Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Series Update: Kuro Gane, v.3


Kuro Gane started off with an interesting premise in v.1, coasted in v.2, and now that we've gotten through v.3, I have to ask. If he's got a talking sword who never seems to misunderstand him, and he eats and drinks and is wounded normally, exactly what is the point of making your hero a voiceless clockwork man? In the execution of the story, I'm not seeing any difference between Jintetsu and any other strong-and-silent samurai hero.

This does not make it a bad series, but it sure does not make it stand out from the competition.

Kuro Gane vol. 3 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Innocent Bird, v.1

by Hirotaka Kisaragi
Published in the U.S. by Blu

Slugline: Angels and demons renounce their allegiances in favor of being human -- and maybe a little boy-love somewhere down the line.

Since this title is published by Blu, I'm assuming there will be some boy-love in the later volumes, but right now it's strictly early relationship drama. Karasu, an angel, and Shirasagi, a demon, both have their fallings-out with the entire angel/demon bureaucracy and declare their independence. And then, for whatever reason, there are two chapters of an entirely different story at the end of the volume.

I have no problem with most of the wild variations on Western mythology and Christianity that turn up in manga -- it's just that some of them are so far off base that the author is only confusing me by using familiar names. Innocent Bird takes some liberties with angelic mythology (I'd call gay romance a bit of a liberty) and puts its characters in some interesting situations. Shirasagi has not only given up being a demon, he's gone through seminary. And Karasu doesn't just talk back to his superiors, he cuts a deal with a devil to rescue his friend.

The filler story is quite good, and I like the clean artwork and messy blood spatters. Though these angels have the same problem as most winged people in manga: from the amount of feathers flying around, they must be constantly molting, the poor things.

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

- Miranda

Divalicious, v. 1

Written by T Campbell and Illustrated by Amy Mebberson
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: An idol story about a star who is all about being an idol, no
modesty here.

Sometimes even very silly stories with over-the-top premises can hang
together on a strong plot line. It's not usual, but Divalicious manages to have both a meaningful story and a frivolous approach. In manga, there are an entire subgenre of idol stories about people beginning music careers to become stars. Divalicious is an OEL, so it is set in the US, and Tina Young, the diva of the title, is already well on her way to stardom but there is one diva yet in her way. Her manager Shaquille tries to direct her, but despite her flighty nature she somehow manages to still keep on track, much to the disappointment of the music management company A Few Notes. The majority of the book seems to be little one-off episodes, but at the very end, the slight problem that A Few Notes has been suddenly blooms into a full blown victory for them as disparate story threads are suddenly woven together to create a prison cell for Shaquille and a gilded cage for Tina that she cannot see.

The art is very manga, with deformation being used far more extensively and organically than most other OEL titles. Though this title's genre is not my usual bag, and I can't remember how many idol manga I've had to read, I actually grinned while reading this. While the story itself is fairly standard, it is very well executed with an art style that fits perfectly.

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

- Ferdinand

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why no posts?

Just letting all our readers know that we went to the NYCC, which made us skip last Thursday's post. Our normal posting will resume on Tuesday.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Drifting Classroom, v.1

by Kazuo Umezu
Published in the U.S. by Viz

Slugline: An entire school full of kids is transported to an alien world. No warning, no preparation, no idea where they are.

The Drifting Classroom was created in the mid-70s, so the first thing a manga fan will notice is that the artwork isn't what they are used to. But if you like horror that does not rely on splatter to scare you, I encourage you to give this a try.

Like Battle Royale (or Lord of the Flies,) Classroom puts ordinary kids in grim survival situations and then spins out gruesomely realistic stories. The first volume of Classroom sets up the regrets of our hero and the initial freakout as the kids (and teachers) start to realize they aren't in Japan anymore. And who wouldn't freak, honestly? These are ordinary school kids, not ninja masters or supermecha pilots. Their screaming and crying (and the ones trying to bolt for home) set what is sure to be a gruesome stage with few survivors.

