Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Astral Project, vol. 1

by marginal and Syuji Takeya
Released in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Jazz that literally produces an out of the body experience.

Masahiko is living in Tokyo doing odd jobs, escorting former idols to prostitution meetings when he learns that his sister has died. Dodging his parents, he returns to his childhood home to get a momento of his sister, and choses to take the unmarked music CD in her player, the last thing she listened to. Once he has returned to Tokyo, listening to the jazz music on the disk, he has an out of the body experience, as his astral form wanders over the city. The rest of the first volume is taken up by Masahiko trying to understand just how his sister died, who else is wandering the astral space over Tokyo and trying to origin of the jazz music on the disk that his sister left behind.

This is a mature title, not for any reason that I can tell in the first volume. Probably the naughty stuff starts kicking in the later volumes, but here we have profoundly isolated character, Masahiko, who can literally float above it all. But as the volume progresses, the mysteries that his sister have left him drive him to interact with others, both in the real world and the astral world. The Japanese fascination with jazz music and musicians also rears it's head, but it is tied into the mystery in a natural way, and provides an additional point of confusion/contention for the characters. The characters' are being pulled out of their normal patterns, and the storyline timebomb dropped at the end of the volume was a good change of direction.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fate stay/night, vol. 1

Manga by Dat Nishiwaki with original story by TYPE-MOON
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Cross platform marketing doesn't have to suck

This is another entry in the Fate stay/night marketing colossus, which spawned out from visual novel, including an anime and now a manga. It seems that the manga is based mostly on the anime, which selectively chose specific storyline elements of the visual novel to bring to screen. In this incarnation Fate is mostly a fighting manga, as 7 magi and their servants battle over the grail. In comparison to other fighting manga, the storyline is not too far out of the way of standard fight manga, with the characters so far falling into many of the standard archetypes. That said, it is being well done with not too many gratuitous power-ups, everyone is acting reasonably intelligently (though I understand that will change in later volumes) and considering the heavy presence of Fate stay/night in anime/manga fandom already, most readers will already have a good idea if they will like the basic story and characters. What I can say is that as a manga, this version of Fate stay/night is reasonably well done and executed version of the anime.

Fate stay/night, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Ghostbusters: Ghost Busted

Written by Yamashita and Johnson with Art by Delk, Lorenzo, Shelfer, Watson and Steinbach
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Just which version of the Ghostbusters are we dealing with here?

With a new Ghostbusters video game there has been efforts to revitalize the brand. There are six stories in this anthology, with the inner four chapters having linked subplots culminating in the fifth volume with unrelated stories first and sixth. It is a strange arrangement, with 2/3 of the book culminating in a final scene, then throwing something else there at the end. The art is not cohesive at all, and there are only a couple of stories where the art matches the story being told. The sad thing is the best story of the bunch in chapter 4 is completely undercut in subsequent chapters. Plus, it feels weird in that the creators are drawing inspiration from the various different incarnations of the Ghostbusters, from the two movies, the long running cartoon series and finally the ground breaking role playing game that was made based on the movies, that was infamous for it's bad puns. And for all I know, they may also have drawn upon the depictions in the recent video game. If they had drawn equally from all the sources, it wouldn't be so bad, but the different chapters seemed to draw on different aspects, so that the tone of the characters and story changed chapter to chapter. There are some nice moments, Winston gets a chance to shine in a way he so rarely got to, but the diverging creators of the volume seem to be unable to create a single version of the Ghostbusters that you can enjoy throughout the volume.

Ghostbusters: Ghost Busted is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, vol. 1

Story and Art by Yoshio Sawai
Published in the US by Viz

Dishonorable mention
Slugline: There is no story here just a really long line of sight gags.

Okay, I admit failure here. I only managed to read about half of this, because there is no sense of logic, storytelling or even what the hell is going on other than an endless line of sight gags. It could be a parody of fight manga. Look, one of the biases we admitted, in the side column in fact, is that we are older readers. I do not require a story, I understand that there are valid experimental manga that are more abstract, but this is just a long line of bad and stupid jokes that would only appeal to a 10 year old. Think of the worse stupid/raunchy movie you've ever seen, and then using that same attitude to make a manga. If you like that, all the more power to you.

Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Black Lagoon 001

Story and Art by Rei Hiroe
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: Nice explosions, bad panel to panel storytelling

Rokuro is having a bad day. Asked by his company to take a disk to Southeast Asia by a transport ship (what, suddenly there were no flights between Japan and Thailand? I thought there were Japanese businessman specials to there?) he ends up kidnapped mostly by accident when mercenary pirates in an World War 2 era PT Boat take his disk. Revy, a short tempered woman with a fondness for handguns and explosives decides to take him along, but it turns out that the information on the disk is more important to the company than Rokuro's survival, leaving him to join the mercenaries on the PT Boat including the crazy one Revy, and he now calls himself Rock. But you can take the salaryman out of the corporation, but you can't take the suit and tie away from the salaryman as Rock tries to find his place in the criminal and mercenary infested world of Southeast Asia.

First off, the manga is in a slightly larger format which is nice to show off the art. And the art is nice, but there are more than a few places where it is impossible to follow the action because the panel to panel transitions are just a mess and so are hard to follow. If I hadn't seen the anime episode based on a manga chapter, where Revy goes jumping amongst the pursuing boats, I would have had very little idea what was actually happening. The series is like an early 90s style action/shoot-em up, with Russian mafia and a love of random excessive and inappropriately used firepower (torpedoes that take out a helicopter!) that make my heart glad merely reading it. If only the mechanics of the storytelling were done better! Hopefully that will continue to improve, because I want to see if they can use a depth charge to take out a jet fighter in the next volume....

Black Lagoon 001 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sugar Princess: Skating to Win, vol. 1

Story and Art by Hisaya Nakajo
Released in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: How to make what is basically a sports manga a shoujo, make it about skating!

Maya is at the local skating rink with her younger brother after winning a free trip there when in a fit of energy she launches herself into a spinning jump, which she doesn't land but still manages to do well enough to attract the attention of a professional coach. He's hoping to train her and pair her with his star, Shun. Maya appreciates Shun's form and grace, but Shun has very little desire to do pairs skating anymore, after the loss of his last partner. Maya takes to training, under Shun's reluctant guidance and works hard to be his equal in grace and style, but the potential closing of the skating rink that they practice at throw a wrench into her plans.

This is like a lot of other sport stories, they tend to be either underdogs who manage to win, or newbies whom everyone underestimates and manage to succeed. Notice there is a very fine line between the two, but right now the story is about a newbie, though it looks like that it is all going to be about the underdog. But it is still very much a shoujo, with the blending of the sport/shoujo aspects working better than I thought. Shonen sports is sort of the default, but the inherent grace of ice skating and the shoujo pretty boy aspects work together. It still has all the shoujo genre trappings, but adding the sport elements makes it somewhat more interesting.

Sugar Princess: Skating to Win, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Time Stranger Kyoko, vol. 1

Story and Art by Arina Tanemura
Released in the US by Viz Shoujo Beat

Slugline: Have a sister who is annoying? Just timestop them for a decade or two.

We have previously reviewed another Arina Tanemura title, The Gentleman's Alliance Cross, vol. 1.

Have a twin sister that has been trapped in time since your birth that you desperately want to know, and whose father is the king of planet Earth? Well, you may as well wait to do anything until you have a desperate need for a stand-in so you can continue to go to high school without any realizing who you are. But wait, the moment you accept the mission to find the twelve mystical doohickies to release your sister (how did she get into the time trap in the first place? And if she is timestopped, why does she look the same age as her non-timestopped sister?) you still end up leaving the school? Never mind the two hunky guys who protect you are from a mysterious dragon clan, the best fighters evah, who were wiped out years ago but for some reason no one has ever bothered finding out who or why?

Your dad really needs to start paying attention to his kingdom, the whole planet Earth, a little bit more. Or at least let the bureaucracy do, umm, something useful. Like help you or something.

This story is a mess. You can tell that this is early Arina Tanemura, because while her magical girl stories have been a little bit flaky in my opinion, they have never been this flaky. The story is just all over the place, with rationalizations and takebacks all over the place. The only thing that is good about this is that Tanemura had already matured as an artist when she had done this, so the nice art is the only thing that is saving this from a lower ranking. But unless you are a die-hard Arina Tanemura fan, I find it hard to find any reason to give this title any attention.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bratz: Super Bratz

Written by Christine Peymani and Art By Anthony Tan
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Why do I find their lack of noses the most disturbing thing about the Bratz?

The All-Ages rating for this title is a little misleading. The rating really should say "Aimed at Pre-Tween Girls, All Others May Suffer Saccharine Poisoning." Not because the title is particularly bad, but because the pre-tween target demographic is the only one that the book really cares about. If other types of readers happened to pick up the book, that is fine, but having something that could appeal outside of that narrow demographic seem unimportant. Which is a shame, for I can easily see that this title could have been a successful really All-Ages title, but because it is linked to the Bratz property, it is limited to a certain approach and attitude to fits within that.

The girls of Bratz learn that their special skills that have made each of them stand out before were only the beginning manifestations of their superpowers. The cheerleader that could do high leaps now flies, the athletic type is a speedster, the social butterfly is a mind reader, etc. The Bratz discover that there is local school that teaches people how to use their superpowers, which apparently means road trip! The Bratz decide to go to school there, but discover that other students have their own selfish plans. Which the Bratz, after one failed attempt, discover the ways to use their new abilities to uncover what the not-so-nice students are planning and present proof to the teachers, who take care of the problem.

So yeah, this is X-Men lite with a side of the Bratz brand. I assume what minor character touches there are is from whatever character bible the Bratz brand managers gives out. I also assume that is why there are so few character flourishes for each Bratz, so that the property can be extended into as many different venues and forms as possible, without having to worry about keeping track of multiple character facets that may not work in any particular media. The response to that challenge is to minimize the individual characters.

What was nice is all I know about the Bratz is what I learned from the trailer of their rather horrible movie I was unfortunate enough to see twice. I didn't even need to know that much to pick up the book and go right into it, because you could learn most of that in the first chapter, along with the fact that they enjoy all the normal tween activity even though one of them was old enough to drive a car. It took me a little longer to keep all the characters straight, and the fact that the characters didn't have noses threw me far more than I thought it would. The character's characteristics, such as they are, are hard to tell apart other than by their special ability, but the Bratz are not credulous and are willing to entertain the thought they are not trapped in a simple, straightforward plot (which they are, but at least they consider otherwise).

Ultimately, this is not a book about the characters, it is about making sure that the property of Bratz exists in manga form. Which is a shame, because I think without that intent, and inherent set of boundaries that purpose imposed on the title, the core concept and the creators could have done more with it. But that would require taking risks that one does not allow with a multi-million dollar brand, especially in a particularly low profile manga (in comparison to the rest of the brand). So it is what it aspires to be, competent, rather than anything more.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Goth (the Manga)

Story by Otsuichi with Art by Kendi Oiwa
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: More Schizo than Goth

Yoru Morino is the stereotypically tortured high school student who has scars on her wrists showing how dangerously out of control she is, while Boku is that wonderfully nice neighbor boy next door that no one ever realizes ate a half dozen co-eds and did even worse things to their remains. But Boku has yet to descend truly that far into madness, and may never really do so, but he is still macabre to say the least, and fascinted by death and especially the pain of death. He seems to revel in Yoru almost becoming a victim in each chapter, but at the last moment something pulls him back. Maybe it is because he sees a chance for a better, darker experience, much like how some individuals would take torturing a puppy over pulling off a bug's wings. It is a dangerous relationship that Yoru and Boku both seem to actually need.

This is a dark series of stories, that isn't quite sure what kind of horror it truly is. Perhaps that is actually that is more of a strength than a weakness of the series, because some of the book feels like it is psychological horror, descent into one's own madness while other bits feels more supernatural. Still, Yoru's sense of victimhood is perhaps the most interesting part of the book, with the death of her sister giving her the chance to change roles, but still wanting to create sequences where she is the victim and the target. In that way, her wrist scarring was probably not an actual attempt to kill herself, but instead a way to mark herself further as a victim, so that others will see it and seek her out. Heck, it worked for the other character of the manga, Boku, his vulture like relationship with her beginning once he sees the scars and realizes how that would interact with his own interests and the hand taker's own ones. In a way, Yoru the victim is the true focus of the story, as what she does that attracts the attention of killers is the active role, while Boku merely circles, waiting for the right moment to absorb what he needs from the situation.

This story almost, almost manages to get four stars, but story construction messiness in a couple of the chapters was the only thing that holds it back, and even then it was a close call. Catch me on another day I may have easily given it four stars and debated going higher.

Goth (the Manga) is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand