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