Friday, December 29, 2006

What else we do...

It's been a while since we talked about our other projects that are manga and anime related.

Every two weeks I put a manga review up CBGxtra review forum so just look for all the reviews there that have the Manga Review title. This week I put up a review for TokyoPop's upcoming title Phantom.

I write a monthly manga column for the Comic Buyer's Guide, a print publication you should be able to find on better newstand. This month's column in issue 1626 is a mixed bag about Shinto, the academic study of manga and yaoi. You can find some of my back columns on my general website. (Along with our RPG and other gaming work)

And I have anime/manga related articles and reviews for Comic and Game Retailer and Newtype USA.

Check out some of the other stuff we've done!


Pearl Pink, v. 1

Created by Meca Tanaka
Published in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: A tomboy in love that remains a tomboy by the end of the volume?
Miracle of miracles!

Ah, the stories of young love, people promising to get married when they are 3 and 7. Do you actually remember much of what happened to you when you were that age? I admit, I am older than the typical age of the characters in these sort of books, so technically have more stuff to remember and some of the early stuff may have been misfiled, but really, how strong are your memories from that age? I only have a handful, and most of them are random bits. Only a couple of them are confirmably real and not imaginings.

But these sort of life-changing promises are routinely made, and worse yet,
routinely remembered in manga and are expected to be honored. Tamako, the tomboy of the slugline, received a promise from Kanji that if she was strong, he would marry her. (Why is it that the girls remember these promises in manga, but rarely the guys?) She defined the strength as physical, assertive strength, while he is strong in a quiet, understated way. (See, females and males can both be strong in manga AT THE SAME TIME!)

When the story actually talks about love, relationships, and knowing/liking
each other, that rings mostly true. And Tamako has several really good moments with her mother. But then you add in the fact this is set at the ever-popular idol agency, the rampant and actually detracting silliness of the story/characters at times, and could have been a very good romantic story has been reduced to merely average.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Revolutionary Girl Utena, v. 1 - 5

by Chiho Saito, Created by Be-Papas
Published in the U.S. by Viz

Slugline: Utena duels to save the prince she met years ago, save the Rose Bride and to claim "the power to revolutionize the world" (whatever that means.)

This is the manga version of the classic anime, and being condensed to five volumes suits the story quite well. With less time to wander, the story gets right down to the dueling and the slapping and the explaining what's going on.

Utena is a classic shojo manga because it goes so far above and beyond the stereotypes of the genre -- not breaking out of them, but amplifying them to blinding brilliance. Everyone's a drama queen, there are cute, strange pets, magic costume changes, vaguely defined powers that are never used, a crossdressing heroine, temper tantrums, and everyone gets slapped at least once. It's a tribute to the power of visuals, too: roses, wrought iron and long hair don't have to work as hard to carry it all as they did in the anime, but they are there.

Utena set the bar for the shojo that followed, and most of them fail to capture half the passion and obsession and melodrama of this series. This is a must-read for any serious fan. Love it or laugh at it, I guarantee you will not forget it.

p.s. Yes, it's complete in 5 volumes -- less, actually, and there are several short stories to fill out the volumes. They're fun too.

- Miranda

R.O.D. Read or Dream, v.1

Story by Hideyuki Kurata, Art by Ran Ayanaga
Published in the US by Viz Manga

Slugline: For a detective agency, there sure is not much detecting going on

I am just in the mood for revealing my weaknesses lately, and this time I will admit that I have a weakness for reading. As in, whatever promotes it, is good for it and so on, I am usually in favor of. Thus I am fond of the original R.O.D. anime, though I do believe that the first episode of it was the best.

I understand that this series is supposed to be related to the first one in some way, but only the barest sketches of it are apparent here. Sure, in the first story they use the ability to control paper, but then for the rest of the book, their abilities are completely immaterial. There are the standard three females: the hard nosed one, the friendly one, and the distracted, abstract one. Though I do appreciate some of the funny bits about book storage (which reminds me I need to get another bookshelf for my manga), but this is really not a funny book. The book is rated for older teens, but I really do not see why -- maybe something happens in later volumes -- because this volume, with its short simple stories, would make a decent tweener book.

Maybe this is intended for other audiences, and if I read more volumes
things would be different. But as of this first volume, this is merely a slightly cliche story about three sisters who like to read, and that love of reading gets them involved in strange adventures (ghosts, aliens). The stories are competently executed and clearly drawn, but neither do they strike me as especially well done or original.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Patchwork and all other explicit titles have been moved to Prospero’s Manga – Mature, a review blog for explicit manga titles. Please check there for reviews of such titles.

Punch!, v. 1

Story and Art by Rie Takada
Published in the U.S. by Viz Media

Slugline: Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" has never been so true.

Elle is a typical high school girl, pining away, hoping for romance.
Unfortunately, her family is filled with martial artists, runs a gym that trains them, and she has already been promised to the grandson of her grandfather's greatest rival, who also trains at the gym. Whenever she finds someone she likes, the gym attendees manage to find some way to convince that person that it would be better for his health to stay far, far away from Elle. Up until the day that the street tough Kazuki walks into her life.

For a story that is about a girl balanced between two boys, there is a not a lot of balancing. Ruo, Elle's fiance, is a cardboard character barely developed past the fact that he loves Elle despite her rejection, and like most manga guys he has serious problems with impulse control. Kazuki, once you get past the fact that he is often covered in blood not his own, has all of the soft bits that make teenage girls go all squee-ish.

Sorry, not sure what the adjective form of "squee" should be.

Other than some interesting story bits, this is just an competently
executed shoujo story that has very little conflict to drive it, at least by the end of this volume.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Updates to the Blog

With the influx of new readers, we've just finished a labeling project. You will notice a whole slew of new labels on the right hand side of the site. I think we got most of the useful types, but let us know if any come to mind.

As you can see on the label list, several companies are well represented . That's because they send us review copies. If you want your company's products reviewed, please consider adding us to your comp/review list. And if you want your favorite company's products reviewed, email them to add us to their review list.

Hopefully we will continue to add content and aids for Prospero's Manga over the upcoming weeks and months.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Aoi House, v. 2

Written by Adam Arnold with Art by Shiei
Published by Seven Seas

Slugline: Harem girls who know that they are in harem, and know enough to
mock the whole situation.

The second volume of the OEL Aoi House, I feel, suffers from its legacy of being a webcomic and being printed by Newtype USA. Sure, everyone and their cousin has either been exposed to it (heh, sorry, feeling the sophomoric humor, exposed to it, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more) via the reprints or the webcomics, but the fact that it has to be continually up, always funny, always grabbing people's attention, means that it never has a lull in the action. When you read it as a graphic novel, you need those lulls for character bits, so that the characters hit more than one note. While a couple of the harem girls did so, I think the majority of characters were more obviously one-note than they were in the first volume. I am not sure whether that is just me, the side effect of writing for graphic novel or webcomic, but it was just not as surprising as the first one.

What did take me almost completely out of the story was the Final Fantasy
riff in the middle of the volume. Apparently, I am the only anime/manga fan whose knowledge of Final Fantasy is gleaned solely from AMVs I have watched over the years. So I recognized a couple of the outfits, but the whole joke just went right over my head. Not necessarily its fault.

I still like the central conceit of a couple of hetero fanboys trapped in a
harem of yaoi-crazed fangirls. There was some movement toward an overriding story arc, but this volume just didn't get to me the same way the first one did.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~, v. 1

Story by Satoru Akahori with Art by Yukimaru Katsura, original character design by Sukune Inugami
Published in the US by Seven Seas

Slugline: A guy who is a girl, who turns into girl, gets more action then
when he, no she, no whatever, was a guy.

First off, I will have to beg the reader's indulgence. I, the bitter old
anime/manga fan, who first saw Ranma 1/2 from a tape off Japanese TV with someone the room yelling out relevant plot points since there was no such thing as subtitles, have a singular weakness. It's yuri. Romantic titles with all-female leads. Not to say my brain completely turns to mush, but I notice that I am lot more forgiving of these titles than most others. I think I have managed to be impartial here, but take what you will with a grain of salt.

Hazumu, a guy, likes Yasuna, a girl, and thought the feeling were at least
appreciated, but when he confesses to her she does not take it well. His feelings squashed, Hazumu takes to the surrounding hills, where he is squashed by a falling spaceship. The aliens, feeling bad squishing someone, decide to do some repairs, but there were only so much genetic material left (when they squish someone, they really squish someone) and they could only rebuild him as a her.

Thus, the main conflict of the series. Hazumu as a girl manages to connect
to Yasuna in a way he couldn't as a boy, and discovers a new connection to a childhood friend Tomari (a tomboy neighbor) and she isn't quite sure how to handle it. Is a boy in a girl's body a hetero girl, a lesbian, or what?

