Thursday, July 24, 2008

Posting disruption

The entire comics and manga world has descended to San Diego for the ComicCon, so posting will be disrupted until next Wednesday.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Me and the Devil Blues, vol. 1

By Akira Hiramoto
Released in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Don't base any school reports on Robert Johnson or the blues on this manga

This manga freely admits it is a dark reimagining of the early career of blues musician Robert Johnson known as RJ. In the rural south in 1930s America you can imagine life for blacks was not pleasant. But some made it less pleasant for themselves, since RJ had a tendency to oversleep and spend too much time at the local blues joint thinking he could one day master the blues. Local blues musicians tell him he is so bad he may as well sell his soul to the devil, since that will be the only way RJ he will gain any skill. RJ has a pregnant girlfriend and so he is reluctant to throw his soul away. One night after leaving the blues joint he finds a teacher who shows him how to play. RJ returns to the blues joint and tears the place with his guitar amazed at how much he has learned in just a few days. Too much to have actually been learned in just a few days, he has been gone for six months and his pregnant girlfriend and child died during childbirth. It is only through that tragedy does RJ becomes a true bluesman. And once he does, his travels get him mixed up with pre-Bonnie Clyde Barton and further aspects of his deal with the devil.

I looked up Robert Johnson on wikipedia, and surprisingly a lot of what is in the manga are already part of the Robert Johnson myth. The art is almost old school, far more seinan influenced than what is the norm in imported manga. It is not a true horror, nor J-pop influenced (though I understand that the blues is popular out of proportion in Japan) and not crime or slice of life. It does wander in amongst all of those genres, making it hard to categorize. But it does show a part of American life that is usually and purposefully forgotten, life in the American south in the Depression. This is a time when lynching may not have been open as is described in the book, but is still a fact of life and casual racism is part and parcel of human nature. There is also the desire to be meaningful and important that RJ is trying to work out through being a blues musician, which was perhaps was the only means a young black male at that time had to increase his importance and feelings of self worth in that environment. But the story also descends to genuine creepiness as RJ is confront by supernatural forces just as insidious as racism.

Me and the Devil Blues, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Friday, July 18, 2008

Silver Diamond vol. 1: Silver Seed

By Shiho Sugiura
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: A boy that well-behaved and polite has to come from another world.

Rakan and his now deceased mother were found without memory in a garden, and in the years since Rakan never really learned where they had come from, but did notice that the plants on his house's plot grew far more energetically than even his neighbors. The reason for that is discovered with an assassin from another world with gun that is also a plant,Rakan made it grow into a tree. Rakan came from another world and has the ability to make plants grow, an ability that especially coveted from the world that Chigusa has come from, due to the lack of sunlight and water. But Rakan also looks like the Prince that rules that other world, not a kindly man, which Chigusa is not especially fond of.

Okay, there is some stuff here that falls into the manga cliches. Identical transdimensional twins, yaoi undertones and students that are too pretty and universally loved to be true. But while it is there, it has a light touch. It is solidly constructed, but it is a solidly constructed glider, not having much weight or importance to it. While I am reading it I am too taken in with the story, but when it is over the realization is that not much story has actually happened in this volume.

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

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kasumi, vol. 1

Story by Surt Lim and Art by Hirofumi Sugimoto
Released by Del Rey

Slugline: Finally, a superhero shoujo

Kasumi has to move another new school, following her botanist father around, but before she goes to her first day at a new school she is surrounded by mysterious lights while in the forest. Kasumi has her first day at a new school come off just like any other shoujo, hot yet distant guy, girls who want him that are jealous, otaku pal and a challenge. But in the course of handling the challenge Kasumi discovers things have changed, and she turns invisible whenever she holds her breath along with other undefined abilities, and the story starts to take a more scenic route through shoujoland.

Though from the basic description (especially on the back) Kasumi would seem to be a fairly run of mill shoujo with some odd bits. New transfer student, dead parent, aloof boy all that is right out of the shoujo rulebook. Even the invisible girl has been done before in manga, in the title Translucent (which has been reviewed here.) But despite appearing derivative, it is a melding of two very disparate genres that we don't normally see together. The first is the standard shoujo that we have seen hundreds of times before but here it is coupled with American superhero stories, like the X-Men, where a character discovers that they have a supernormal ability. Translucent was a slice of life title, where was taken as a matter of fact. Here it is an ability unknown to the rest of the world and this ability gives reason for other characters' strange behaviors. Sure, this is liable to be explained in terms of Japanese mysticism rather than mutation or a radioactive exposure, but the title itself wears its superhero influences proudly. The title's requisite otaku character is a Superman (analogue) fanboy rather than being a fan of Gundam or Ultraman (which makes me wish in a way that CMX had done this, because then they wouldn't have had to have a Superman analogue, they could have used the real thing.) Merely trying something different immediately puts this title ahead of most. It also helps that the art is such a good match with the story, open lines with a light touch and detailed work so that the unusual abilities are made more real because their effect are so clearly shown. The only problem of the volume is that it feels light. I am not sure why, it is a standard length but reading it almost seems like it is a chapter short. It ended at a good point, but it feels like we needed more time with Kasumi exploring her abilities before bringing the other characters back in. Still it is a very good beginning in a story bringing Eastern and Western comic traditions together.

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

- Ferdinand

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vasssalord, vol. 1

By Nanae Chrono
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: What is it about cyborg vampires that the Vatican has to keep on hiring them?

Charley is a priest wannabe who is also a cyborg vampire that hunts down vampires without drinking of humans. He keeps his vampire creator, JohnnyRayflo, around in order to drink his blood instead of humans, and also keep the yaoi tension ratcheted up. It is set in the present day or the near present day, so the world seems the same as ours, so that vampires are a secret and the fact that Charley is one is kept from his employers in the Vatican even as he strives to be worthy of becoming a priest.

I was prepared to be really annoyed at Vassalord. After all, you would think that creators would be bored with cyborg vampire assassins that work for the Vatican. Apparently, one more because Vassalord was pleasant surprise. Yes, it can't help but be somewhat derivative of other titles that use similar characters (reviews of Trinity Blood and Hellsing) but it does manage to carve out a separate identity for itself. Even the yaoi aspects are not too overwhelming of the rest of the story. It's not coyly implied by any means but neither is it dominating (but is probably the reason why the title is rated 16+.) There are some cliche story aspect I am not wild about (twins? why?) but there are no more jarring that most odd story elements you find in manga. I am not saying that this is the best thing since a staked vampire but it is an acceptable combination of characters and action.

Though if you are a Unitarian Universalist, you may learn a couple things that you didn't know about your church.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, July 11, 2008

Kujibiki Unbalance, vol. 1

Story by Kio Shimoku and Art by Koume Keito
Released in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: So little to do with Genshiken, which is the reason people will pick this up in the first place.

The reason that so many people will be willing to pick up and check out Kujibiki Unbalance is due to its connection to Genshiken, a series that we have previously reviewed. Kujibiki Unbalance was the show within the show that the characters of Genshiken watched, collected the merchandise and doujinshi of, and argued over. That being said, this is not that version of Kujibiki Unbalance that was seen in the Genshiken series, but a standalone series that was broadcast after the Genshiken as a sort of unofficial sequel. That explains why the plot sounds different from any memories of the original Genshiken show.

But what made Kujibiki Unbalance special in the first place was not any intrinsic characteristic of the story itself, but how the characters in Genshiken reacted to it. They were a mirror of the reader's own fandom, and one could see one's own obsessions and behaviors in how the Genshiken loved, hated and just generally enjoyed Kujibiki Unbalance. So seeing it on it's own, doesn't have the same punch or meaning. It's just another, well, it may not technically be a harem comedy, but it sure acts like it. And while the story works and the art is fine, this isn't even in the same neighborhood as Genshiken. Maybe it would have been more interesting for me if I had seen the anime, and you can see some of the character work that Kio Shimoku had earlier lavished on Genshiken showing in the characters here, but the story is not deep enough to allow that many layers of characterization.

Needless to say, we have reviewed volumes of Genshiken here.

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


Thursday, July 10, 2008

A non-review of King City, vol. 2

I have previous reviewed two titles from Brandon Graham, King City, vol. 1 and Multiple Warheadz. I enjoyed both titles and was saddened to hear that King City, vol. 2 may not be published. However, Brandon Graham has put up the first chapter of King City vol. 2 up on his blog, and I encourage people to check it out here. Just scroll down a little bit to find it.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tokkô: Devil's Awaken, vol. 1

By Tohru Fujisawa
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Of course high velocity bullets fired a point blank do less damage than a sword...

This is another one of Tohru Fujisawa's titles, creator of the previously reviewed titles Rose Hip Rose, Rose Hip Zero and GTO: The Early Years along with the main GTO series.

In the near future, there has been repeated unsolved mass murder incidents in Tokyo. Oddly enough, the fact that sometimes several hundred people are found dead torn to pieces has gotten a lot of press attention, and the Tokyo police has formed a special division to help deal with the crisis. Ranmaru Shinda is graduating from the academy into these divisions, for he has a personal stake in the investigation into these mass murders, his parents was among the first killed in an incident were over 300 victims were found murdered 5 years ago.

Bwah? Sorry, even the US, over 300 killed in a single day without anyone apparently living long enough to call the police or anyone, would be mindboggling. And Japan, without a history of violent crime? I would expect that would tear the citizenry apart in fear and worry. But here it is just written off to possibly wild animals? In Tokyo? Tokyo has never looked very rural to me, and I don't think Japan is exactly brimming with large animals that can snack on humans. Later in the book when a police investigator tries to bring an odd theory to the attention of his superiors, he is written off as a kook. Look, by this time, after five years, I would think that the police leadership that still managed to keep their jobs would be willing to look into any explanation, no matter how kooky, simply because what is happening is so outside the norm. So the reality check here has bounced, and we can now sit back and enjoy this a pure fantasy.

Shinda has a sister that also survived the incident that killed their parents, mostly because they were both not home when it happened but discovered their parent's remains upon returning home. Their father was a policeman, so they both joined the police, but while his sister was satisfied on becoming a beat cop (and trying to set up her friends with her brother) Shinda wanted to find out what had really happened.

Not the least because he has been having dreams of a nude woman wielding a sword covered in blood, her image becoming ever clearer as time goes by. A dream that he tries to write off, of course, until he sees some of the special members of the Tokko, a special subdivision of their Riot Squad. One of them is way too young (well, 18 for a LT) and flirts with Shinda , which distracts him just for a moment, but he still manages to notice the flesh and blood version of his dream girl walk by. The fact that the Tokkko are a little bit unusual is revealed when checking out a crime scene, some loiterers attack the police, ignore bullet wounds and are basically unstoppable until the Tokko show up using bladed weapons to kill the attackers. One of them, the girl from his dreams, Sakura warn him that they are watching him because he is a survivor of the incident that killed his parents. And the spread of the zombie like creatures continues to spread.

Okay, this getting long here, but as you can you see from my earlier complaints, there is not much attention paid to internal logic here. Art-wise, it seems to me that the characters in this manga have more than a passing resemblance to other characters from previous Tohru Fujisawa titles, but despite those similarities, the art is effective and expressive. It does read very quickly, more quickly than I expected even an action heavy title with its big panels would read, but that is more a taste thing than anything else. The title is wrapped in plastic, because of the violence and naked dream girls, but as manga go there was nothing here that felt too shocking. It is an okay action title with a few, well, it feels like art and storytelling shortcuts taken that rob of the story of standing on its own two feet and really hitting home.

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


Monday, July 07, 2008

Yonen Buzz: Plastic Chew

Created by Christina Plaka
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: A German manga with a Japanese setting translated into English. Globalization is fun!

The band Plastic Chew has lost their lead singer, much to the disturbance of Jun, the supporting singer and guitarist for the band. He has issues about abandonment since his parents died, so he is cautious when the band gets a new singer. Part of the reason for his caution is that the new singer Sayuri is a girl, and that to order to help band cohesion, all four of them need to live together. Of course Sayuri and Jun get close, but the fact that Sayuri ran away from her parents in order to dedicate herself to her music (and an ill-timed smooch from the lead of the competing all female band Orchid) drives them apart. Jun knows how important parents can be, and manages to encourage a reconciliation between them just in time for all of the band members to be focused on the battle of the bands that offers them 'the' big break. But for a chance of pace, Plastic Chew does not win the battle of the bands, but Jun is overwhelmed to see Masanori, the band member that was replaced by Sayuri.

From what I understand, this is one of Christina Plaka's early works and serves as a prequel to the main Yonen Buzz series. As she herself describes it in the volume, this book introduces the characters of that series. And while the characterization works, I can easily believe that this is an early work of the creator, because it doesn't quite jell properly. Everything revolves around Jun and Sayuri, so we don't really get to understand the other two members of the band, though we do get some personality ticks. And Masanori's return is a little too much of a emotionally distant event. His eyes are not drawn in, hidden by his hair, so he doesn't feel like a real person, making one wonder why Jun is drawn to him. The emotional beats of the characters are all on the surface, everything feels like it being told to you rather than having something being shown under the surface. But these are very nit-picky details in comparison to the strong story.

This was one of the titles that originally came out of TokyoPop Germany, though it is hard to tell that since the title falls into most of the idol story conventions

You may have heard of this title (and the band) previously called Yonen Buzz: Prussian Blue but the names were changed to Plastic Chew due the lack of desire to be confused with the rise of real musical duo in the US called Prussian Blue, who are white separatists.

Yonen Buzz: Plastic Chew is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Taking the day off due to the US holiday. Reviews will return on the morning of Monday, July 7th!

-Ferdinand and Miranda

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Guardian Hearts, vol. 1

Created by Sae Amatsu
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: A harem comedy that doesn't even try to be funny or good for that matter

Kazuya has the devil's own luck. Alien guardians, miko's, magical girls etc., all accidentally reveal their extranormal natures within moments of meeting him and thus end up living in Kazuya's house with his really accommodating mother. Wait, that is not luck, but it is really annoying and slipshod story creation. Despite all of these women revealing their super secret natures to him within moments, somehow or another most of them manage to keep their various abilities secret from each other, to allow the maximum 'comedic' misunderstandings. All while doing the maximum fan service, or course. I try to restrain my natural incredulity at harem stories (not sure it is because the girls manage to mostly get along in them or the fact the guy never seems to abuse his position) but this one isn't even trying to be anything other than filler, it seems. Impossible things happen and the characters just nod along. Five female characters move into the house, one per chapter, with the first real chapter that actually has a story at the end of the volume. The characters are dumped on you so fast that collectively they mean nothing to the reader. The cat has more personality than most of the harem girls. So yeah, not wild about this, at all. At least the book delivers on its fan service, though that is about the only positive thing that can be said about it.

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