Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shinobi Life, vol. 1

By Shoko Conami
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Not just another time-travelling ninja love story. Really, I am not being sarcastic!

Beni wants to die especially if it can be her dad's fault. Her father feels no guilt over Beni's mother death/suicide and only haphazardly remembers to hire bodyguards to protect Beni from kidnapping attempts. But the latest one is foiled when a ninja literally falls out of the sky to rescue her. Kagetora has been swept through time away from Beni Hime-sama to his princess’s near identical descendant Beni. Uncertain about the strange world he finds himself in, Kagetora knows his duty is to protect Beni. Beni is confronted with two problems as a result, one is how to keep up the illusion she is Beni Hime-sama with the modern world is just some of grand deception and also how to resolve the growing feelings between Beni and Kagetora, especially considering his awareness of their ‘social rank’ differences.

For once, the central conceit of the story is tackled straight on and now allowed to linger. Often, series seem to hang on hilarious character misunderstandings long past their expiration date, being dragged out for so long that it ends up making the characters look clueless or deliberately stupid. Beni's attempt to keep Kagetora in the dark about his time travel and refusing to acknowledge their attraction could get old fast, and had already started to. It would have been better off if the situation had been resolved because of Beni's deliberate decision, though once they were on the path of that part of the story being resolved, the characters did not shy away. It's not like that all of the barriers to their relationship are now gone, or that Beni does not still need protection, though the remaining visible complications to their relationship come from Beni's life, which remains anything but simple.

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


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Suihelibe!, vol.1

By Naomi Azuma
Released in the US by CMX Manga

gline: Alien gamekeeper after school club

Tetsu is looking to join a school club and decides to join the biology club. As soon as he checks it out, he has to defend the club's existence to the school council, along with helping Lan, an schoolgirl alien, recover some alien animals around the school. Tetsu manages to convince Lan to join the biology club so that it will continue, and over the course of the volume gathers another three members to reach the minimum size of the club of five members so that it can continue to exist in spite of the school council’s opposition. Of course, along the way Tetsu and the new members of the biology club help Lan recover some of the alien animals that she has been sent to Earth to recover.

This is definitely a kid’s title, since it is so very, very mild. The art style is very open and rounded so all the characters look and feel very young and wide-eyed. The challenges that the character face are not that, well challenging or dangerous, which fits the intended audience. The characters are only lightly sketched out, with Tetsu being the most with Lan the alien all, well, surface. The other three members of the club are pretty much stereotypes. Just because this is a kid's title doesn't mean it shouldn't have any depth, but despite that lack it is solid and not bad. Just the story has all the dramatic tension of overcooked pasta and thus not very enticing.

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


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gun Blaze West, vol. 1

Story and Art by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Released in the US by Viz Shonen Jump

Slugline: More character background than actual story.

Viu is nine years old but can't wait to head out into the Old West. But he lacks a goal until the failed gunslinger Marcus comes into town and tell Viu of Gun Blaze West. This is a place where the strongest test each other every ten years with the winner get the finest gun made. This sets up a fairly standard shonen desire to be the very best style story, but as Marcus and Viu train, outlaws move into the area and after several skirmishes their bioss is defeated by Viu but at the cost of Marcus's life. This drives Viu to train hard for the next five years until he reaches the goals that Marcus laid down before dying. With his goals met, Viu starts his journey west to find the Gun Blaze West, and almost immediately finds someone else who is looking for the same place, much like many other shonen where the hero starts acquiring allies on his travels.

What is odd is that the whole section with Marcus, which is really a background character piece, which is normally handled in flashback, took about 3/4 of the volume. So at the end of it we truly feel Viu's connection with Marcus and his desire to search for the Gun Blaze West, but we have already spent the majority of the first volume and we have yet to begin the main story. I don't want to say that this wasted time, because good character work is never really wasted, but the timing of it, frontloading it all, makes it almost like it should be a prequel book on it's own or something, rather than going into the main story of the search for Gun Blaze West in the middle of the book. The book ends at a good point, but still the Marcus/Viu subplot probably could have accomplished what it needed in half of the space it eventually took up, without upsetting the flow of the story as much.

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


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blank Slate, vol. 1

Story and Art by Aya Kanno
Released in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: This is supposed to be a shojo title?

Zen is a serial criminal, committing wanton murder and mayhem just because there is nothing else better for him to do. He wanders through people's lives, upsetting the rich and powerful to the point that even though he is in an occupied country, he is considered more of an threat than the native rebellion. He is destructive for reasons that he himself cannot fathom, for being without memory he acts without repercussions. The first companion he acquires is a bounty hunter intent on understanding Zen but dies in the process. The foreign doctors lasts longer, still with him at the end of the volume, probably because he may solve the mystery of Zen's own existence and abilities.

This is not an approachable title by any means, not because of gore or violence but by the meaningless of Zen's actions. After reading it I still have no idea why this is considered a shojo title, except perhaps that is by Aya Kanno who is better known for titles that fall more squarely in the shojo genre. That or it will be revealed that several of the characters are really girls (don't even chuckle, far stranger things have happened.) For a main character, Zen has no real character to hang the story on, which leaves most of the work of the story having to be done by the supporting cast. Considering the chaos that Zen causes and attracts, you can understand that there is a bit of a turnover in those characters. While there is an attempt to hand a mystery in the character in the last chapter of the volume, it is easy to believe that this was originally intended as a one-off that was later extended into a series, so it took a while for the creator to figure out what to do with the character over the long term. I suspect the 2nd volume will tell us more about where the series is going then the first volume did.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, October 17, 2008

Slam Dunk, vol. 1

Story and Art by Takehiko Inoue
Released in the US by Viz Shonen Jump

Slugline: There has to be easier ways of impressing girls.

This is a motivation I can understand, getting involved in a sport because the girl you like likes it in turn. Hanamichi is desperate enough to do or try anything to attract the attention of a desirable girl. Trust me, he didn't have to suffer through 50 rejections first in order to be in the proper frame of mind to try anything to keep a girl's attention. Fortunately, his attitude toward basketball doesn't change overnight, and Hanamichi focus is more on his two main rivals within the team for Haruko's attention, her brother Takenori that Hanamichi battles for respect and acceptance, and Kaede who is a more traditional romantic rival. Though Kaede at the moment does not seem to be doing much other than being a far-off target for Haruko's sighs. Hanamichi manages to get on the team after demonstrating a slam dunk in a competition with Takenori, but then is forced to do fundamental drills. Of course, Hanamichi wants to impress Haruko, which involves actually being in the game and that causes the conflict that the volume ends on. Never mind that it would be normal for drills to be switched up to help keep the the attention on the drill rather than letting the mind wander after prolonged periods.

Why bother reviewing a 100 million manga selling title? It's not like this review is going to cause people to discover an otherwise overlooked gem or that people will learn that Slam Dunk is the basketball manga that they were looking for. But I think I can share with readers a reason why I think it was successful as compared to other sports/fighting shonen manga, which I think comes from Hanamichi himself, especially his motivations. Normally in these manga the main character's has already begun his quest to be the best, to excel. Here, Hanamichi has the potential to be great but at the same time he does not see basketball as an end in itself or a way to express himself, but a way to achieve a selfish goal, to get the girl. Undoubtedly, that will change over the series, but that makes it an interesting progression to watch out for. Sure there is the unavoidable silliness that seems to be part and parcel of all shonen manga, but I find that redeemed by the interesting characters work with Hanamichi.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney

Released in the US by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: I hope the game is much, much better than the manga.

Game based manga have a tough time of it, and sometimes I snark on them on them a little freely. This time, I can not snark on this mess enough. It bills itself as a prequel to the game, but the volume was such a confused mess that I had to research in order to figure out what was going on with the volume. There are 20 shorts in the volume but they are widely varying in tone and in art style. There are some fairly serious stories, silly ones and ones that barely qualify as a story, breaking the fourth wall freely. None of the characters are introduced, with the apparent assumption that the reader is already familiar with them. What I discovered is that this actually a collection of dojin, so the stories in this volume were not necessarily intended to be presented together. Which explains why there are two separate 'lost kitten' stories in the volume. At the end of the volume I have virtually no idea who the characters were and this was despite the volume being thicker than the standard. This is for game completists, and even then save yourself the headache and just shelve it with the rest of your collection without punishing yourself by reading it.

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Papillon, vol. 1

Created by Miwa Ueda
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: A shojo that only has one bit of wackiness? How novel!

On the face of it the brief description makes Papillon sound like an rather unremarkable shoujo, but underneath it all there are some interesting subtext running through it. The story itself is rather off the shelf, two identical sisters raised separately so that one is shy and the other outgoing compete over the same guy, that being the one bit of wackiness of the title. But there are some interesting bits...

The guidance counselor , the voice of authority of the book, rather than enforcing wa, the tenets of social harmony that the school system reinforces in Japan, is instead encouraging competition for the sake for oneself.

The prettier twin sister had a reason to be pretty and loved, to be the center of attention, rather than receiving it as her natural due.

The plain sister's 'friend,' stabs her in the back, showing that just because people find themselves in similar circumstances do not naturally get along, and that the friendship was based on convenience/proximity rather than anything else.

The failures of the shy sister is not due to wacky circumstances or deliberate sabotage, but the type of self-sabotage that the shy and uncertain all partake in.

Now, neither does this manga cover new ground, not really, but the characters and how they interact is interesting and not just according to the standard fill in the dots plot. I feel the characters' pain, their discomfort but I am not moved by them, not yet. This is one of those series that I almost wish I had the next volume already in my hands, because how that is executed could radically improve this series rating up to a four, easily.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dororo, vol. 1

By Osamu Tezuka
Published by Vertical Publishing

Slugline: The demon version of the game Operation.

It is hard to honestly review Tezuka's titles. His presence looms so large over the history of manga it's hard to separate the work from the creator, something that can be hard to accomplish even on less notable creators. Dororo is from Tezuka's later period, when he was transitioning to more mature works and exists at the juncture of horror and action. The main character, Hyakkimaru , is trying to recover the 48 body parts that his father gave away before his son's birth for power. Born alive, the remnants of the child kept mystically alive without the missing body parts grew up, using prosthetics and other artificial devices to appear human. But the various forms of death stalks him, and the only way he can become whole and get death off his trail is to hunt down the 48 demons, each time killing one having one of his body parts regenerating. The title of the series Dororo comes from the child thief that is following him, determine to steal Hyakkimaru's valuables (but the most valuable bits of him, his very body, has already been stolen) even though it seems to be more of an excuse for Dororo to follow Hyakkimaru's quest.

The other hard part of reviewing Tezuka is the fact that while he uses many genre conventions, that is because he is often creating those conventions. His art has not aged well, being very cartoony by modern standards. But while some of the characters seem thinly sketched, what is going on conveys a world that is terrible and cruel with people with even the best intentions inevitably being get punished. Even the main characters, Hyakkimaru and Dororo cannot afford to trust each other despite their 'friendship', because that is how this world works. I assume that this period is intended to evoke one of the civil war periods in feudal Japan, and at this time the only thing that makes sense is Hyakkimaru's search to reclaim itself. Each piece he reclaims is a gift he appreciates, which in turn reflects on the world around him. So despite the cartoony and simplistic veneer on top of the story, something deeper is going on, about how seeking oneself is more than just a selfish quest.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, October 02, 2008

REAL, vol. 1

By Takehiko Inoue
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: Definitely not a continuation of Slam Dunk!

Nomiya has a bit of a guilt problem, since a girl he picked up and took riding on a bike, there was an accident and she is now in a wheelchair. He was well on his way of flunking out of school before this, but this only confirmed his status as a dropout and as he tries to assuage his guilt by helping the girl. However, the only thing that seems to attract the girl's attention is another wheelchair bound basketball player named Togawa. Thus starts an odd little friendship between Nomiya and Togawa, that is cemented by both of their intense love of basketball, letting them challenge Nomiya's former schoolmates for use of their gym to practice basketball. Later, they use their skills to hustle rich kids, until they meet a challenger that they cannot defeat, forcin Nomiya to directly face his fear of driving while Togawa goes back to his basketball team to increase his skills. Meanwhile, the head of the school's basketball team that Nomiya and Togawa humiliated, Takahashi, is showing off for his girlfriend and gets into an accident, so that he no longer has any feeling below his waist.

Inoue is far better known for his more famous work, Slam Dunk, a basketball sports manga. But while basketball is nominally the topic of REAL, the true topic is about what people will throw themselves into in order to avoid dealing with their real problems. Basketball is both their escape from reality and their salvation that leads back to it for these characters. Nomiya is isolated and alone, driven by passion for basketball but it is that same passion that drives him back towards interacting with others again, while Togawa being beaten at a one on one game is the catalyst for him to embrace his old team. Takahashi on the other hand has a long way to fall yet before he can start to climb again. While this is not the most subtle of works, by the same token some of the directions are interesting and each of the characters are unique and for the most part have enough rough edges that they don't feel like cookie cutter creations.

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

- Ferdinand