Kazuo Umezu has been a prolific manga creator of many horror (and science fiction, such as the adapation of Ultraman, and romance as well) titles from the 1950s straight through the 90s. If you are at all interested in what came before Sailor Moon, Voltron, or even Gatchaman, Umezu is worth looking for. I'm giving this series a preemptive "Classic" tag because of its author and his tremendous influence.

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

- Miranda

Kilala Princess, v. 1

Art by Nao Kodaka, Story by Rika Tanaka
Released in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: Remember how they tell you that you should try to avoid Mary Sue
characters in your writing? Apparently in manga you can make a nice living publishing it.

Every little girl wanted to be a princess when they were growing up, or at least that seems to be the theory. Of course, when I asked some women about that, none of them admitted to it. Kilala Princess is a story of Kilala and her best friend Erica. Erica is a shoo-in to win their school’s annual princess pageant and wear the school tiara. Two strangers arrive, looking for a princess to save their country, but their unknown enemy kidnaps Erica, leading them into a chase which goes through Snow White’s world, where Kilala and Rei, one of the searchers, face off against the Evil Queen.

This is in the manga readers format, so it shorter than most manga and is aimed at ages 8-12. As such the story is very basic and lifts bits from the Snow White movie. But what I liked about it is the friendship between Kilala and Erica, and despite Kilala not being the most popular or the most hated girl in school, she still can make a difference. Because far more girls are average (by definition) than anything else, that is a good message. So I think for its age range, this is a good title, though realize its rating is for that age range, and precocious readers may outgrow it earlier.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Vampire Knight, v.1

Story and Art by Matsuri Hino
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: For once I would like to see some vampires that are not ethereal
and hauntingly beautiful. Some pimples would be nice.

Vampire Knight is not sure whether or it is a shoujo or action title. Cross
Academy has two classes, Day and Night, with the Night Class being vampires and the Day Class being normal humans not aware that the Night Class are vampires. This is so that vampires and humans can learn to live together, though how they are supposed to do that if the humans do not believe that vampires are real? Anyway, Yuki and Zero, both students who have lost their parents to vampire attacks, are on the Disciplinary Committee that tries to maintain the separation between the two. Yuki was saved from the vampire attack that killed her parents by Kaname, a powerful vampire who now leads the Night Class, but the vampires of the class still have to battle their own natures.

In order to pull this off, Yuki needed to be a strong character, even
if she is infautuated with Kaname, but it doesn't come across that way. It is implied that you need something more than strong language to convince a vampire to do something he doesn't want to, but whenever she needs to convince someone to do something, either Kaname or Zero do it for her. Now at the end of the volume something has happened to Zero that forces her to be more take-charge, but I don't know if she will rise to the challenge. If she does so, this book's rating can easily improve, but at the moment it is just another shoujo with a female lead that should be strong but isn't.

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

- Ferdinand

Gravitation EX, v.1

by Maki Murakami
Published in the U.S. by Tokyopop

Slugline: Seriously, who needs a plot when you've got insanity, robot pandas and boys in bunny suits?

A caveat: I did not read the original Gravitation, though I did hear the squeeing from afar. This is a sequel to that story, so there's little in the way of introductions of characters. But for the observant reader, it's no worse than any other fast-paced manga.

And I do mean fast-paced. Hang on to your kitty ears because this book doesn't let up from page two till the end. If you're ready to roll with the insanity (familiarity with Monty Python non sequitors may help), it's a fun book that did get a couple LOLs out of me (which is a respectable accomplishment.)

The story, as I figure it: Yuki and Shuichi, yaoi lovers who already have a colorful history, have not quite mastered the art of communication (though there are attempts) and are still romantically targeted by other boys. Oh, and there's a kid thrown into the mix for extra angst. In a world where a kiss is as good as a wedding band, these two are hamming up every slight misconception into robot-panda-level disasters... and it's funny and it all makes sense, just barely.

This is a boy love title, but it is not porn. Not even a little. It's all about the crazy.

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

- Miranda

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Series Update: Basilisk 2 & 3


Action-packed ninja-fest Basilisk continues apace, pulling out some downright strange "secret ninja powers" (which I still say are on par with any Marvel or DC mutant superheroes, though stranger) and racking up the body count as the two ninja families settle into their grand duel. By the end of v. 3, the two families have evened out the number of remaining combatants (Or have they? Nobody's really dead until you see the body, and even then... just like superheroes, right?)

Basilisk vol. 2 and vol. 3 are both available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Series Update: School Rumble 3 & 4


I'm sorry to say that School Rumble has, by volume 4, developed a problem. It's trying to be serious. And it's starting to set up elaborate misunderstandings based on the fact that nobody can actually speak to anybody else in a meaningful way. And even the side stories about Tenma's sister are suffering.

I'd still recommend v. 1 & 2... and maybe 3. But if you're looking for laughs, never mind v.4

School Rumble vol. 3 and vol. 4 are both available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

StrongArm #1

Written by Steve Horton with art by David Ahn
Published by Image Comics

Slugline: In media res of the future still proves that no one understands Latin

I usually do not review single issues, but the creators of this title were
looking for reviews from manga sites, and there is a manga in the title here. Hopefully they won't come to regret their decision too greatly.

StrongArm is by western creators, and falls into the Guyver genre of anime/manga: hapless guy gets possessed by the ultimate weapon that takes him over and he struggles to control himself. Or at least that is what I think the story is about, since there is very little of it explained here, thus the In Media Res joke in the slugline. You are very much dropped into the story, and while you can follow it, exactly what the characters are doing, why you should care, and what else is going on in the world around them, is lacking. These are not insurmountable problems, but if you don't give a reader some idea of what is going on in the first issue, when you are going to? The main character, Rob, prisoner/bearer of the StrongArm, is barely given a chance to sketched out.

The art is very nice, clean, with good tones, but I would have given up some
of those nice looking splash pages to be further drawn into the world and the characters. This is an average title, one that most manga readers would recognize, the one weakness of the story being that the background and characters are not fully fleshed out. But that is something that could easily be fixed in a following issue.

Visit Image Comics to find out more about the title and local comic book stores. To find one, try the Comic Shop Locator Service.

- Ferdinand

Friday, February 09, 2007

Free Collars Kingdom, v. 1

By Takuya Fujima
Released in the U.S. by Del Rey

Slugline: Catboys and Catgirls in a way that almost makes sense. Except for the being otaku part.

Most stories featuring cat boys and girls have them being just like humans, but here this is just how the cats look at each other, while when people look at them they are just cats. Makes sense and is not overly cutesy. Put that together with the cats fighting over territory because some places have better otaku-friendly stores. But once you get beyond those two interesting ideas, there is not much there. At times it seems like this is going to be a fighting story, other times it seems like it will be a more relationship-based one. I think even the characters in the story are confused which one and what they are supposed to be.

But to show just how otaku-focused the title is, the character who is a gifted natural fighter learned all of his moves by watching video games. If that isn't an otaku dream come to life, I don't know what is. And there is a character which they even call Moe, as in the Three Stooges. So while there are some interesting ideas, and at first glance the story seems novel, some of the some tropes and other stylistic devices that you see all over other manga start showing up. There were a couple times the art of the story was handled in a confusing manner. Still, if cat-people are your thing, this is certainly a different take from most.

Free Collars Kingdom is available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Mushishi, v. 1

by Yuki Urushibara
Published in the U.S. by Del Rey

Slugline: Ginko diagnoses and cures strange, supernaturally-caused diseases.

Ferdinand compared this to the good old days of X-Files, and I can see why. Ginko knows a lot about mushi (primitive supernatural critters) but not everything, and he travels a very traditional Japan helping the afflicted. Where he's from and why he wears modern Westernized clothes isn't explained, nor does it need to be. These stories aren't really about him.

The afflictions are strange and in their way nasty, the way fairy afflictions are in traditional Western tales. There's no gore or big magical battles, only riddles and hope. It's a bit like a medical drama too, in that way. It's a welcome (for me) break from the teenage melodrama, the cute animal sidekicks and the current obsession with scythe-based weapons. The ties to Japanese folklore are a big plus for me, too.

So kids, if you want to convince your parents that manga isn't all gigantic eyes, short skirts and gay boys, offer them a copy of Mushishi. And if you're looking for a change of pace, definitely pick up a copy. I'm adding this to my short list of titles to follow closely.

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

- Miranda

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Dead Girlfriend, v.1

by Eric Wight
Published by Tokyopop

Slugline: Finney Black, doomed to die bizarrely, finds out his girlfriend is a ghost.

Eric Wight comes with a creative pedigree longer than his arm and this book is covered with endorsements from people whose work I've enjoyed, so I expected good times from Girlfriend.

Um. Yeah. This is awkward.

We're introduced to Finney, a 10-to-12-year-old (or is he younger?) scion of a family noted for bizarre deaths. He's persecuted by most everybody at his monster-themed school. He has one lovely day with a girl at a carnival. Turns out she died soon after and still wants to be friends. Good thing she has ghostly superpowers because he's in trouble with the local bullies.

Did I just spoil it? Trust me, this book is so chained to the Misfit Template that only a newbie would be surprised by any of these plot points. It's all presented with standard-issue snarking and pranks. The only distinctive point is Mr. Wight's artwork, which is completely his own and deserves better than this.

And the pseudo-sexual-ghostzap she gave him toward the end pushes more of the wrong buttons the more I think about it. I have no idea what plot plans there are beyond beating up on bullies, in v.2, but I can't say I'm eager to find out.

My Dead Girlfriend is available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Kitchen Princess, v. 1

Manga by Natsumi Ando, Story by Miyuki Kobayashi
Released in the U.S. by Del Rey

Slugline: The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. And for once
this is not a sword technique

Poor girl is saved as a child by mysterious stranger who gives her a token,
and years later as a teenager she goes to the school she thinks said stranger attends, only she is hated by the other girls and thinks that one of the two hottest guys in the school may be her long lost savior.

Quick, which manga have I described?

Yeah, twenty at least. The special skills that make Najika stand out,
because the female leads always have something "special" about them, are her tasting and cooking abilities. The book actually has some recipes in the back for people to experiment with if they feel like it. The story is executed by the numbers, there are no real surprises other than for once the female lead is not always relentlessly upbeat, and has doubts to the point of almost leaving and not coming back. But other than that, this feels just like other shoujo titles, competent but nothing that I would go out of my way for.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Council of Carnality Unlimited

Council of Carnality Unlimited 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.

Series Update: Loveless, v.2 & 3


Loveless v.1 surprised me with its complexities and the dark characters, and I made the effort to follow the series (and see some anime) rather than coasting on review freebies. Volumes 2 and 3 introduce some more typical anime aspects (some clueless females, some unfounded use of the word "love") but remains compelling through Soubi's deep manipulation of Ritsuka, clever use of word magic and a few calculated scraps of info about the organizations behind all this. I could write a huge essay on the use of "love" as a shackle rather than as freedom, because of Loveless. (but I don't have time to, don't worry.)

Loveless vol. 2 and vol. 3 are both available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Series Update: Kami Kaze, v.2


I gave Kami Kaze, v.1 a decent review, but there was a considerable gap before I picked up the second volume. A combination of factors gave me a bad initial reaction to v.2, such as: similar-looking characters, people being conveniently "weak", unimaginative rituals and a lot of big names for too many different groups of people. After reviewing v.1, I've modified that dislike to "no comment." Though I still get a laugh from the fact that 88 ravening, massively powerful "beasts" were unleashed upon the world... and nobody seemed to notice. In the next scene, literally, the two girls are talking some months later about how nice their new sailor uniforms are. WTF?

Kami Kaze vol. 2 is available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda