Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Choco Mimi, vol. 1

Story and Arty by Konami Sonoda
Published in the US by VizKids

Slugline: Preteen girls on the prowl

Choco and Mimi are fashionable eighth graders that enjoy their lives way too much. Sure, Choco can be called the serious one and Mimi is the silly one, but only in comparison to each other since Choco is still fairly silly. In between causing trouble for their teacher and driving each other nuts, Choco and Mimi let themselves be mildly attracted to boys. Boys like the serious and aloof Ando and the gender confused Mumu. To round out the cast is Chiffon, a cute little dog that thinks of himself more as a samurai and several other pets. Most of the strips are about the girls interacting and getting each other in and out of trouble, but occasionally it deals with their delicate dance to attract the boys' attention.

Most of the volume is made up of 4-koma, basically four panel comic strips, so the stories that are told by necessity are little gag scenes that have little connection to each other. There are several longer storylines about major events such as a party that takes a couple of strip to resolve the events but there are no character changes and their relationships. Unlike comedy focused stories for boys, Choco Mimi does not have any fart or other bodily humor jokes which saves it from being totally ignored by adults. Despite having all of these good bits and the occasionally funny joke, in aggregate it just doesn't mesh well enough to create something greater than the parts. For adults and boys, this is a barely tolerable strip while younger girls who find playing with paper dolls and fashions might find it worthwhile.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oh! My Brother, vol. 1

By Ken Saito
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Siblings who are way too close.

Masago is the younger sister of the popular class president Shiro. Even though he is far more popular and gets better grades than her, Masago looks up to him even as she plays second fiddle to him. After all, being close to her brother gives Masago an opportunity to indulge her crush on his best friend, a fellow school council member. One day while walking home from school Shiro sacrifices himself to save Masago from a traffic accident and everyone at their school, including Masago herself, is devastated. Shiro is not gone, because his spirit has apparently set up a time sharing arrangement with Masago's body. Mosago and Shiro have to work together to finish his last project for the school council while making accommodations for each while using Masago's body.

Despite all expectations, the fact that Shiro is overly protective of Masago in that way manga often describes as 'sister-love' the story manages to not come across as too creepy. Creepiness all too easy even when the siblings aren't forced to share a body so that makes Oh! My Brother stand out more. The manga comes to a natural conclusion about three quarters of the way through the volume but the story is picked up in the next chapter and is crudely restarted. While the resulting story is fine, continuing it seems to have been last minute decision which may explain the story's uncertainty afterwards. This is only a two volume series so that may be a hindrance that the story never really recovers from, but in this volume it does pretty well.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

World of Warcraft: Death Knight

Story by Dan Jolley and Art by Rocio Zucchi
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: A common tragedy

Thassarian was once a soldier under Prince Arthas, so when the call was made he left his farm and remaining family to go with the Prince and attack the evil forces of the Scourge to keep them from his homeland. Thassarian and the rest of their force was betrayed by their Prince and was killed. Brought back as a Death Knight he has to blindly follow orders until a raid on a chapel which housed the bodies of heroes made him confront the ghost of his heroic father. That brought Thassarian back to himself, but while under the Lich King's control he had done horrible things and even though he had pledged to fight the Scourge and the Lich King, his allies and the common folk he seeks to save hate and fear him. The evil he was once part of has many faces so that it is hard to find them even though there are ones right next to him no matter where he goes.

This is the first of the class focused manga titles for World of Warcraft, which reveals the background of a character of the class example from the game. It is hard to judge this manga by the fact that it is a prequel to part of the World of Warcraft game background which I have not experienced. Some of what seems to be dangling plotlines may turn out to link into the greater story of World of Warcraft, but without that knowledge it is hard to judge. If this is supposed to be about the Death Knight class, at the end of the volume I am still not quite sure what a Death Knight can do, even though I do not expect shouted out names of abilities or other in-game information. As a action fantasy story it succeeds even though the tragic elements seem almost by the number, but the story does not seem to fully embrace or divorce itself from the World of Warcraft background.

World of Warcraft: Death Knight is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Friday, November 13, 2009

Night Head Genesis, vol. 1

Story by Georgbe Iida and Manga by You Higuri
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: More veterans of the Psychic Wars

Naoto and Naoyo are brothers who were taken from their parents at an early age because of their psychic abilities. The older brother Naoto has more physical powers to move and destroy objects while Naoya the younger brother has visions. They were studied at a research center but escaped in their teen years though without realizing it was with the assistance of a female psychic of their own age. While outside Naoyo has a vision of the extinction of the human race through the accidental creation of a super-virus by an unknowing researcher. Another psychic has seen that but has decided that the researcher has to die while the brothers want to keep her alive but stop the research while . Lurking in the background is a far more powerful psychic with his own agenda.

This is another psychic powers manga with teens caught between a secretive organization and powerful psychics. Fortunately the book focuses on the brothers using their abilities rather than them trying to have a life on the run. Their powers are strong but are not building-shattering (no Akiras in other words.) The virus apocalypse storyline was not dragged out with the challenge of it is matched with the characters' abilities as they were introduced and the storyline sets up rising difficulties later on. Some of the character interaction was a bit stiff and suffered from "professional woman who is really just a girl" syndrome, but that is a common problem in manga. This is a very good first volume, introducing the characters, their major opposition and possible future storylines in a way that you do not feel that the rest of the story has been given away.

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

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moyasimon, vol. 1

By Masayuki Ishikawa
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Who knew that E. coli were so cute?

Tadayasu and Kei are childhood friends that grew up on farms and have decided to go to an agricultural college. Tadayasu has a mysterious talent to literally see microbes and identify them that the agricultural college can enhance. Since both of theirfamilies rely on fermentation in their agricultural products, Tadayasu's ability means that both could thrive. An old friend of Tadayasu's grandfather teaches at the college and has heard of Tadayasu's ability. The professor hopes to use it further his own research while some of the upperclassmen think that Tadayasu could be useful in their get rich quick schemes. Despite all of the confusing attention Tadayasu and Kei just want to get through and enjoy college.

The major problem with this manga is that is filled with major info-dumps making it read as something between a love letter to Japanese agriculture and a microbial science textbook. Despite that concern the info-dumps are handled well, reminding one of the technical asides that are found on CSI or Numb3rs. The manga can be really disgusting as it show faux food products that people are willing to eat once they have been fermented or pickled, but it isn't too gory. In spite of these concerns the manga was still enjoyable. The characters were fun, the manga managed to give microbes a sense of personality and none of the plots were overwhelming silly. I'm not sure over how manga episodes that this premise could be stretched, but here at least it works.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, November 06, 2009

Mikansei, vol. 1

By Majikoi
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Sluglines: Singers who don't pretend to be able to sing.

In the 23rd century, the 21st century is seen as a crude and immodest era. That is also the reason why Neo likes it, especially because of the singing, dancing and short skirts. She is accidentally hurled back in time and immediately finds a reluctant singing partner in Sayaya. Despite early disastrous performances, Neo so loves singing she manages to keep Sayaya involved as they work together as they move towards a seemingly impossible goal of impressing a talent manager. There are additional complications ranging from Neo's inability to contact her future, the resemblance of a 21st century singer to her missing 23rd century childhood friend and who is secretly supporting her in the 21st century.

One of the problems of idol manga is how to represent singing in that format. Since it is nearly impossible to get a tune or melody from reading the lyrics, I tend to just scan over them because if they become important they will be repeated. When the manga tries to have characters hailed as talented musician with only the lyrics to go by it is hard to take it seriously. Mikansei gets around this problem by having the first audiences boo the characters offstage. Considering how often lead characters of manga just have to sing once to become stars, when that didn't happen here it was a pleasant surprise. The characters are putting in the time and effort means that when they finally 'really' perform their applause will have been earned. Neo is facing many challenges not just in her musical profession or romantically, but on different levels as well but none are such thatNeo's sunny attitude appears to be denying reality. Mikansei succeeds because it subverts and deals with the cliches of idol manga rather than ignoring them.

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

- Ferdinand

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bloody Kiss, vol. 1

By Kazuko Furumiya
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: They promise the next volume is better?

Kiyo has always fough against others impressions of her family, so when her grandmother wills her decrepit mansion to Kiyo she can only see that selling it would make the law degree she needs to clear her family's name possible. The problem is that two vampires are already squatting at the property having been invited to live there by Kiyo's grandmother and want to stay despite Kiyo's plans. To make things even more complicated one of the vampires, Kurobashi. wants Kiyo to be his 'bride,' his sole source of human blood which will strengthen him supernaturally. Kiyo initially refuses, but when (evil) lawyers try to forcibly sell the mansion out from under her, she reluctantly agrees to giver her blood to him, permanently linking them together. Since she is now his 'bride' he uses his new supernatural abilities to help her at work and school.

The back cover blurb extols that the end of the second volume is great. Well, the question is why bother to buy the first volume if they feel that they need to talk about the second on it? This is only a two volume series, and maybe TokyoPop wanted people to know they could have a complete story in just two volumes that has a great ending, but if that was the intent it was not communicated clearly. This is another poor but hardworking girl stuck between two supernatural guys story, but the second guy, Kurobashi's servant, just too thinly sketched out so the sense of a competition over her is not clear. As it is, that better be one heck of twist/surprise in the next volume because at the moment it just feels like every other shoujo/vampire story.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, October 30, 2009

Detroit Metal City, vol. 1

By Kiminori Wakasugi
Published in the US by Viz Signature

Slugline: A (rude) one hit wonder

Negishi is a musician that has moved to the big city to make his name and fortune. Unfortunately it is not in folk or pop music, his true musical passions, but instead in the death metal band Detroit Metal City (DMC). He takes on the persona of Krauser II, the foul mouthed and depraved lead guitarist of the band. This causes no end of trouble for Negishi who tries to keep the halves of his life separate, but sometimes when he is stressed or nervous he falls into his Krauser II persona confusing those around him since he has not shared his dual identity with most people. Despite the popularity and fame that DMC has, Negishi still just wants to talk to his old college friend Aikawa who likes the same pop music that he does without having to let her know about Krauser II or DMC.

The title is rated M for Mature for wildly excessive use of swears. Every time Krauser II is in the panel expect a least a dozen words that you can't repeat in front of your mom. It's played for laughs but it after a while the joke just isn't funny anymore as the swears lose their power to shock and quickly move into the realm of annoyance. It is never quite explained how Negishi ended up or started DMC and considering his attitude to his role and the music, the reasons why he was willing to split his life so severely would explain why he bothers keeping up with the illusion. Some of the characters' behaviors, especially towards women, is just not funny no matter how tongue in cheek it claims to be. This might have been a good short story but stretching the joke out over an entire volume just makes it feel thin and unless new angles are explored there seems to be little reason to continue reading it.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deka Kyoshi, vol. 1

By Tamio Baba
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Old school detective

Toyama is a police detective investigating the suspicious suicide of fifth grade school teacher. He goes undercover as the teacher's replacement and befriends the class misfit,Miyahara, who see things no one else can. Miyahara is seeing the various mental disturbances that the students have so Toyama believes his descriptions. Toyama uses them to deal with the various afflictions that the students have while making a friend and an unofficial partner of Miyahara while also drafting the school nurse into his efforts. What is certain that someone is behind the teacher's death and there is a mysterious figure lurking in the background that makes all of the students' problems worse, but by the end of the first volume his identity remains unknown.

The art and story feels very old school, like the title was produced in the 70's or 80's with the art simplified and the storytelling straightforward. The rational explanation for the supernatural abilities is weak, even by the liberal standards of manga, which still bugs me. The stories worked best when both theToyama/Miyahara team and the student of the week deal with the problem together rather having Toyama punching a psychosis that only Miyahara can see leaving the student confused. The best example of this was the "Swimming Girl" chapter where the student confront her guilt over her parent's breakup by speaking with her mom in addition to Toyoma and Miyahara's own efforts. It still feels like an After School Special at times but in the better stories reader isn't being preached to.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, October 23, 2009

Four-Eyed Prince, vol. 1

By Wataru Mizukami
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Cruel to be kind... No, it's just cruel

Sachiko is attracted to one of the princes of her school, Akihiko. Part of her attraction is due to his stylish glasses while the rest is from his kindness to her when her father died, but when she approaches him she is rebuffed. Later that daySachiko has to move in with her mother, meeting her for the first time but making her day a complete nightmare Akihiko is her mother's stepson (no blood relation of course) and that they will be living together. Akihiko tries to ditch her, but she discovers that he works as bartender to get extra money, but protects his identity by going by a different name and without wearing his glasses. Since girls seem to want him irrespective of name or appearance, he has a poor opinion of them and of love in general. That makes him the target ofSachiko's desperate romantic assaults for the rest of the volume, while which he claims to be softening his positions but his actions would drive away all but the most lovelorn teen girl. Which, fortunately for him and the story, Sachiko is.

This is another entry in the "What do they think a relationship is?" sweepstakes. Akihiko pulls a stunt halfway through the volume, to 'help' another couple, that shows how little respect and empathy he has for Sachiko. Everything after that scene basically made me wonder why Sachiko was sticking around despite the offers of a full mountain spa vacation. While Akihiko is not a 'bad boy' in the traditional sense, Sachiko reacts as if he is, as she tries to 'change him.' That is something that only works in cookie cutter made romance novels.

Four-Eyed Prince, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Karakuri Odette, vol. 1

Created by Julietta Suzuki
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Robots who want emotion because of peer pressure

Karakuri Odette
like many other 'humanoid robots goes to high school' stories with a brilliant professor who sends his advanced robot to a high school who has various adventures. The title manages to avoid most of the obvious traps of that premise by keeping the stories small and focusing on slices of life. It also helps that the robot Odette actually does act detached from her emotions, unlike in other stories where robots insist on becoming more 'human' even though they already display a full range of human reactions. Though it is billed as a comedy it feels more like a drama since it is more about the characters rather than setting up weird situations and characters to be mined for humor.

A lot of manga suffer from something I call cast bloating, with many minor characters who readers still want to follow as over time a manga's cast gets larger. That happens when a creator introduces a new character to be bounced off the rest of the cast to create new and zany situations rather than utilizing the current cast. The problem is when these guest star characters may be so open-ended that they will end up sticking around to finish their story. If the guest character is ignored it will feel like the title has distracting dangling plotlines but if they are left onstage they take time and focus from the main characters. Karakuri Odette manages to avoid that by making the guest stars' stories feel complete with enough wiggle room that the guest stars could return but that they don't have to. It is a narrow line to walk, but it shows the care and craft that went into manga better than any story summary.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ninja Girls, vol. 1

Created by Hosana Tanaka
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Resisting making the horn/horny puns here.

Raizo has a little problem in that he has a horn on his head, which makes the local villagers fear him and call him demonchild. It is that same deformity that marks him as the last scion of a noble house. Only four ninjas remain to protect Raizo from the enemies of his previously unknown ancestors so inevitably they bicker with each other over the best way to protect him and reestablish their house. The ninja fall into easily recognizable stereotypes such as the cross-dresser and the silent one, while as usual the bubbly one, here named Kagari, wants to get 'closer' to Raizo.

Scantily clad ninja girls protecting a younger hapless guy should be its own genre because I swear I have seen this plot before many times. The only question I have after reading the title is whether or not the ninja girls are color coded in the colored art of the series. Sure, some of the details are different such as what makes the male character 'special' which here is his horn. But the characters and the story itself are so familiar that I can feel the story beats coming by merely looking at the chapter heading art. While the manga by itself is well executed the manga itself doesn't yet offer anything interesting other than for collectors of fan-service as they marvel at the ridiculous situations created to give the fan-service a veneer of plausibility.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Domo: the Manga, vol. 1

Created by Tsuneo Goda, Stories by Clint Bickham and Art by Rem, Sonia Leong, Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Speaking of characters who have a wide-ranging vocabulary...

Domo is the mascot of NHK, a major Japanese TV network who has been featured in a variety of formats already including a series of stop motion shorts on cable. The manga however is the product of TokyoPop creators and features the whole range of Domo characters in a color anthology. Most of them involve Domo developing a monomania about an object or activity that all of his friends are caught up in much to their dismay. This usually ends whenDomo's battered friends manage to convince him to stop. Considering that Domo has one word vocabulary you can understand that most of the stories are read quickly.

Domo is an all ages title that is definitely aimed toward kids. Most of the stories are built around very simple and repetitive gags that are done by Domo round-robin style on the entire cast of characters. While the stories are cute they are fairly predictable nor do they really add much to the characters. This title seems to be more for people who already know who Domo is and wants more of what they already know rather than being introduced to the characters.

Domo: the Manga, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Spy vs. Spy: Missions of Madness

By Antonio Prohias
Published by Watson-Guptill

Slugline: The Wrong Format

Spy vs. Spy is a classic comic strip made famous by Mad Magazine featuring two spies that use increasing more elaborate traps and ruses (including Rube Goldberg machines) to trap and kill one another. Very much a creation of the Cold War, with its creator Antonio Prohias a Cuban exile, the two spies representing opponents that have become indistinguishable from each other. This volume is one of several collections of the comics earliest strips in a manga format. It is because of that manga format that it is included on Prospero's Manga since it is likely that this volume (along with its companion collections) could be shelved with manga titles. That is a mistake because the comic is totally unsuited for the format, having just a single panel (in most cases) per page. Strips that would take up just a page or two in the original magazine format takes 10 or more pages in the manga, completely changing their feel and pacing. Since the comics are without word balloons the volume reads far too quickly making the book feel short even though it as long as traditional manga. The material itself are fine, this is just the worst possible way to read it.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Battle of Genryu: Origin, vol. 1

By Shoko Fukaki
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: A plot an uncertain as its fight scenes are smooth

Jin is a high school student that also practices martial arts and while he is good at it he is not exceptional. Except for about one day a month when everything seems to go his way and he can pull off near superhuman feats of agility and strength. Jin chalks off those days as his lucky days but his family knows it is just a sign of his growing power. Unknown to Jin, he has deeply hidden abilities that have secreted away so that he doesn't lose control and kill people. But Jin days of hiding are over because his missing brother Soichiro has found him while also using his own marital art abilities to rule the fight circuit. At first Soichiro has Jin beaten by ordinary thugs during one of his weak days but quickly escalates to challenging Jin himself while trying to convince their sister that he has their best interests at heart.

This is another example of how the story doesn't seem to know where it wants to go. At first it seems that Soichiro is going to be a mysterious mastermind but when he is more fully introduced he starts to look like one of the misunderstood characters who can be redeemed once their own errors are proven to them, usually by beating that into them during a battle royale . But the the uncertain, almost stuttering plot refuses to settle down to a consistent direction or tone. Martial arts manga are not required to have much of a plot but what little they have should flow as smoothly as its fight scenes. Unusually, the fan service wasn't too annoying, verging on the reasonable rather ridiculous while the art in the few fight scenes being especially well done.

The Battle of Genryu: Origin, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Leave it to PET!, vol. 1

Story and Art by Kenji Sonishi
Published in the US Viz

Slugline: An incentive to throw your recycling into the dump

Noboru is a typical nine year old who wants to avoid trouble and have fun, in that order. He thinks that both of those goals will be easily meet when PET enters his life, for despite being a recycled plastic bottle, PET has all sorts of abilities, sort of like a super-robot such as Doraemon. Unfortunately for Noboru PET is not very smart and has far less common sense than him, which means that many of PET's attempts to help Noboru backfire spectacularly. The exceptions are when he does not properly understand what Noboru is asking for or is bored and decides to do something else. Despite feeling that he owes Noboru for recycling the plastic bottle that made him, PET does not try very hard to improve either himself or Noboru.

You would think that after the first few times that PET made things worse for Noboru he would stop being so willing to call on PET, but that is a lesson that Noboru never seems willing to learn, if for no other reason that it would end the series. As a kid's series it definitely is just for kids rather than being appropriate for all ages for if you are well into your teens the story will quickly become repetitive and is just not very funny. As for the series name, PET is an acronym for a widely used recyclable plastic though most plastic items are labeled by number rather than type. The story does gently tweak recyclable programs, if for no other reason that if you recycle you may get stuck with a robot friend like PET.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mad Love Chase, vol. 1

By Kazusa Takashima
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Plot summary part 1: Run Away, part 2: Repeat step 1

Kujou is demon prince who has been told he must marry but he instead fled to Earth. He takes on the form of human teen to attend high school, with his familiar cat taking on the form of the school nurse. But his father and his fiancee are not happy about him skipping out on the wedding and have sent pursuers to bring him back. While they have managed to narrow down his location to the school, to only way to positively identify him is to see the tattoos on his back. So as Kujou tries to find someone nice and normal to love he has to avoid his pursuers who want to strip him. Other than his cat/school nurse his only other ally is one of the pursuers that cannot believe that his good friend Kujou could be the demon prince and so tries to help him whenever he is threatened, but he has his own suspicions.

The plot quickly devolves into repetitive attempts to get Kujou alone by his pursuers and to strip his shirt off. That's it. There is not much variation, and whenever anyone manages to get close to doing that, Kujou either runs away or for some flimsy reason they have to let Kujou go 'for now.' For someone that is supposed to looking for love or for anyone who cares about him rather than his position, Kujou is remarkably passive spending most of his time instead running or planning on how to run. Sure, he gets to reminisce about the few good times he had, but several of the supporting characters are more interesting and are more active than him. The book has nice art, but that is about it.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Tale of an Unknown Country, vol. 1

By Natsuna Kawase
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Yet another Princess disguised as a maid romance

Rosemarie is the princess of a small and poor country whose brother has arranged her marriage to a neighboring prince. Prince Reynol rules over a wealthy and technologically advanced country and a marriage with him would be a benefit for Rosemarie's country but she has heard many rumors about him, few of them good. Rosemarie disguises herself as a maid to work atReynol's castle in order to learn the truth about him and despite him knowing that she is really the princess, they still managed to get to know each other and decide to go forward with the betrothal. But there are always new challenges as he returns her favor and visits Rosemarie at her own castle.

Most of the book is a lightweight romance until Rosemarie's brother turns into a control freak and reveals that most of the couple's troubles are the result of his own machinations. He is testing the couple to make sure that their love is strong, or something similar is the justification he is using to justify himself. If a parent tried to manipulate their kids this way, there would be no sympathy from the readers but somehow here it is supposed to be acceptable. Any relationship would be hard-pressed to survive similar revelations because t he couple would be continually questioning whether their feeling are real or manipulated. This is another example how the storytelling and art are fine, but the concepts that lay underneath the surface, that help drive the story, are of concern.

A Tale of an Unknown Country, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maria Holic, vol. 1

By Minari Endou
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: All a woman needs is a cross-dressing man

Kanako has transferred into the same private all-girl school that her mother graduated from hoping to find love there just as her mother did. Of course, whileKanako's mother married one of the teachers, Kanako wants to fall into love with a fellow female student since she literally gets hives from even touching a boy. Unfortunately the first girl she gets a crush on, the daughter of a important school founder namedMiriya, turns out to be really a secret cross-dressing boy. After Kanako accidentally discovers that, Miriya decides that the only way to ensure that his secret is kept is to move in with Kanako in the school dorms and thus sabotage all of her efforts to get close to someone. Naturally this creates all sorts of hilarity and confusion.

This is a story where you are not sure if the people who you are supposed to cheer for are worthy of being cheered, if for no other reason thatMiriya is making Kanako attempt to resolve her sexual identity more difficult. As a result, it is hard to answer the question whether Kanako is really gay or just the sort of pretend gay that is supposed to be titillating within the story without actually having to resolve it. Or worse yet, is the creator trying to imply that all that a lesbian needs is for a man to cross-dress in order for him to become acceptable? Maybe this is treading into one of those areas where American and Japanese cultures define sexual identity and lesbianism differently, but it is hard to look at this as just a comedy without also looking at the mixed messages the title is built on. Which is a shame, because the art and storytelling is pretty solid, it is just some of the themes that underpin the story and where they can go concern me.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk

Story by Sekou Hamilton and Art by Steven Cummings
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: A murder of a Mary Sue

The Las Vegas CSI team has begun a high school intern program and Kiyomi Hudson is glad she managed to squeak into the program despite the lack of pay. But one of her fellow high school students will never get a chance to try again to be part of CSI except as the victim in a murder investigation. The five new CSI interns are allowed to work on the outskirts of the investigation, but they soon find themselves thrust into its center when it becomes clear that one of them is the murderer. Each of them focuses on their own specialty to uncover the evidence that is needed, with the killer's motivation revealed to be among the oldest, jealousy and lust, something which is not in short supply among high school students.

Any credibility this story may have enjoyed was lost the moment they had the interns on the firing range blazing away at targets. No cop in their right minds would let any 15 year old near a gun on a firing range. In a CSI story, where things are grounded in a world where science rules and emotions lead to your destruction, rational behavior defines the characters. So when the interns start shooting, there are no longer part of the world of CSI TV series. This is supposed to be spin-off of the TV series and thus follow the same rules as it, that disconnect makes it hard to the the story seriously. Add to that the new teen characters taking center stage and main characters of the series being shuttled off to the side the resulting story feels like a piece of bad Mary-Sue fan-fiction.

CSI: Intern at Your Own Risk is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Friday, August 14, 2009

Zone-00, vol. 1

Art and Story by Kiyo Ojo
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Nowhere near any good zone.

Shima, son of an exorcist family, has transferred to a Tokyo school to combat the increasing demon attacks. There he meets Kujo, a happy go lucky student who asks embarrassingly blunt questions and turns into a ogre when he is beheaded. That happens surprising far more often than one would normally think, apparently. In short order almost a dozen characters join up ranging from witches, animal companions that turn into hot guys, sibling demons who turn into vehicles,Shima's killer robot servants, a werewolf detective and some demon entrepreneurs. There is barely room at the end of the book to introduce Zone-00, a drug that turns men into monsters.

