Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Thursday Review

Have a good Turkey Day instead, and reviews will resume next Tuesday, Dec 2nd.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yōkaiden, vol. 1

By Nina Matsumoto
Published by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: Be careful for what you wish for, because sometimes you will get it. Too bad you don't know any better.

Hamachi is living with his gruff (and not in a kindly way) grandmother after the death of his parents when he comes across a yokai, a Japanese demon/spirit that can have any number of origins or attitudes. The fact that there are so many of them means that there are more for Hamachi to learn about, much to his grandmother's disgust. Her disgust is so great that she lays a trap for one which Hamachi secretly rescues. When Hamachi learns that his grandmother laid the trap, he tries to overlook it, but the yokai that was trapped by it steals her soul while he is away. Upon his return, he decides to go to the yokai homelands through a portal to recover his grandmother's soul, or at least talk to the yokai that took it. Once in the yokai lands, he begins to make friends and enemies, but is still a long way off from confronting the yokai that has his grandmother's soul by the end of the first volume.

The manga at first starts fairly serious and straightforward, but as the volume continues, the story becomes more meta and self-referential. I don't think that is a good way to go, how serious one should take the story needs to be consistent, otherwise readers may feel that they are being manipulated (in a bad way.) To a certain extent, Hamachi is too naive and idealistic. He claims that he has read the books about yokai, so he knows that some are good, and is open to those but he seems to refuse to believe the truthfulness of those same texts in that some yokai are harmful and dangerous. Some amount of caution and learning from the dangers he is exposed to should be expected, but he seems impervious to them. After nearly having his own soul stolen, he just laughs it off. That sort of fits with the more metatextual aware Hamachi from later in the volume, when he seems to be more aware that he is in a story, but not so much in the beginning of the volume. It is this uncertainty over what the nature of the story is that robs it of tension and storytelling power.

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


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vagabond, VIZ BIG vol. 1

By Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: More masterless samurai and random violence than you can shake a wooden bokken at.

The beginning of the Edo period was a time of transition from the chaos of the Warring States period to one of relative peace. One of the results of that was a lot of out of work soldiers and samurai were left wondering what to do to fill their time. In Vagabond the answer seems to be that a lot of them are destined to be shish kebabed by Miyamoto Musashi, the new name that the character Takezo is given during the volume. Takezo begins the volume, with his friend Matahachi, as a survivor of the Battle of Sekigahara, the battle that ended the Warring States period. To say that Takezo has rage control issues is to put it mildly, and it takes the middle third of the volume and a visit to his hometown for Takezo to gain some control and lose the name Takezo and to gain the one Miyamoto Musashi. The final third of the volume is Miyamoto's confrontation with a school of swordsmen ito show his strength.

Vagabond has brutal honesty to it, reflecting the time period, with fighting and violence not especially pretty or filled with people shouting out their moves at each other. The fighting here is done by people who have lived it and are usually broken in some way because of it, though they are broken in different ways. Takezo begins the volume as death dealing beast and though he improves as the volume continues, killing people in order to get the title of strongest isn't something that normal people do. Takezo's big character change is merely giving a focus to his destructive tendencies. Other characters show their injuries in different ways, such as one of his opponents hedonism in the face of the destruction of his sword school. While this is a fighting/combat manga, it is one that understands that what it depicts is not and never will be pretty or polite.

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


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom, vol. 1

Story and Art by Kazunari Kakei
Released in the US by Viz Shonen Jump Advanced

Slugline: Death Note lite

Nora is a demon of an underworld army that is dedicated in maintaining control over demons and making sure that they do not bother the world of mortals. Unfortunately he has an attitude problem and so the demon general Dark Liege sends Nora to be bound to a human to teach him humility. Bad for Nora, good for Kazuma Nagari, a bored student president who is also a genius that has been given the mystical 'leash' for Nora and decides that he is going to teach his demon some manners. That is going to be an interesting challenge because Nora's natural form when he is not sealed into a human one is Cerberus, the giant hound better known as the guardian of the very gates of hell. But Nora is not very bright or very respectful of humans, leaving Kazumi to show Nora how smart but weak humans can defeat rogue demons and the demon Resistance.

This series is not anywhere as harsh as Death Note was, but Kazuma shows some of Light's casual cruelty and being too smart and controlled for his own good. Still it is nice to see any character in a manga reacting intellectually rather than emotionally. While to a certain extent these sort of plots rely on not having anything random happening to prevent the intellectual character's plan from going off without a hitch, the way Kazumi handles himself helps keep the story on this side of believable rather than moving into ludicrous territory. There is also the genre aspect of waiting until the last moment to unveil the character's power (in this case Nora) and trashing the opponent. Having Kazumi holding onto the keys of Nora's power and having his own agenda beyond just defeating the bad guys gives a rationale for that genre staple and makes it more interesting. It gives a solid reason for Nora to become more reliant on Kazumi and more sympathetic to humanity in general, even as it begins to cost Kazumi to do so. This all gives the manga an interesting and different spin from others than follow the same basic formula.

For those that are curious, here are our reviews for Death Note 1-6 and 7-10.

Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gankutsuou, The Count of Monte Cristo, vol. 1

Manga by Mahiro Maeda, Scenario by Yura Ariwara and Planning by Mahiro Maeda and GONZO
Released in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Good even for those allergic to reminders of high school English classes

Though I managed to miss reading The Count of Monte Cristo in my journey through high school I remember enough that it is story of revenge. This is a leisurely adaptation as the Count only begins moving his pieces into play in this volume against the three that conspired against him by gaining the friendship of their children, who of course are innocent of their parent's crimes. This is a science fiction adaptation, with spaceships and the like, but it is not too terribly updated, with the sense of old Europe, of nobility and tradition overwhelming any other aspect of the story. This manga is connected to the anime of the same title that was released a few years ago, and shares the same design sensibility, though the full effect is lost in the translation from a full color anime to a black and white manga. Not quite sure who is the protagonist here, the Count is a bit alienated from it seems humanity itself while the children of the villains are a little clueless, naive or distracted to really do that work. So there is no real single character to follow through here, but that just may be just the fault of the original material. I did like the character work, the understated bits and expressions, that work is what makes this interesting, not any newness of the story or the actual characters.

Gankutsuou, The Count of Monte Cristo, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yumekui Kenbun Nightmare Inspector, vol. 1

Story and Art by Shin Mashiba
Released in the US by Viz

Slugline: More horror with a twist in the EC Comics tradition

In the Taisho era of Japan (think late Victorian England) there is a baku who eats dreams, and he makes his living by offering to eat the dreams of people having nightmares, solving their problematic nightmares and gaining sustenance at the same time. This is an episodic series, with no continuing storylines, except for the last chapter of the volume which ends on question mark, which is a good way to encourage people to check out the next volume. The stories are all horror edged, with a strong bit of the old EC Comics tradition of having a twist or reveal at the end of the story that is ironic or over the top. The stories are all well constructed and the art clear, so will it does not thrill or scare me to no end, by the same token it does not disappoint. It is just okay. Not sure if that is damning by faint praise or not.

Yumekui Kenbun Nightmare Inspector, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Thursday, November 06, 2008


By Matsuri Hino
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: Sure, it's pirates, but no ninja or samurai pirates? Not even a single zombie pirate?

Armeria is a young singer associated with a traveling troupe that is performing at an aristocrat's dwelling, but the only aristocrat that she likes there is Luce. Of course, that means he is kidnapped to be a hostage by a pirate band, named after their leader Skull. She spends the next six years chasing after them until she manages to become a cabin boy on the pirate Skull's ship, and even though she is quickly revealed to be a girl in pursuit of the 'dead' Luce, the pirate leader Skull treats her relatively gently. It is quickly revealed that the pirate leader is actually the older Luce, who had long gotten tired of his aristocratic relatives' cruelty and now acted as a maritime Robin Hood. Armeria tries to rekindle the feelings she and Luce shared with the much changed Skull, while trying to help him in his piracy/acts of kindness. There is also a one chapter backup story of love in Meiji-era Japan.

This is a fairly traditional light shojo, with the only reason I think this being rated 16+ is the one-panel of Armeria's rather modest busom when she is revealed to be a girl. Matsuri Hino is far better known for her work on Vampire Knight, so this may of interest to her completists. Oddly enough, though this is an earlier work, I think that Armeria is a stronger female lead than Yuki of Vampire Knight, but then it may be because she doesn't have to do as much in the story. But it feels very much like a plug and play shojo, well-executed, but lacking in real dramatic tension or any surprises. Pirates are popular at the moment, but this is a straightforward story that doesn't use the pirate elements or mix it up much.

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


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 1

Story and Art by Ayumi Komura
Released in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: More revealing about the state of marriage and relationships than of cooking.

Hanayu is the daughter of pastry chef that has his own shop with an expectation that she will take over the shop. Because if she wanted to accept that there would be no conflict, Hanayu instead has the desire to be a sushi chef, and has decided to get married into a sushi family so that she can legitimately follow her desire without disappointing her parents. Fortunately in her cooking high school there is a son of a sushi chef family named Hayato whom she decides to pursue. She is rather successful in that pursuit, so successful that she debates with herself whether pursuing a boy for his family connections is right, and trying to understand how her own parent's arranged marriage can serve as a model for her.

Ignore the cooking aspect, and here is a very interesting story about marriage as a transaction. Marriage for love is a western tradition, but it is still a relatively recent one, otherwise it would not be held in such high regard in romantic fiction or in manga. Most of the time in manga we see the rejection of the arranged marriage in order to pursue the marriage for love, but here we see someone trying to arrange her own marriage, not out of the search of good provider or compatible families and social rank, but to pursue her own dreams. An interesting subversion of the arranged marriage story, as she tries to fall in love after selecting her husband to justify her choice after the fact. Now, the back cover text talks about how Hayato really just wants to be a pastry chef, but that complication has yet to arise in the actual text, which could turn this story into a farce (in the comedic sense) rather than a subversion of the arranged marriage. Hayato so far has been rather unassertive, which may turn this story around once he starts pursuing his own dreams and desires, but the first volume is amusingly subversive.

Mixed Vegetables, Vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga