Friday, May 30, 2008

Flight Explorer, vol. 1

Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Published by Villard Press

Slugline: Not that much flight or exploring, but still enough of both along with pitch perfect tone to make if perfect first graphic novel for any age.

Well this is not manga per se though some of the creators of the anthology come out of the US OEL/OGM movement. Flight Explorer is the younger skewing version of the Flight anthology, an award winning series that has released 4 volumes so far. So despite this being the first volume it already has a great pedigree. As a anthology it's themes are fairly loose, with flight being only incidental in many stories, or being at best a metaphor. Most of the stories are slice of life, with humorous undertones, though the cover illustration is for the big action adventure story of the volume. The stories are fairly straightforward and connect on an emotional level, which is what a volume like this needs to hit its aimed audience. A couple of times some of the flow between panels is not very clear, so I think it may be a little confusing at times for newcomers, but it is only a few moments distraction. The full color art of the stories is the major draw of the volume, with each story and it's creator working in their own distinctive style that fits the need of each story.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Maid Machinegun

"written by" Aaliyah with illustrations by Suzuhito Yasuda
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: There is a very few machineguns here.

First of all, this is a novel. Which at first purports to be the experiences of a maid at a maid cafe. The first half of the book feels mostly like a slice of life tale, as Aaliyah, our viewpoint maid, trying to be a halfway decent maid while fully immersing herself into otaku culture. Especially when the maids decide to do a photobook for Comiket. I suspect their fear filled experience would be closer to what would really happen if an American went to Comiket without serious prep work and a native guide. But halfway through the book some other details about Aaliyah start coming to light, and the story takes a right turn away from slice of life into more conspiracy laden territory.

An interesting look at maid cafe culture along with an amusing look at Comiket from a non-hardcore's fan perspective. Aaliyah is cringeworthy, but that is the way she is written and the slice of life is rather solid, but when you hit the conspiracy bits towards the end the story starts to fall apart. The internal logic of it at least, so it feels like something that feels rather grounded right into super-deformed territory. That being said it's an okay read if you know what it is going into it.

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


Monday, May 26, 2008

Haridama: Magic Cram School

Story and Art by Atsushi Suzumi
Published by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Is it a surprise that a Japanese manga would have swordsmen being more powerful than expected?

Kokuyo and Harika are old friends that go to a magical cram school together. The school is especially difficult for them because most magic is done by the controlling the flow of yin/yang, but they both do not have a balance of it but instead has mostly have one or the other. They have to compensate for this by using swords and obsidian to do so. But by working together they can be more powerful than any single magician. (What a surprise that.)

This is an one-off story by the creator behind Venus Versus Virus (reviewed here). Now, it has some of the typical character archetypes, the slacker student who has hidden talent and the studious female sidekick. And despite being very studious, the female student is not curious at all over how they overpowered the big bad of an earlier adventure, leaving it to a deus ex machina to explain things to them at the end. Which is reasonably clever, not so clever that makes you marvel at it, but still fits. I am not sure if the concept would hold up for more than one volume without getting derivative, but at one volume it holds up and it is a decent read.

Haridama: Magic Cram School is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Friday, May 23, 2008

The Reformed, vol. 1

Story by Christopher Hart with art by Anzu
Published by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: A vampire looking for redemption? What would surprise me is a vampire that thinks redemption is for sissies.

Giancarlo is a vampire that is hunting in the city, but comes across a woman Jenny with whom he immediately bonds (and doesn't take a drink from.) Jenny is taken by him also and gives up her previous occupation but realizes that Giancarlo is a complicated man, but not a vampire. Another vampire shows up to make Giancarlo's life difficult and attracts the attention of police detective. I am not sure if Giancarlo and Jenny really have a romance, but the book is about how they deal with their attraction for each other and how Giancarlo uses that attraction to escape his vampiric past and apparent destiny.

Some interesting bits character-wise, mostly around Jenny. Rather than with a wink and nod that Jenny is walking the streets for completely pure of heart reasons, it is admitted that she was walking the streets, though admittedly not for very long. And the end of the volume was actually a shocker, though considering her profession it doesn't seem very logical. But those interesting character bits have to compensate for a fairly standard plot and a lot of details that it is just assumed that the characters will know or accept. So that the flow of story doesn't feel smooth, with short sharp little bumps on the way. And yes, this is an OEL, Christopher Hart is known for doing a series of learning how to draw books.