Done by the same artist who did worked on Trinity Blood, the art is the redeeming quality of this manga. Though for the content of the art itself, well since this book is rated as having moderate fan service, it makes one wonder what would be considered excessive. That same art can also be a challenge to understand since it is so busy it can be hard to follow the story. Not there is much a story, because so many pages are spent introducing the mob of characters that few are left to introduce the story's MacGuffin , the drug Zone-00. The antagonists of the story are still ciphers as the book ends and the 18 page character guide at the end of the book is necessary to tell you about the characters enough to care. Most of the characters seem to exist because the artist wanted the widest possible variety of body types to draw and dress. While pretty, the story here is barely enough of an excuse to string the characters together that the artist may have been happier doing a pinup book instead.

Zone-00, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Momogumi Plus Senki, vol. 1

Created by Eri Sakondo
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline:Childhood stories taken way too seriously

Yuuki enters a new school, hopeful that his bad luck would finally stop following him for he is tired of it always causing accidents and personal disasters. But he discovers once at the school he is the reincarnated hero of a classic Japanese fairy tale, Momotoro . His bad luck is the result of being cursed by the demons he once defeated in the original tale, so now he has to defeat those same demons in order to lift the curse before he dies. Fortunately, the school attracts reincarnated people of all types, so not only has Mamotoro's demons been reincarnated as his fellow students but his old animal allies and his adoptive grandparents are also in the school, but in unexpected ways.

The art in most manga is technically proficient so it is the story and writing that have problems. This is one of the few times that the art itself is the problem, not that it is an incomprehensible style, but its ability to help tell the story is weak. Some of the panels are messier than the others, making it difficult to follow the story because after pages that were tidy it creates a speed bump effect jarring you out of the story. The use of chibi is off-putting, both in how the chibi are drawn and when they are used. Finally, the art style itself seems to be aimed at an older audience, while the story and the characters seem to be intended for an younger one. As a result, the whole book just felt out of step despite seeming on the surface to be orderly and readable.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, vol. 1

Story and Art by Motoro Mase
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: Worst Government Health Plan Ever!

Fijimoto has started a job with a government ministry as a messenger of Ikigami. This government has decided so that the citizens will live to their fullest, some have to die. All citizens receive immunizations and in those immunizations some receive a capsule that will kill them at a predetermined date and time between the age of 18 to 24. Their only warning is that 24 hours before their death, the victims receive an Ikigami with their death information. Fujimoto questions the ethics of this, but not too loudly since social malcontents also receive a capsule. He delivers two Ikigami in this volume, one to victim of bullying who now has to wonder how to get revenge and the other to a street musician that has sold out in order to be a success that he will now never enjoy.

This series acts more along the lines of an anthology, with Fujimoto only being involved in the beginning of each story as the background of the Ikigami and the world that permits it is touched upon. The rest of the stories are about the last days of the victim and how they chose to use their death. These are character studies, as the victims have just a day forcing them to pare their goals and themselves down to fit that day. Despite the implicit questioning of Ikigami by the characters, on how there is no need for it to be used to bind the society together, in the two cases here the final acts of the victims are to help others, thus undercutting the argument against them. The strength of the title is in the character examinations rather than the overarching story which has too much useless infodumps.

Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gestalt, vol. 1

Story and Art by Yun Kouga
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: I guess the cover art is nice

Father Olivier of the Valeria Order has evaded his superiors and is going to the island of 'G,' the home of a banished demon. Along the way he acquires the slave Ouri , who rapidly reveals that she has hidden abilities and a connection to the island of 'G' herself. There are some traveling companions and some complications, but the story was so choppy and all of the characters drawn so similarly that it rapidly become too much work for too little reward to actually care what could be going on. Character motivations and powers appear and disappear with no explanation, bad video-game terminology is used as an excuse to avoid actual world building and plot lines are created and discarded apparently randomly. This was painful to read, and despite the creator's otherwise compelling body of work, this title is one to be avoided.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tail of the Moon, Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u)

Story and Art by Rinko Ueda
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: They only way to keep the peace is through treachery and assassination

Kaguya, who was discovered wounded and without her memory in a bamboo field, works as a servant at a brothel during the Japanese Warring States period. All of the ladies there are interested in the playboy warriorHansou, though when he sees Kaguya he decides that he needs to meet her. At first she is flattered by the attention until she learns that he visits all of the red light district's ladies. Honsou insists he feels differently for her but as they get more intimate he realizes that the scars from her wounds are identical to ones he gave to an assassin. This jogs her memory, enough to remember that she is a ninja trying to keep the peace through carefully aimed violence. Despite their roles on opposite sides of the Warring States,Kaguya (now using her real name Sara) and Honsou keep their relationship alive in the face of her missions to marry and spy on other members of Honsou's family.

