Monday, June 30, 2008

Professional Manga

By Steve Horton and Jeong Mo Yang
Published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier

Slugline: Not just a software manual

The subtitle of the book is Digital Storytelling with Manga Studio EX, but despite the implication the subtitle gives, the book is more and less than just a manual on how to use the software. For the people that do not know, Manga Studio EX is graphic design/publishing program that has been optimized to work manga and comics publishing formats. About half of the book deals with the use of Manga Studio EX, such as laying out and toning art, with the other half dealing with non-art issues such as storytelling, panel selection and choice, and where to pitch the completed product.

It is more than just a computer manual in that it deals with some of the very real issues of storytelling that are necessary for creating a good story. These are issues that once they have been described, they make perfect sense and is stuff that the reader probably already knew but wasn't consciously aware of. But until they do, it is hard to create stories that include those elements. None of the hints and suggestions are particularly deep or stuff that you will not find elsewhere, but are still useful especially since the storytelling and writing aspects of manga creation tend to be overlooked. The section also includes information about pitching and publishing a manga, though considering the recent changes in TokyoPop some of the information is already out of date.

The art and computer manual information is the first half of the book, and while I am much more of a writer than an artist, there is some interesting stuff there. Details as the importance of line thickness and how it contributes to storytelling is nice, but the actual suggestions for the software seems rather threadbare. I have seen computer software manuals be far more in-depth than this for less complicated actions. I suspect that this falls more into suggestions and tips for using Manga Studio EX rather than a manual on how to use it per se.

It is nice that deals both with art and writing aspects of manga creation rather than just treating one or the other as the whole of manga creation. But while it does cover both, it does not feel that it covers either in an in-depth manner. Maybe this is more useful as the beginning point rather than a master class or in truly making the reader a professional. I don’t want to say it doesn’t have any use, and it does offer relevant and useful information, but this feels more like an introduction to manga creation.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Dragon Ball Z, Big Vol. 1

Story and Art by Akira Toriyama
Released in the US by Viz Shonen Jump

Slugline: Who needs plot when you deliver a kick to the head!

It's been five years since the previous volume of DragonBall, and Son Goku has married Chi Chi and has a son named Son Gohan after his dead grandfather, but Son Gohan has not undergone any martial arts training. That is problem, because it turns out that Son Goku is an alien, and the few remaining members of his race want to destroy all life on Earth. Son Goku’s brother shows up, kidnaps Son Gohan and recalls the other two survivors of his race to attack the Earth. Son Goku manages to defeat his brother, at the cost of his own life. While dead, he undergoes further training, and his son Son Gohan undergoes training under the hands of his worst enemy. It takes a year for the two alien Saiyans to reach Earth, and when they do they go through Son Goku's allies, killing several permanently beyond resurrection by the Dragon Balls. Even the Dragon Balls themselves are destroyed by the death of their creator. But SonGoku manages to defeat one of the Saiyans leaving the other, the Saiyan leader Vegeta, ready to rumble.

Thank goodness there are some limits from coming back from the dead, otherwise it would be hard to take any of this seriously. Though taking DragonBall Z seriously is probably something that ought to be discouraged. This is what I think of when I think of Dragon Ball Z. Over the top fighting manga, with ever increasing powerful techniques and secret moves, with stakes increasing until everything... that... we... know is at stake. This is PWP without the sex, just a bash to head, then training to bash the head even better next time. And in this case, the larger BIG format works better than the traditional sized manga volume, because the fight scenes use up pages very quickly, but with almost 600 pages the volume still takes a while to go through. Admittedly, stuff gets a little repetitive (kick to the head, rinse and repeat) but that is just the nature of the fighting manga. So as long as you are not expecting Shakespeare, this delivers (a kick to the head!)

Sorry, couldn't resist that last kick to the head.

Dragon Ball Z, Big Volume 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dragonball, Big Volume 1

Story and Art by Akira Toriyama
Released in the US by Viz Shonen Jump

Slugline: There is way too much interest in balls here.

Son Goku has been alone in the wilderness for years, ever since his grandfather died. Well, he was probably not Son Goku’s real grandfather, since he did not have a monkey tail like Son Goku. His grandfather had dragonball, which the inventor (and cute girl) Bulma discovers that Son Goku has by tracking it to him. She convinces Son Goku to accompany her on a quest to acquire all 7 Dragonballs, for once you find all seven of the dragonballs you can summon the dragon who will grant one wish. Bulma is certain that she will need some protection in her quest and guilts Son Goku into accompanying her. Son Goku goes along with this with the understanding so that he can keep the DragonBall that his grandfather had after the wish. But Bulma did not mention that after the wish the dragonballs disappear for a year and have to be gathered up again. In order to prevent a dictator from gaining control over the Dragonballs, a wish was wasted and the dragonballs were scattered for a year. While waiting for the year to end, Son Goku decides to train with the turtle master Kame Sen'nin, and thanks to a brutal several month long training regimen (well, not training per se, but abuse with a purpose) Son Gokue and friends are able to compete in the ultimate martial arts tournament, the Tenka'ichi Budokai.

Eh, I understand that this is one of the gateway anime/manga and thus people may have fond memories, but it is still a very sketchy story, with a lot of knowing winks to the audience. Despite the supposed difficulty of finding the dragonballs, it is a relatively easy task without significant challenges, except for the deus ex machine opponent that suddenly no one can defeat.

At this time the story is very juvenile, with fart, nudity and underwear jokes galore, with a humor fantasy bent. It is not much of fighting title yet, the fighting doesn't really start kicking in until the end of the volume, with the search for the dragonballs not having much in the way of meaningful fighting as compared to someone challenging Son Goku and immediately being beaten down. Toriyama is still finding his feet on this series, and while the dragonballs give the series its name, the story doesn't seem click until the martial arts tournament starts up.

Now this may be blatantly obvious to people that have been grown up with the series, but the majority of my experience from this series actually comes from watching anime music videos that have used DBZ footage, rather than watching the anime or reading the manga. So my nostalgia on this is really low and thus not very forgiving.

Dragonball, Big Volume 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Monday, June 23, 2008

In Odd We Trust

Created by Dean Koontz, Written by Queenie Chan and Dean Koontz with Illustrations by Queenie Chan
Published by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Not that odd

Odd Thomas is a fry cook specializing in pancakes and the ability to see ghosts. Well, seeing ghosts is not usually a skill required in most diners, but it sometimes is useful when there has been a murder. In the California town of Pico Mundo there has been a child murder, and considering Odd's previous assistance to the town's police, he is asked to see if there is anything he can do with new case. Odd would have probably helped anyways, if for no other reason that the housekeeper that discovered the child's body is a childhood friend of Stormy, his girlfriend. But Sherry, Stormy's friend, has a deeper connection to the killer than just being unfortunate enough to find the killer's first victim.

Dean Koontz has written four novels featuring Odd Thomas, but I am not sure exactly where this falls into the series. Maybe this story does not show off the character of Odd Thomas to the fullest, but it did not impress me very much. Odd Thomas seems like so many other psychic detectives that I read or seen on TV before. Plus, it seems that the central mystery of the volume is just not very mysterious or challenging. Maybe that is reflective of the series and the fact when you have a real psychic whose answers to their questions just come to them, it is hard to maintain a sense of suspense. Still it felt flat. Even the art at times felt stiff. This feels more for the fans of the Odd Thomas series than anything else.

In Odd We Trust is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Friday, June 20, 2008

Gimmick, vol. 1

Story by Youzaburou Kanari with Art by Kuroko Yabuguchi
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: FX that are not fake, really.

Kohei Nagase is a FX artist working under the name Studio Gimmick, specializing in make-up. He is one of the most talented make up artists in the world, using a silver spatula that was given to him by a Hollywood master to apply his makeup. But despite his skills, he very rarely actually works in the movies, spending more time helping people. Episodes in this volumes have him and his friends helping a film star escape an abusive manager, a horror theme park under threat from a mad bomber, a model who needs to hide scars from an accident and retrieving movie monster animatronics that is being used in jewel thefts.

