Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Toto!, vol. 1

By Yuko Osada
Released in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: A take on The Wizard of Oz that doesn't read like one.

Kakashi has grown alone on an isolated island, his father having left on a voyage of exploration many years before and never returned. He has also wanted to go out and explore the world, but it is not until he manages to stow aboard a zeppelin that has landed on his island for repair that Kakashi manages to get off the island. He quickly makes friends with the bandits that have taken over the zeppelin, finds a pet dog, gets blown off the zeppelin by military ground fire,steals a girl lunch, gets his dog named and dognapped. Let's just say his dog, Toto, is more than what he (I assume he is he) appears.

The story and art has a very loose, almost cartoony look, reminding me a lot of early One Piece in style and tone (at least at the moment). I actually didn't see the Wizard of Oz (WoZ) elements, until Dorothy showed up a little past the halfway through the book in a cornfield. And named the dog Toto. At which point I promptly smacked myself, since while the title of the series is Toto! I didn't connect it with the WoZ. But so far this is really the same story. Yes, they are taking elements of WoZ, but at the moment they are appear to be just set dressings rather than story elements. So I (and thus the readers) don't really know what is happening next. The story is solid if not very deep, but at the moment this reads like a book that appropriate for younger readers. Though I am not sure how much I like that WoZ has turned from a girl-centric story to a boy centered one. Depends on how Dorothy is treated, but so far okay.

Toto!, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Heavenshield, vol. 1

By Ryu Blackman
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: What a horrible, over the top mess.

I wish I could tell you the basic outlines of the plot, but the few facts that I managed to glean from the title doesn't seem to match the back cover text at all. And what I did glean, I literally gleaned, sifting through the pages to try to pull out from the chaff some relevant bits of the story. I can sorta tell you that there is a religious/military conflict, that someone is trying to kill political leaders, that there is a maniac general of some sort, and that there is a top flight freelance protection squad out to protect a politician, but that is about it. And after trying to unpack what is going on, who is doing what, what everyone's motivations are, or at least what they say they are, I find that I don't really care. At the end of the volume I know about the same that I knew from the back cover text from before I even started. It just feels like such a mess. And I feel no urge to try figure it out.

Heavenshield, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Kannazuki No Miko, vol. 1

By Kaishaku
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Sluglines: It's hard to tell whether or not I like this in the midst of all the storytelling mess.

This story suffers from, something. Compression? Many readers have said the strength of the manga is it's decompression, that it allows for stories to unfold at it's own pace. Here, whole whacks of the story seem to skimmed over. The female lead Himeko was raised at a orphanage apparently, but that is revealed in a side note. How it is presented makes you think that is important, but it is not followed up on. People love each other but with the revelations of live are handled oddly. Plus, the whole supernatural/sci-fi element remains unexplained. Not that I expect that somehow they provide some sort of pseudo -science but I am unsure of why any of the supernatural characters or elements are acting the way they are. Other than destruction for its own sake.

Some people would call this yuri and it is explicit at times, thus it has the plastic wrap of evil. Having not seen the anime, I am not sure how yuri the manga is in comparison to the anime, but I suspect since this is just a two volume set, there is a not lot of chance for relationships in the manga. As it is, Himeko, the female lead seems far too passive to maintain a relationship and Chikane's motivations are fuzzy. The way Chikane solves the 'problem' of the attacks on Himeko at the end of the first volume feels so guy and callous, removing Himeko's choices and doing it without explaining the why to her.

Kannazuki No Miko, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

HellGate: London, vol. 1

Story by Arvid Nelson with Art by J.M
Released by TokyoPop

Slugline: For a video game tie-in, I didn't have to hold my nose.

I spend my time reviewing manga, so I don't play video games (or watch anime) so the game that this is based on is completely unknown to me. From what I understand, timewise, this is an early prequel that details some of the events leading to the rise of the demons in London. Focused on the antagonism between the Knights Templar and the Cabalist factions, it tells the story of John and Lindsey Fowler, siblings that are descendants of a Knight Templar family, who had an ancestor who went bad. Needless to say, that ancestor was a little bit miffed and has decided to come back in the run up to the HellGate incident where the demons return to Earth, with the end result of the siblings being forced to operate in two separate factions by the end of the volume.

Fairly straightforward action/horror title, competently done, with a couple of emotional twists that while I wasn't too surprised by, neither was I expecting. While the characters are not all that smart, they are consistently not all that smart, which makes it sorta okay. The art is on the realistic side, so you know who everyone is and what they are doing, which sometimes can be difficult in an action title. So the title makes 3 stars for not screwing up and not being too cliche. Not sure if that is damning by faint praise or not...

HellGate: London, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Mamotte Shugogetten, vol. 1

By Minene Sakurano
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Sometimes you have to shoot the puppy.

Mamotte Shugogetten is another entry into the accidental goddess category, where a schmuck guy manages to get a goddess (or some other mystical creature that happens to look like an age appropriate girl) that is so innocent that even the boy that has no social skills whatsoever will inevitably have a chance with her. It also manages to give her such a sufficient weakness that even though she has the power of a goddess she still dependent on him.

There is the festival chapter, the beach chapter, the hot springs chapter, another goddess-like woman appearing that is a sex-pot as compared the original one's sweetness, and so on. It is so very earnest and trying to be deliberately sweet, so that saying back things about it is like kicking a puppy in the head. But I am sorry, I do not have a heart of stone, but even so there is only so much that I could take. It means well, it tries to be sweet and caring, but it just seems so Oh My Goddess-lite, and considering how lightweight Oh My Goddess can be, calling it lighter than Oh My Goddess involves violating the laws of physics. There is not much reason, that I have determined, to read Mamotte Shugogetten if you have read any of the Oh My Goddess genre titles before.

Mamotte Shugogetten, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

New York Comic Con delays

This weekend is New York Comic Con, the show two years ago where in the midst of discussing manga, it was said Miranda and I should start a manga review blog.

So we have to return, if for no other reason to hunt down those folks that gave us that suggestion and 'thank' them.

With that said, we will be gone to the con Friday thru early Monday morning, so we posted a review today for tomorrow, and we may be late in posting on Monday.


SERIES UPDATE: Eternal Sabbath (ES), vol. 8

You can read our earlier reviews of Eternal Sabbath vol. 1 here, vol. 2 here vols. 3-4 here and vols 5-7 here.

The series draws to a not-terribly-surprising end, though there's a decent twist or two along the way. After all that's happened, it's no surprise that it comes down to Shuro and Isaac to duke it out, and the end result of the fight is interesting but ultimately not a surprise either. It's a mild disappointment after such a strong start, but on average this is still a four star series aimed at the non-teenaged reader. I will be looking forward to Fuyumi Soryo's next manga.

ES vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3 vol. 4, vol. 5, vol. 6, vol. 7 and vol. 8 are all available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Miranda

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Label Update

We've found out that we are tripping some filters by even having a category named porn. Attempting to get those filters to realize that we are not publishing the porn has led us on a merry chase without much success.

So, we have renamed the category as 'Explicit.'

Hopefully that clever ruse will let the filters realize we are not Hustler or Icarus Publishing for that matter.


Psycho Busters, the novel, vol. 1

By Yuya Aoki
Released in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Breaking the rules of how source material is better than adaptations once again is painful. To me, that is.

We have previously positively reviewed the manga Psycho Busters (link here), so when the novel version of it arrived in out review box, it jumped to the top of the pile. I have so few titles that turn out to pleasurable reads that when I see something that looks like a good bet, I go for it.

Why do I torture myself so? The usual rule is that adaptations are never as good as the original work, so that the novel that the manga was adapted from should have been better. Yet another thing in which manga breaks all the rules in doing, but this time in not a good way.

All of the cleverness and intelligence that Kakeru had in the manga is gone. Here he is just a dopey teenager who needs to be whacked around with a clue stick for a bit. Especially since he doesn't use any of the clever ploys that he used in the manga to help defeat the rogue psychics, the fact that he still beats them makes it implausible for anyone to believe something is not happening through Kakeru. Eh, just stick with the manga.

Psycho Busters, the novel, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Honey and Clover, vol. 1

Story and Art by Chica Umino
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: Why is the title relationship the most boring and shallowest in the book?

Takemoto is a second year student at an art college who is still not very sure what he is planning to major in, but falls into love with Hagumi, a new 18-year-old genius student upon meeting her. Why? Because we need to have a central focus of the overall story, and Takemoto seems have been elected to do so at the beginning since he seemed the most hapless and clueless of the introductory characters, so logically enough he has to be the focus of the story.

Please notice Hagumi is almost incidental to this, which is a shame but that is what is reflected in the book. She is a cipher that is loved because she is childlike, acting almost like a 12 year old, and looking almost that young, which does not reflect well on any of the characters that are pursuing her because it just looks like they prefer women who look and act too young to make an informed decision on relationships. More than a touch of the lolita urge there. The side-relationship involving one of the students, a professional woman that he helps and whom he knows that he has no chance with and the fellow student who loves him despite her intellect telling her to get far away from him, that is far more interested and tense that the supposed main relationship of the story. And far less creepy.

Honey and Clover, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Element Line, vol. 1

By Mamiya Takizaki
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Good characterization can save average plots. Nothing funny about that.

Kam is an orphan (always a orphan) living in a post-apocalyptic fantasy realm, with creatures called Rizom roaming the countryside in between the walled cities killing those without protection. There is some under the table skull-drudgery by the various political factions that are trying to protect and control the remains of humanity, while Kam is trying to escape the legacy of heroic father and leave the city before friends and created family discover his secrets.

Whole swathes of the story are fairly generic, but it is handled with a deft hand so that the character motivations seem their own rather than selected out of the cookbook. When Kam turns back to save a friend, it is not because he is inherently noble, but because it reflects on his character and the lessons he has learned. I think the power-up at the end of the volume was not necessary, there was already enough of a mystery about what is happening to Kam's body (no symbolism of puberty here) there was no need to go there yet. Still, the characters make sense, something that isn't always true in action titles.

Element Line, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ral Ω Grad, vol. 1

Story by Tsuneo Takano with Art by Takeshi Obata
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: Breaking new ground with a teen hero who acts on his lust for girls?!

A couple things that we need to get out of the way up front. This manga is related to the Blue Dragon computer game series, so some readers may be interested in that. Takeshi Obata was also the artist for Death Note (see Prospero's Manga reviews for Death Note 1-6 and Death Note 7-10.) And here is the kicker, there is nudity with implied off panel sex, so this manga came shrinkwrapped so can be considered e-v-i-l.

With all those qualifiers out of the way, Ral has been imprisoned in complete darkness for 15 years while Shadow monsters have ravaged the fantasy world. Ral was bonded with a shadow dragon Grad, and when he just a baby the dragon got a little bit miffed and did some of his own rampaging. Ral was confined to a mystical prison but after 15 years he is released because he is humanity's last chance of fending off the Shadows. After saving the castle, Ral and Grad decide to take the fight to the Shadow mother.

There are two moments that sold this to me. The first is Ral and Grad 's killing of Ral's father as soon as they could, out of anger after being imprisoned for 15 years was real. No soft and squishy feelings of forgiveness here, just get that done and over with. That and some morning shortly afterwards he already has women lounging around in his bed. This is a medieval fantasy, with the hero wanting his 'reward' and Ral trying everything that feels good (especially for a teenage boy) after being in a state of denial for over a decade. It would have been so easy for the creators to chicken out, to either make Ral virtuous for no reason or just a leech who is one just for it's own sake (see virtually any leech in a manga in a modern setting), but they threaded a needle creating a world and character that complemented each other. Ral is not someone to emulate, and is pretty far from the shoujo ideal of someone who understands women, but what happens and his behaviors make sense because of they flow out of the world and the character, not just shoehorned in to get the fan service quotient into the manga.

Now, is there still fan service in this? Of course. But it fits, it's not just there, or trying to get by with a nod and a wink. The fight scenes work and the art is pretty good, though sometimes things get a little too clever, but it is still a good read.

Ral Ω Grad, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Monday, April 07, 2008

switch, vol. 1

By the Naked Ape: Saki Otoh and Nakamura Tomomi
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: For a story about detectives, there is not a lot of logic here

Kai is the newest member of the Narcotics Control Division, but despite having a baby-face, he has a violent streak hidden well below the surface. Still, that means he is supposed to be trained detective, since they are so few slots for theses narcotic specialists, so instead we get a guy who seems out of a shoujo manga. The story seems to be trying to be realistic, dealing with drugs and the like instead of unstoppable assassins (Rose Hip Rose, I am looking at you) so the attempts to have what amounts to be a bipolar detective completely forces you out the story. I am sorry to have skipped me usual short synopsis of the story, but it seems not to matter much, because the story itself seems jumpy, as in sometimes it skips over material I think should be included, or conversations between characters not really seem to be connecting with each other.

switch, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Monkey High!, vol. 1

Story and Art by Shouko Akira
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: Monkey's aren't usually this subtle about relationships

Haruna has had to transfer out of a prestigious school due to her politician father's scandal. She has learned from that particular harsh experience that school was a like a hill of monkeys, always jockeying for position. Unfortunately for her, the most monkey-like of all the boys is Masaru draws her attention. But despite both of their intentions they start exploring a relationship with each other.

What is nice here that there isn't huge declarations of love or emotional intent, mostly just two people trying to figure out what, if any, their emotional connection is. For once it is not an environment that is working against them, normally it seems that school classes are filled with people trying to destroy each other's relationships. Also, they both make mistakes, step forward, step back and wonder what the hell they are doing with no saints here. It feels like a while since I have read a shoujo that felt organic rather than needlessly contrived with over the top stakes (which means considering our review output means it was less than three months ago.)

I went back and forth on whether or not this was 3 1/2 or 3 stars, but while competent, even enjoyable, it hasn't quite started hitting all cylinders, with that spark, so to speak. I suspect that it will be clear within a few volumes, but after being down on the last few weeks of reviews, I am trying not to see what is not there for the titles that don't make me want to poke out my eyes.

As for my promise of all ages manga review today, it turns out there are very few all ages manga published, so I went for the next closest age bracket, 13+.

Monkey High!, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Wish of my Sister

A Wish of my Sister and all other review of explicit titles have been moved to Prospero’s Manga – Mature, a review blog for specifically for those titles. Please check there for reviews.