These sorts of questions could have been really delved into, but they are
only explored in connection with the main characters' relationships. I would have liked to see more about Hazumu wrestling with his/her own questions of identity. That would have been a much heavier title than the light, fluffy romantic fare we have here, which I still find it interesting, though some of the supporting characters are sillier than they need to be.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Soul Rescue, v. 1

Created by Aya Kanno
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Another entry in my list of proof that Japanese creators don't
know the difference between angels, fairies and Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Sorry, it is my genetic Catholicism expressing itself, but the portrayal of
angels and God here is just so, well, generic. They could have called them spirits, aliens or even Muggles and it wouldn't make a difference. I'm sorry, there would have been one difference -- they wouldn't have had all that cool wing imagery. I'm no dogmatic, but I do ask that if a creator uses an archetype, they do some basic research. If I did a story featuring Kabbalists, I would have done as much research on Jewish beliefs as I could.

But it's not like the creator spent a lot of time coming up with the story. It is a basic "got to save X number of people/souls/hamsters" storyline. Main character begins with an almost immediate change of heart, no real resistance, even though he proclaims his so-called resistance every change he gets. There is one good plot twist, the failure-in-success bit, which usually shows up later in these type of series, but it is still fairly standard.

Art is okay, but occasionally hard to follow. Not very much to be excited
about either way. It's just an overwhelmingly average book, and not very well executed.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Little Queens, v. 1

By Yeon-Joo Kim
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Dishonorable Mention

My brain hurt after reading this. The story tone and the actual flow of the
plot, what exists of it, jumps all over the place. I kept on thinking they had accidentally forgotten to include some panels, pages, heck, a whole chapter. Not sure why they're queens in training, and by the time they kind of gave half an explanation I didn't care. Characterizations seemed to change page to page, sometimes panel to panel. Sometimes the story took itself very seriously, other times it became very metatextual, which that is a difficult feat to pull off and the story failed in that regard. And honestly, I spent first couple chapters trying to connect the intro text to the story I was reading, and it was only after the headache started that I realized that it wasn't worth bothering. Time jumps around without explanation.

So yeah, not loving it. If the art was truly spectacular I might have rated
it better, or if the story was an ambitious failure I could forgiven the attempt, but it is neither, merely average in both respects.

- Ferdinand

Kamiyadori, v.1

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

Slugline: Jillald and Vivi fight a war of attrition against a nasty disease in a dystopian world.

Back when I reviewed Blame, I said something about writers not having to explain everything -- but there's a certain minimum that has to be put out there. Blame fell a bit too short on that, for me. Kamiyadori is an example of one that falls on the "just enough" side.

Of course, only so much explanation is needed when the primary goal is to shoot big guns at nasty mutant sick people and have as much casual female nudity as you can get away with. Too much exposition just gets in the way. However, there is enough to hint at an underlying world that might be interesting if the writer can bring together the elements -- some of which seem kind of random.

("The holy is coming." The holy what? And why does it seem to be making things worse?)

Jillald is a Right Arm, an elite commando, who may be losing his edge but he's still got his improbably ass-kicking shotgun. Vivi is his sidekick and a poorly socialized indigent, which gives her license to not say much, cause all kinds of trouble and go bare-assed frequently.

The two of them shoot infected people, traumatize small children, and deal with those trying to capitalize on the plague. Volume 1 ends mid-storyling, giving it somewhere to start in v.2, but I do wonder how many volumes you could do before this all gets repetitive. Maybe v.2 will introduce a larger story arc.

- Miranda

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Someday's Dreamers, Spellbound, v.1

by Norie Yamada & Kumichi Yoshizuki
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Magic-user Nami fumbles her way through high school and meets Ryotaro, motorcycle boy.

Nami is the basic puppy-eyed manga girl -- prone to screw-ups, ambitionless, miserable. Ryotaro is the basic gruff manga boy -- snappish, defensive, yet harbors a "soft side." That they are going to fall in love and overcome various obstacles is a foregone conclusion. The story is set in a carbon-copy Japan with one little hook thrown in to make it different -- except it rings hollow.

Nami is a magic user. A screw-up, but a magic user. The other characters treat this as only mildly unusual, so one must assume that there are a fair number of magic users in the population. So it's odd that the world does not seem to have any real support structure for her ability. There are self-help books, apparently, but no special magic class at school, no magic social clubs, no magical version of team sports -- and considering that she's supposed to get a certification to practice, you'd think there'd be as many magic-test-prep courses as there are SAT-prep-courses. We don't even see one other magic user, in v.1.

It's as if the writer threw in Nami's trouble with her magic just to give her something to feel bad about. Which is a mighty shallow reason to include magic and all the implications that magic brings with it. There are plenty of odd problems Nami could have without even leaving the bounds of modern-day Japan.

That her getting a handle on her skill is a part of the story is obvious -- it's poor writing, though, that in the whole first volume there's no sign that magic has been integrated into the world the writer has created.

- Miranda