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.