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

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Genju no Seiza, v.1

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

Slugline: Fuuto Kamishina just might be the true reincarnation of the ruler of a small, Tibet-like country.

I reviewed Matsuri Akino's other new manga, Kamen Tantei, and I must say this one is better. Not that it does anything too surprising, but the dialog is a bit better, the characters are a bit more intriguing, and the writer obviously did more homework.

Fuuto's lifetime of trouble with visions and nightmares starts to make more senes when a guardian spirit of the reincarnated kings of Dhalashar finds him. He spends the rest of the volume alternately refusing to believe what he's told and conveniently manifesting the very powers that prove the guardian spirit right.

Like Pet Shop of Horrors (also by Akino-san,) there are some interesting story ideas and creatures, but also a certain lack of tension, risk, or surprises. Fuuto's refusals to believe are unoriginal and tiresome in the face of his abilities. He uses his powers for "evil" once, and quickly backs down and fixes it. An enemy sends agents to dispose of Fuuto, but they're converted to his cause by a display of mystical ability. The guardian spirit also displays tremendous powers (like turning back time) one moment and is on the defensive the next moment.

There are a few funny moments, but on the whole it's only a middling manga. We will see how things go in v.2.

- Miranda


By Yua Kotegawa
Published in the U.S. by ADV Manga

Slugline: Sometimes you have to run for your life. Sometimes you have to
run for others' lives.

This is an early review.
I haven't mentioned it here, but I am enjoying another ADV Manga title, Anne Freaks. So when I saw this book, titled as from the same creator, I swiped it off the freebie table at a retailer convention I was attending.

It is a standalone volume, focusing on Chiko, the popular girl at school, and
Bando, who is not. Chiko finds an abandoned cell phone, but before she can return it, it rings. The voice on the other end tells her that she has only minutes to reach someone before they commit suicide. Bando ends up following her, and they begin a run through the Tokyo night.

This is a fairly serious title, and other than a few moments of fan service,
it is played straight. Chiko is fairly easy to understand, and even though she is popular, by the same token she is empathic, concerned how others feel. She thinks that the people that are committing suicide are idiots, but still feels driven to stop them. A bunch of contradictions are wrapped up in her, but still understandable. Bando on the other hand, seems a lot more opaque to me all through the volume, but she knows one thing: she wants to see it to the end. A very good read.

Sometimes the art seems posed, and the action shots feel more static than I
think they should be. Most of the time it isn't noticeable, but there is a splash page toward the culmination of the book that was especially jarring for me. But other than that? Good.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Anne Freaks, v. 1 & 2

by Yua Kotegawa
Published in the U.S. by ADV Manga

Slugline: Anna and her allies are out to destroy a violent religious cult. Most of them are escapees from the cult's fold.

The first volume of Anne Freaks was deliciously twisted and evil. The second took a right turn into a cop drama -- a decent one, but not as unique as v.1.

Anna started out by recruiting two boys nearly as disturbed as she is, and the story could have been an interesting look at the group dynamics of sociopaths, but in v.2 a posse of other characters show up. Each has some connection to the violent religious cult
(which is run, of course, by teenagers... sheesh) that Anna escaped and together they concoct a plan to infiltrate and destroy.

I meant to write a glowing review for v.1, but now that's tempered by v.2. Not to say that v.2 is bad -- it's not, and I say that as a long-term watcher of such venerable dinosaurs as Law & Order and CSI. (And the even more venerable Homicide, a must for cop drama fans.) Just that as the stage fills up with characters, Anna starts to fade into the background and that's a shame.

Anne Freaks, vol. 1 and vol. 2 are both available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gerard & Jacques, v. 1

by Fumi Yoshinaga
Published in the U.S. by Blu

Slugline: Poverty-stricken aristocrat boy becomes a servant of a gay bourgeois in pre-Revolution France. Caution: explicit gay porn.

Someone needs to mention to Asian writers that selling one's children has never been an acceptable way to pay debts in Europe. Maybe you'd send them away as apprentices, or let them take indentured servitude to pay for a boat ride to the Colonies -- and both of those may be a lot like slavery -- but in theory they'd get an education out of it and finish their service with a clean slate.

In any case, this is an okay yaoi romance of the we'll-fight-till-we're-crazy-about-each-other variety. These aren't my favorite -- I'm the sort who dislikes the people I fight with -- but it's a well established romance genre.

Gerard is, of course, well-read in Enlightenment philosophers under his gruff persona and has been burned by women in the past. Jacques rings a bit truer in personality to me: a sheltered kid thrown out in the real world, but he's making an honest effort to learn and adapt. Everyone else is a one-trick pony.

There is not actually very much porn in this volume, to the point that what scenes there are feel gratuitous. I'm sure this will change in further volumes.

- Miranda

Skip Beat, v. 1

By Yoshiko Nakamura
Published in the U.S. by Viz Shoujo Beat

Slugline: A shoujo heroine realizes that
pining after the boy is stupid. At last, one of them gets a clue!

I have to admit up front, I am not a
shoujo-loving sort of guy. Not because it is too girly or anything like that, but because it feels that so many of them use the same three plots, repeated in different backgrounds. I also like there to be not only interior challenges to the character, but exterior challenges, because I think that when a character is being tested in all ways that it is the best way to see what they are made of.

Kyoko starts the manga as one of those
girls you have seen before in a shoujo manga, but rather than redoubling her efforts when the boy rejects her, she decides to kick his ass by becoming greater than him. No shrinking violet here. Now this is still a shoujo title, with convenient coincidences and so on, but it still has a harder and more modern edge than most others. I want to see her get to track down and beat her pseudo-ex's butt! And while there is a potential new love, her focus is on herself and on revenge.

The art is pretty good, but there were a
couple times the panel layout didn't feel organic, especially in the first chapter, but other than that no major problems.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

the dreaming, v. 1

by Queenie Chan
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Twin sisters realize that a private school deep the Australian outback has some drawbacks of the ghostly kind.

Another gothic tale, much more steeped in horror than my previous review of Bizenghast, the dreaming is focused on twin sisters Amber and Jeanie. After an undisclosed incident, they leave the city and move to a private school deep in the Australian bush with their aunt who, unhelpfully, immediately leaves on a long business trip. Attempts to fit into the school reveals that they should never mention they are twins, and they also discover a history of spookiness surrounding the school culminating in a tragedy that the reader could see coming.

While a ghost story doesn't need to give you all the answers, I feel that it was hard to pick out the story threads introduced and determine which ones were important. Either a lot is going to start tying together in the next volume, or there are going to be loose ends all over the place. There was a character introduced early in the volume, the only boy in the volume, who never appears again, but the way he was introduced made me feel that he was important in some way. So the story feels fractured.

The art is strong and well detailed, but since the main characters were twin sisters, I continually had to work to keep them separate. It was one of those no-win art challenges -- you need to keep them looking similar for story purposes, as twin sisters, but at the same time they need to look different so readers can tell them apart.

While enjoyable, I felt like I had to work to get that enjoyment, more than I should have to, but I was not put off enough to not at least want to check out the next volume.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bizenghast, v. 2

by M. Alice LeGrow
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Dinah grows stronger while Vincent becomes more uncertain as they confront more of the tests of the Mausoleum.

This volume suffers from the problem of many middle parts of a story: after the introduction, you need to set the pieces in motion for the finale, and there some scenes in here that are basically for setting up later scenes, or that are left as open questions with the intent of being resolved later.

But there are some changes, mostly as the characters, especially Dinah, develop. Dinah seems to progress to being more assertive and stronger, putting more of her darkness behind her, though she does regress here and there in the story. Vincent doesn't change much in comparison, but since Dinah has, different aspects of his personality emerge. His protective urge, which Dinah appreciated and even needed in the first volume, has started to become a liability by the end of the second.

The art continues to be one of the strongest aspects of the title, capturing the gothic atmosphere, though I still wish at times the lines were a little stronger, so scenes seem more real, at least outside of the dream worlds that the characters visit.

- Ferdinand

Innocent W, v. 1

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

Dishonorable Mention

Oh, boy, teenagers being slaughtered in the woods! That's never been done before!

- Miranda

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

R.I.P. (Requiem in Phonybrian)

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

Slugline: A bored angel adopts a tainted soul as a pet, giving him a chance to redeem himself and other suicides.

Mihara is also the creator of the Doll series, (six volumes, all available now) which I enjoyed and recommend and would give four stars. Both Doll and RIP are studies in Gothic Lolita costuming, but they are also well written and thoughtful for those who are less interested in frills and platform shoes.

This is a one-shot story, so I will stick to the slugline and not give away too much of the plot. I will note, though, that despite being built on Christian ideas about angels and death, it does not take any painfully distracting liberties with them. (unlike, say, Angel Sanctuary - I still wince every time I think of Metatron as a whiny little boy in plaid.) There are some novel twists to what angels can and can't do, but I found them interesting.

RIP is an enjoyable read, with a good mix of character, worldbuilding and dialog, and I look forward to reading more of Mihara's work.

- Miranda