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


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

B.O.D.Y., vol. 1

Story and Art by Ao Mimori
Released in the US by Viz Shoko Manga

Slugline: A story about host clubs that manages not to show one

Ryoko feels attracted to Ryonosuke, but despite Ryonosuke's quiet and unassuming manner, he reveals that he works at a host club. This revelation does not endear Ryoko to him, especially since he is willing to use his greater experience with, well everything, to trick her. And after pulling her leg a few times, she is completely unwilling to trust him, especially since his hard luck stories that make her sympathize with him turn out not be true.

Ryoko is not especially clever and has the over-enthusiastic gene that a lot of manga characters suffer from, but neither is she an idiot. She struggles between trusting Ryonosuke and having his too clever by half comments making her question everything she learns about him. The back and forth in Ryoko’s mind feels real as she tries to balance her suspicion and her vulnerability. Ryonosuke is a more of a cipher, but I am impressed that even though we quickly learn he works at a host club, at the end of the first volume we have managed to avoid going to it. Considering once you bring that up, the temptation to set some scenes there must be overwhelming. The story avoids the common paths and the expected scenes which helps sets it apart. Ryonusuke’s attraction to Ryoko is not clearly explained at first, though it is hinted that it starts mostly out as a challenge. It is nice to see that people admitting to having motives other than romance or sex.

B.O.D.Y., vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Haruka, vol. 1

Story and Art by Tohko Mizuno
Released in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: Rather than traveling back to a fantasy China, this alternate reality romance has the heroine traveling back to historical Japan! Oh, how novel.

Maybe my slugline is a little harsher than it needs to be, but while this is a competently churned out story, it doesn't seem to go over any new ground and does not create much excitement. Think of this as another entry into the Fushigi Yugi genre, with time traveling Japanese schoolgirls being hidden priestesses that will save everything. Or make everything worse, it is so hard to tell it apart. She needs to find her guardians, which include some of her fellow students that all time-traveled to medieval Japan along with an assortment of bishonen boys that have pledged to their lives to her and find themselves attracted to her. And there is of course a pretty boy that is the main antagonist, who is considered a demon/foreigner because he looks different from everyone else and if he is a bad guy is not a very competent bad guy, giving Akane (the said time-traveling priestess) the time to find her guardians so that she can be a challenge. Sorry, can we ever have a bad guy who thinks that using any advantage that they can get is fair, rather than waiting for the odds to stack up against them?

While some of the character bits are well handled, others are not, and I don't really see where it adds anything new and different. If you read Fushigi Yugi, you have pretty much reach this, so unless you just love the concept to pieces, it is hard to recommend this. It is another of the not bad but not interesting titles.

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


Friday, May 16, 2008

Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure! Vol. 1

Story and Art by Shigekatsu Ihara
Released in the US by Vizkids

Slugline: It's Pokémon, it delivers exactly what you expect.

Much like porn, all-ages titles have a slightly different set of review criteria simply because you can't expect subtle characterization or complicated plotlines. Not to say if one managed to accomplish I would give it a lot of credit (and the corresponding stars.) So three stars here means slightly different than it would a typical teen romance manga, which is how well it succeeds as an all-ages title.

Okay, now that I have that out of the way, feral child Hareta that has been raised in the wild with Pokémon and who considers them his friends has been convinced to go look for a legendary Pokémon, Dialga. The professor that has been keeping an eye on Hareta has given this mission, and assigned one of his assistants, Mitsumi to go with him. Hareta has as his main Pokémon Piplup, a prideful Pokémon that Hareta eventually convinces to ally with him and they have to continually face the challenges of Team Galactic, a group of selfish Pokémon trainers who want to capture Pokémon for their own purposes.

Like the slugline says, this is Pokémon, so you can say that the plot is basically predetermined. We have a boy trainer, a girl sidekick, a slightly older trainer and their Pokémon traveling the world, facing off against a nefarious team and gym trainers from cities with dubious names. That being said, within that framework, everything it solidly constructed and it works as a Pokémon story. If you even watched a commercial for the show, you know what you are getting and it fulfills that expectation. The art is straightforward and depicts things clearly, even in the midst of the action scenes. So it is a good first or early manga, but if one wants to show off some of the more creative or offbeat stuff that manga is capable off, something else would be better.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Winter Demon, vol. 3

Story by Yamila Abraham with Art and Letters by Le Peruggine
Published by Yaoi Press

Slugline: Oh, those sensitive, tortured gay demon boys…

I have not read the first two volumes and I’m glad to say it’s not necessary to if you can’t find them. For a porn series, this is both well written and well drawn. Life does not revolve solely around sex, for these characters, though there isn’t any skimping on that part either. Everyone is terribly sensitive and considerate and nice, but the story manages to not get bogged down in metaphysical hand-wringing. Nothing too surprising happens, but it’s well presented and the visual storytelling is both clear and nice. That has been a problem with some of the OEL books I have read lately. I’m curious to see what else this creative team has done, and what they will do in the future.


Despite Miranda calling it a porn title, I went through the title to make sure after the problems the blog had earlier, and the title is not explicit. I wouldn't give it to a five year old, but it is R rather than NC-17


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

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

SERIES UPDATE: Kashimashi, vol. 4

Check out previous reviews of Kashimashi vol. 1 and Kashimashi vols. 2 and 3.

After the story wandering around uncertainly for a while, Kashimashi vol. 4 finds it metaphorical feet in the revelation that Hazumu's near-death experience of volume 1, the one him to a her, was fated. Fate is not something that can be denied, and Hazumu's death is approaching once again. With that sort of ticking clock in the background, suddenly the characters have something that drives them, so that things matter. True, there is a bit of soap opera business where all of the characters know that Hazumu has a month left to live but no one knows that everyone else knows, but it prevents everyone descending in maudlin crying. I do wish that the characters had handled the revelations at the end of the third volume a little better, especially the potential 'cure' for Hazumu that was introduced at the end of that volume that wasn't really followed up in this one. Overall, the introduction of the ticking clock has pushed the series back up in the 3 1/2 stars category.

The Kashimashi vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3 and vol. 4 are all available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Friday, May 09, 2008

Devil's Bride, vol. 1

By Se-Young Kim
Released in the US

Slugline: A devil is always ready to make a deal for his yaoi love.

Devils are more like a powerful spirits, vampire and low level god all wrapped in one. The unnamed devil of the story is trying to live more like humans, because his nature is destructive and he wants to be creative. He lives near some human villages and thinks that by having a bride, he will become more human. A poor family basically sells off one of their children to him, and takes off before he discovers that the child is a boy, not a girl. Not that it really matters that much to him. Now, that I cansorta buy, because he isn't really human, so I get he can be omnisexual rather than being an yaoi pretty boy. Ley , the boy, dies, not sure if it accidental or deliberate, but the devil decides to keep him alive, but in order to do so he need human parts to returnLey to humanity. As a devil, he has decided to offer his serves to mortals, not for souls which is normal payment, but in body parts. Meanwhile a blind heir elsewhere in the world has been forced to prostitute himself to soldiers to save his kingdom, and his boyhood companion has to be take some harsh actions.

It is an interesting set-up for an anthology story, with the ability for their to be one-off stories to that tie in devil's search for parts to help Ley recover from being a little bit dead, but it is the framing device is far more meaningful and involved that the usual ones. So the setup for the anthology structure takes up enough time that the first anthology story is not finished in this volume, though we do seem to have hit the first turning point on the last page. Of course, it is has a yaoi focus, with a tall lanky pretty boy and the younger, more effeminate looking 'junior' member of the partnership. Which is one of my major icks here, in that it seems that one half of the pairings are inherently in the inferior position. Yeah, it may be typical how yaoi is arranged but that doesn't make me feel any better. But the story is well structured, the characters have some depth and the art is 100% pretty boy, so that assuages my other concerns.

Devil's Bride, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

White Night Melody, vol. 1

By Selena Lin
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: This would be a good second volume. Unfortunately it is the first.

Two living dolls are playing with their owner's son when good luck beads fall into a fish-tank and they turn human. Yeah, that is a horrible first sentence. Living dolls as a given? What, living dolls are so normal that we don't even have to introduce them? Never mind the fact that you can't tell the difference between the living dolls and the human child until someone says that one is human and the others are dolls. The living dolls don't really seem to have a long term memory, but there are half dozen questions that immediately come to mind. Where are the living dolls from? How did the family get them? Do they remember how they become dolls? How can you tell they are dolls in comparison to the human children? They want to be human, but it doesn't seem they have any problems living as dolls? Where are the good luck beads from? I would settle they were found in some mysterious shop, but apparently they have been in the house as long as the living dolls.

All these questions popped up within the first ten pages, and they weren't answered. At all. Now, it probably would have taken a single chapter, 20 pages, to set up all of these questions. But without that, I spent the first half of the book wondering what was going on, wondering if I missed something, and trying to refocus on what was actually going on. What was going on was sorta of interesting, but I was left at the end of the book wondering why I should care about the characters,because there were this big gaps in their background. I think there is a good story in there, but you are just thrown in the deep end without knowing how to swim here.

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


Monday, May 05, 2008

Foxy Lady, vol. 1

Story and art by Ayun Tachibana
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: It's titles like this that makes me think one of the requirements for Japanese editors is the serious need for therapy

I am not sure I want to destroy what little faith my readers may have left in the quality of manga. That manga editors signed off to publish this makes me think the creator had something on them, or that the editors really had faith in the creator's art. But the story that comes with the art...

Jin is a shrine heir and one day his cousin Kagone, a half fox demon/human shows up at the shrine dorm where he is living, asking to mate with him to turn her human and stay in the human world.

Yeah, my reaction also. But of course Jin, despite looking at magazine telling him ways to determine if a woman is attracted to him, meets a woman that tells him exactly what he wants to hear, he suddenly decides to be all noble and such. For a few moments he shows a spine, but then it reverts to being a wet noodle as he gets bossed around by virtually everyone. Despite the fact they live in the same dorm, nothing at all happens between Jin and Kagone, surprise, surprise. Jin has a couple of, well friends is a little too strong a word, but they can't be called anything else due to the rules of manga, who are just creepy. There is the slightly older guy who wants to take pictures of Jin's female classmates and a childhood friend that seems to have been pretending for as long as they have known each other that he was a girl. At least he/she is honest, and is planning to build a harem at the new school that is his attending, which just happens to be Jin's. No faux respectability or kindness here. That desire, to actually recruit a harem, I can actually believe. I mean, how difficult can it be when it seems virtually any guy can get a harem? Virtually everything else in the manga requires unnatural amounts of suspension of disbelief.

I could go on with all the unnatural and unrealistic character motivations and actions here, but ugh, thinking about them just makes me want to rant more about them. It feels like the author knows what the reader's expectations are, so he just skipping over the sections that don't interest him (not that they are not important to the characters.) Only a few moments of interesting character work save this from becoming a dishonorable mention.

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


Friday, May 02, 2008

Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro, vol. 1

By Satoko Kiyuduki
Released in the US by Yen Press

Slugline: A 4-koma non-comedy title

Kuro is a black clad girl (who does not look very girlish) that carries a coffin on her back, a flock of talking bats and two children who follow her that has strange abilities. Kuro is apparently looking for a specific witch, has been injured in some way and carries the coffin on her back because she believes she will need it on her travels, for her that is. The exact nature of her travels isn't really revealed, though it can be pieced out from the book. The title seems to vary a slice of life to a supernatural quest style story.

I haven't read that many yonkoma, Japanese gag strips which are four panel, usually one on top of each other. It's an odd format, because despite having a continuing story and discrete episodes, the four panel structure makes it full very choppy. Like a movie reel that is missing some frames, it just doesn't flow smoothly. A whole lot isn't explained, and there is the requisite cute kids, but they seem to have a mystery attached to them that won't go away. The book has several color pages scattered throughout, probably as a legacy from original publication (presumably in 4 panel sections) which shows a subtle sense of coloring. At the moment, it's parts are charming and work well enough that I gave it 2 1/2 stars despite the fact as a total package you can see the joints and gears trying to mesh between its parts.

Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.