There is actually a sub-genre of adventure fiction that focuses on FX and makeup artists using their skills to mislead others and help people outside of the movies. Maybe it started because TV and movie creators wanted to make stories that made people like them heroes. Once some of those were made, the inspiration spread out from there. The stories seem to be grounded in the real world, but are then gee whiz factor is pushed too far with the FX for it to be the turning point of the story. Since it is drawn you don't even get to see FX work, since it is too easy to show anything without having to worry about real world limitations. It is a silly, fun and light story, but it is feels more pure fantasy than something along the lines of the Lord of the Rings.

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


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rosario + Vampire, vol. 1

Story and Art by Akihisa Ikeda
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: Not another doomed vampire romance. Just a harem.

Tsukune is an average student that has the worst luck in applying to high schools being rejected to all that he applied to. At the last moment his parents manage to get him admitted to a boarding school, but after he arrives Tsukune discovers that it is a school for monsters. It teaches them how to stay hidden among humanity. To do so the students have to remain disguised as humans allowing Tsukune to remain unnoticed amongst them. But the first student he meets, Moka, is a female vampire that was attracted to his... blood. Moka is such a powerful vampire that her power is restrained by a magical Rosario she wears on her neck. Because Moka is such a powerful presence in the school and Tsukune is always around her (because of her attraction to his blood) they often get into trouble, with Tsukune having to pull off her Rosario, releasing Moka's alternate personality that controls most of her vampiric powers.

This is a harem story, though rather than being a comedy/drama, it is more action oriented. It is the nice to see the sweet and 'innocent' girl also getting to be the ass-kicker, though who knows how long that will last. The other thing about harem stories is that they have a lot of fan service, and Moka when her vampire powers are unleashed seems to enjoy kicking the snot out of her opponents. Of course the school has a short skirt as part of their uniform so you can easily figure out where they sneak in the gratuitous panty shots. The episodes in this volume are fairly repetitive, which is wait until things get hairy and Tsukune gets beaten up a bit, then Tsukune manages to pull off Moka's Rosario. She then beats up the antagonist of the episode rather easily. With all that said, the fight scenes are staged entertainingly and there is some silliness in the character motivations (which is inevitable in harem stories, because how many girls can really maintain interest in a guy without giving up or otherwise changing their mind?) But as these things go, it is okay. Maybe because I have seen so much fan service that I don't even really see it anymore, though for other people that are not as desensitized as I am, it may be too much.

And no doomed romances here, at least not yet.

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


Monday, June 16, 2008

The Record of a Fallen Vampire, vol. 1

Story by Kyo Shirodaira with art by Yuri Kimura
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline:A vampire story that isn't about a doomed love with a human (yet)

Akabara is the vampire king of a long vanished kingdom. He has been searching for his queen for a thousand years, with her being magically sealed away because her magic almost destroyed the world. Akabara still loves his queen and has searched for her amongst all the fake magical seals that have been strewn amongst the world, trying to avoid the dhampires (half human/half vampires) that are hunting him down to prevent the release of his queen. His worst pursuer is the Black Swan, a woman with the ability to negate his magical abilities. But the Black Swan is more than just one woman but a curse that is passed from pursuer to pursuer, each time one Black Swan being killed another taking her place with all of the previous ones knowledge and abilities. Despite gaining assistance from a dhampire, in a modern looking city Akabara meets the 50th Black Swan who manages defeats him. But despite being cursed to destroy him, this Black Swan decides to bargain with him.

I was actually pleasantly surprised here, in that while the vampire has a doomed love, it is not a doomed love that normally hunts and kills vampires. Or even human. Another character who I didn't expect to get killed was killed pretty quickly. This is not a radical reinvention of the vampire story, but it has enough of a twist on it that I am not really sure what is going to happen next, which is pleasant. While I am not sure exactly what Akabara's rationale and self-guilt over his queen's abilities is coming from, I can get it exists and is what drives him. His dhampire's companion motivation is a little more ambiguous and the Black Swan's is completely unknown, but the volume ends at a good point, drawing you in to check out the next volume. So while I am not dancing in the street, I am actually somewhat interested in seeing what comes next and what is driving the characters.

The Record of a Fallen Vampire, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Friday, June 13, 2008

Kamichama Karin Chu, vol. 1

By Koge Donbo
Released in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Eyeballs bleeding from the cuteness

The continuation of the Kamichama Karin, with a new threat facing Karin and Kazune.
Karin has been having dreams in which is she needs to gather the three gods. Gods in this case means humans that wear special rings that transforms them into a god mode with special abilities, including the ability to avoid the sight of normal humans. The first of the three gods is actually Karin and Kazune's child from the future, which is a bit of a shock to Karin, since they are both in grade school (I think, the Japanese infatuation with prepubescence always screws up my expectations.) There is a seed of a threat growing now that will bloom into evil in the future, so Karin and Kazune must recruit the other two gods. One of them of course is am idol that is attending their school. By the end of the first volume all three of the gods have been found, but their opponent has already started making moves against them.

I haven't read the predecessor series, but I have read some of Koge-Donbo's other series (not here on Prosopero's Manga though), and she is a creator that focuses on the cute. Karin certainly falls into that, with expressive eyes and cute outfits. But it also makes if feel that she is not very much in charge of what is going on around her, with things just falling into her lap. Her partner, Kazune is excessively macho. Karin realizes that he is that way but still looks forward to the day that they will have the child that shows up from the future. There is also the fact that there seems to be a bridging episode from the previous series at the end of the volume rather than the beginning. It does not have a prominent label so I had to go back and make sure when things seemed all out of order. Despite being all silly and cute, the book is still rated 13+, which feels weird because of how the material is approached. I just really can't take the title very seriously and to certain extent, I don't even think it takes itself seriously, which I suspect is most of the problem I have with it.

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


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Two Flowers for the Dragon, vol. 1

By Nari Kusakawa
Released in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: A threesome with a dragon is not as kinky as it sounds

Shakuya is the heir of the ruling family of an isolated desert city built around an oasis. The ruling family has had a tradition of having arranged marriages with the sons of important families of the city, but Shakuya's was lost in a sandstorm when they were both very young, and a new betrothed was chosen for her. A magical tattoo of a flower was placed on her arms, and as her love for her first betrothed grows, her tattoo grows. Unfortunately for her original betrothed had survived the sandstorm and returns five years later, having only just then regained enough of his memory to return. Now she has two flower tattoos, and whichever grows the most in the next year, the betrothed that flower represents will marry her. Shakuya has fallen in love (or what she thinks is love) with her current suitor Kuwan, but Lucien, her first one is back and is far more attentive than what she is comfortable with. Plus, there is the little problem that her family is descended from water dragons and she retains the ability to transform into one.

Okay, this feels like a real choice in the romance department. Kuwan and Lucien have different personalities and different schemes to attract Shakuya, none of that will he or won't he fall in love with the girl that you always know is just an excuse to draw out the story, because if there wasn't any conflict over whom the characters were attracted to, well, there wouldn't be much of a story now would there? Shakuya is not immediately torn between the two, she doesn't want to have a fickle heart, but she is still a romantic young girl, and she overreacts (I think at least) to the slightest change. The addition of her having dragon and water control abilities gives her own power base, so to speak, so that she is not overshadowed by the boys. Now, the previous work from this creator, The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, I was not very impressed by, but I feel the the characters here are far more grounded and real, despite their abilities.

Two Flowers for the Dragon, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Monday, June 09, 2008

Kiichi and the Magic Books, vol. 1

By Taka Amano
Released in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Reading is more than Fundamental, it's magical

Kiichi has had a hard time in his village every since his mother died and it was revealed that he had a horn on his head. That showed that he had some oni parentage, and there are many superstitions and legends about oni, none of them good. But when a traveling librarian came to their village, his books have drawings that come alive and he has a young traveling companion who may have been brought to life from a book herself. Wanting to learn more about his parentage and race,Kiichi decides to join them as Mototaro is returning to a local book depositary, because at the book depositary there are likely to be researchers and books that can help him with his questions. But there is a long way from Kiichi's village to the book depositary, and many things can happen along the way.

While this is a teen book, at least this first volume feels all ages. Nothing too frightening or over the top, but still effective. All three of the characters have emotional as well as physical journeys going on, especially the ones that doesn't look like they have one. That being said, well this is a well constructed story, it doesn't feel like it has that extra something that could turn the story into something great. It is just good, and it is shame when you call something just good you are only giving it modest compliment. But while I enjoyed it, I doubt I will remember much about it in a week or two. But that might just be because of how many manga a week I read...

Kiichi and the Magic Books, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Friday, June 06, 2008

After School Sex Slave Club

After School Sex Slave Club 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.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hotel Africa, vol. 1

By Hee Jung Park
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Is it a memory or a dream?

Elvis is living with two friends, in the post college uncertainty that so many graduates face. But so much of their interaction with each other and theworld triggers Elvis's memories of growing up in the Utah desert. As the half black child of an unmarried white mother, many of his memories are of the time when his mother Addie turned their large home in bed and breakfast called the Hotel Africa. One of their first guests was named Geo, who decided within a day that he will marry Addie. But that is not the first bit of oddity, as strange folks come through Hotel, and there is Elvis and his friends own activities in the present.

Oddity here is the sort of human oddity that you can believe in, the sort of everyday strangeness that can happen, not that it is likely too. It does feel like a slice of life, but there is an undercurrent of something more, that bit of magical realism touch. Considering that Elvis and his friends are involved in the film industry (on the very outskirts) the feeling of superrealism , more real than real, permeates the stories. At the end of the volume, I am left feeling unsure about what the volume is really about, but it is an interesting meandering journey getting, umm, nowhere in particular. And the format, larger than the typical manga format, does help it stand out.

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


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fairy Cube, vol. 1

Story and Art by Kaori Yuki
Released in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: Bad Fairy! No crushing people's hopes and dreams!

Ian and Rin were old friends, despite the fact that Ian claimed to see fairies. One day he managed to show them to Rin, but Ian's jealous and powerful father forcedRin's family to move away. Ian's gotten more depressed over the years, especially since he has a dark shadow named Tokage. But when Rin's returns when Ian is in high school, they begin to plan to escape. But the plan is interrupted when Tokage seizes control of Ian's father and kills Ian. Ian ends up as a spirit and is consigned to the otherworld with the fairy Ainsel, where they come to an understanding that Ainsel will help Ian. Ian makes a deal with Kaito, a dealer of fairy cubes, taking over the body of a dead boy and discovering took over his dead body and moving on Rin. Ian, asEriya, tries to get Rin to realize Tokage's true nature, but it is only when Tokage destroys another fairy masquerading as human than Rin discovers what is going on and flees with Ian/Eriya house, where Eriya's grandmother realizes that something is up

And I forgot, there are fairy like murders, strange people that seem unusually interested in Ian's success or failure, fairies possessing people after they die using fairy cubes and there is elderly blind woman that has far greater idea on what is going on than what it first appears.

For a manga, this the plot is very dense, with several major changes in the characters and setting in the single volume. I've not even seen this dense plotting in US comics for a while. The denseness does present a problem now and then when they just dump some information and keeps on going without really giving you time to digest it, so when you read this you have to be willing to read it carefully, since it will not be repeated and hammered into you like many other manga. But that makes this a rarer, more interesting read. I believe that there is a market out there for meatier manga, that has more story whereas manga traditionally has been stronger in conveying mood and emotion, I just hope that the readers for this title will be able to find it. There is nothing obvious about Fairy Cube that shows how it stand out a different in structure from other shojo titles. I haven't read Kaori Yuki's other titles, Angel Sanctuary (though I think Miranda was less than impressed by it) and Godchild, so I am unsure if Fairy Cube is representative of her works. This level of dense storytelling has its problems, since sometimes things whip by too fast or seem to be dropped too casually, but it is something different as compared the run of the mill flood of manga titles.

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