

Pick up Pet Shop of Horrors instead.

- Miranda

Friday, August 18, 2006

Eternal Sabbath, v. 2

by Fuyumi Soryu
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get the drop on a psychic psychopath.

Whereas Shuro was decanted and raised fairly normally, Isaac was kept in the artificial womb and slated for dissection. Being psychic, he found out about everything and doesn't have much of an opinion of people as a result.

The really dark side of psychic powers turns up every so often in thrillers -- I haven't seen much of it in manga since Akira -- but it's difficult to keep things from looking too hopeless in the face of an enemy that knows you're coming and can control almost anybody. In Eternal Sabbath, Shuro's equal psychic power and Mine's and Sakaki's immunity are their only aces. However, at this point in the series they aren't getting up early enough to get the drop on Isaac.

Volume 2 fills in more background and sets a dark stage of death and betrayal for the action to come. It will be interesting to see how the characters respond to their first run-in with the enemy, whether they take a conventional dark-thriller route or do something unexpected. I'm hoping for unexpected, of course.

- Miranda

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Vampire Doll, v. 1

Created by Kari Erika
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Vampire lords need to be cute!

Vampire Doll is pretty, I will give it that. And the fact that I have started out the review with that should give you an idea of what I think about this title. Not that it is bad; it's just an assortment of elements that I have seen and read before.

There is a cute doll-girl that really has a vampire lord imprisoned within, whose powers are limited to cute ones simply because she/he is a cute girl. For once, I would like a cute girl with non-cute powers, like having blood erupt from the eyeballs or something. There is a kind-hearted sister that is so kind-hearted that she is virtual cipher. But I guess it is all part and parcel of shoujo brand EMP (Extruded Manga Product.)

Maybe I sound a little harsh in my assessment here. I do like the character designs and the costumes. It's just hard muster any enthusiasm for the title. It's not bad, it is done competently, it just has nothing to get me excited or interested in it beyond the most superficial details.

- Ferdinand

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Voices of a Distant Star

Created by Makoto Shinkai, adapted by Mizu Sahara
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Relativistic space travel can break your heart.

There are some questionable practices in this story -- particularly the random selection of spacecraft crew from the general population -- but it's all to set up the separation that drives the drama. Mikako is tapped to be a mecha pilot (what else is a girl going to do on a spaceship?) and Noboru has to stay home in the aimless everyday of growing up.

The story illustrates very well the slow death that long distances can bring to a relationship, but in this case it's not life getting in the way but increasingly large lag times in communication. By the end of the book, Noboru is 25 and Mikako is still 16 because of the light-speed travelling she's done.

The science does get fudged here and there, but on the whole it's surprisingly hard science fiction for a romance.

This is a standalone story, and as such it works very well for me -- another volume of this level of anguish would burn me out fast. It leaves the future, and the consequences of Noboru's choice at the end, up in the air, which is good. You don't have to ride every emotional point to death in a story, but unfortunately that often happens in manga.

- Miranda

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fullmetal Alchemist, v. 2

Story and art by Hiromu Arakawa
Published in the U.S. by Viz Media

Slugline: Edward and Al begin a journey to heal themselves in more than the obvious
way and find the philosopher's stone .

Fullmetal Alchemist is a title that needs little introduction thanks to its high profile. I have already reviewed the first volume over at the CBG website, with the link here. I've continued with the second volume to see how it followed up on the story presented in the first.

I liked the flow of this volume better, for while the first volume of FMA had a very
episodic feel, with strong beginnings and ends of chapters, here the opponents and episodes flow together almost seamlessly. If the title pages were removed, it would be difficult to separate it back into chapters.

We see part of Edward's guilt over his brother's condition, the depth of it being
rather surprising. He's willing to die for his brother in a manner very different from most heroes. Also, we fill out the supporting characters and the idea that there will be consequences to actions, for when Edward loses an arm, it is not easily or immediately replaced. The story arc continues and is strengthened, but not much light is shed on the story's opponents or its final direction.

No sophomore slump here, with the story only continuing to grow.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

RavenSkull, v. 1

by Christopher Vogler & Elmer Damaso
Published by Seven Seas

Slugline: Ivanhoe's villan, Sir Brian, resurrected and re-cast as a cursed knight in love with the equally cursed Rebecca.

I've never read Ivanhoe (though I recommend Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court) and now that I've read a brief overvieww of the plot, I'm glad to feel less obliged to. Sir Brian was killed by Ivanhoe, in the book, and now he's resurrected by Rebecca and brings back hell's curse for both of them. The all-star cast also includes Richard the Lionheart, King John, and Robin Hood with Merry Men in tow.

The characters and plot are fairly standard for this kind of story, and nobody does anything really surprising aside from how Rebecca brings Sir Brian back from the dead -- that was a nice sequence. The action and artwork are solidly good to balance out the rather ordinary dialog and characters. And insulting well-known characters like Ivanhoe is always fun.

(For more interpretations of stock characters, check out Grendel by John Gardner and The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell)

There's potential for plot twists further down the road, since the cure for their curse isn't certain and its location is unknown, so we'll see where the writer leads us.

- Miranda

Monday, August 07, 2006


By Sherard Jackson
Published by Antarctic Press

Slugline: Gritty mecha story set in a war-torn future, where a teenage girl tries to do the right thing.

A brief review, because this is a short story complete unto itself. On the one hand, it's a hard-hitting war story with mecha, pilots, and plenty of explosions. On the other hand, it illustrates how quickly the past can be forgotten in the face of immediate problems.

That's two downers with no up... well, it's on the dark side, yes, and it left me thinking about Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie) and how people try to do the right thing even when their choices are limited.

This seems to be a one-shot story, but it is well crafted and paced and definitely recommended. I'd like to see more of this world and Sherard Jackson's work, if anyone's listening...

- Miranda

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Tomorrow, Otakon begins so there will be no review posted. Tonight, we went to pick up our badges early and while I can understand putting on a pair of kitty ears to pick up your pre-reg (that's all that was going on, just picking up pre-reg badges), those of you who were already in full costume? In this heat? You're making me feel old. Thanks!

See you Monday.

- Miranda

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh, v. 1

Story by Kouhei Kadono, Art by Kouji Ogata
Published in the U.S. by Seven Seas

Slugline: Boogiepop "manifests" from within an average schoolgirl to defeat a demonic presence feeding off the student population.

This manga is based on the original Boogiepop novel, as opposed to the many other forms that popped up in the course of Boogiepop's success. I find this one easier to follow than the Boogiepop Phantom anime, as it seems to cover the timeframe of the story completely before moving on to the next character viewpoint of the timeframe. It also helps that the first viewpoint allows for some explanations about Boogiepop himself, whereas in the anime he just came and went and it took much longer to get a grip on what was happening.

Volume 1 starts with missing girls and rumors about the local bad girl and a new drug on the scene. Then Keiji finds out his girlfriend is being "possessed" by a protective spirit and things get odder from there. Being far removed from the action, Keiji's viewpoint of the timeline sets out some structure and landmark events for later reference. When Keiji's side of the story is finished, we move on to Kazuko's view of the events.

Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh gets points for nice brush-and-ink artwork, general weirdness, and social/psychological commentary. Nudity, drugs and sexual situations mean it's probably going to be shrinkwrapped, too. The anime, if you're interested, was quite dark and gloomy and I recall liking the soundtrack quite a bit.

- Miranda