As a prequel, this volume helps explain the background and relationships of several of the supporting characters of the main Tail of the Moon series. The art style is appears to be a touch out of date, which helps create the illusion that this story predates the main series. While sometimes the logic of the characters seems spurious, especially when they try to justify how despite being on opposite sides their objectives remain the same, the story still does not read all that badly. This is one of those stories where you don't really need to justify everything, just go along with the characters' emotions and feelings. If this was a continuing story, it's structure would be more of a problem, but as a standalone or a side story, it works.

Tail of the Moon, Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u) is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rasetsu, vol. 1

Story and Art by Chika Shiomi
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Sluglines: Love and Roses must always have thorns

Rasetsu is the lead exorcist of an agency that casts out spirits and other supernatural menaces despite her young age. Part of the reason that she is so talented is that an early age she was marked by a rose tattoo as the possession of the spirit to be claimed by it on her 20th birthday. The only way for her to escape her fate is to fulfill a very specific set of conditions that she has little confidence in herself in fulfulling. Despite her competence, she does not look it, so when Yako Hoshino, a character from Chika Shiomi's earlier work Yurara needs the help of an exorcist he is reluctant to hire her agency. Rasetsu steamrolls over his protests and when she realizes that he has his own ability, she arranges for Yako to lose his current job and be hired to work for her agency so that she can have someone halfway competent to help her. What Rasetsu doesn't realize that she bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love, a relationship thatforms the core of Yurara.

This is a sequel to the Yurara manga but so far only Yako has appeared in Rasetsu in more than background role. The focus in far more on Rasetsu, a new character, than Yako. She is an interesting mix of competent and carefree, doomed and light hearted. She is reticent to discuss her need to find true love to escape the spirit which makes the plot stronger, as it is believable that her experience makes her wary of any kind of love even if it would be her salvation. Yurara has not been reviewed so there is no way to really compare this title to it's prequel, but the mere fact that this is not another high school shojo gives it a leg up. While it has been certainly been implied that Rasetsu and Yuko will be getting together because of Rasetsu's fate and her resemblance to Yuko lost love, the plot does not feel like it is predetermined or just an exercise of filling in the blanks, which is partly why it is so well rated.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica

Stories by Emily Salzfass, Richard Hatch and Mike Wellman and Art by Chrissy Delk, Christopher Schons and Anthony Wu
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Just as dark and depressing as the original.

This is an anthology of Battlestar Galactica stories based on New Caprica storyline, when the humans were under Cylon occupation. Former President Roslin becomes a teacher and tries to balance educating and keeping her students safe with the demands that the Resistance and Cylons make on their parents. Temporary President Zarek after the escape from New Caprica makes decisions that are both difficult and easy on how to deal with humans collbators with the Cylons. Kara (the pilot Starbuck) has to decide after New Caprica what her relationship with her false daughter Kacey will be now that she has rejoined the fleet and the only lies left are the ones she tells herself.

Despite not having watched the new series, the volume gives enough information to understand what happened during the New Caprica storyline and why it was important to the characters. But this is probably one of the books that should be read in conjunction with the series in order to get the most enjoyment out of it, since the storyline in Battlestar Galactica was constantly changing and this touches on issues that the series could not take the time to examine. The Roslin story was an interesting view of life under occupation and featured its uncertainty, but the ending was weak and confusing, robbing the story of much of its power. The Zarek story covered ground that was already gone over during the series, but the Kara story did not, exploring the emotional fallout of Kara's time on New Caprica along with how it did not change despite her wanting it to, making it the strongest entry.

Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, July 16, 2009

You Will Drown in Love

Story and Art by Hinako Takanaga
Published in the US by TokyoPop Blu

Slugline: Emotional stunted guys are apparently irresistible.

Jinnai has been working in a fabric shop for years so when the manager retires, he thinks he is a shoe-in for the position. Unfortunately the owner's son takes over as the manager instead of him Reiichiro gladly admits that he has a lot of learn from him. As Reiichiro relies on Jinnai to guide him in running the store they grow closer together and become friends. Reiichiro asks Jinnai for advice for all sorts of issues including his emotional life, making Jinnai to realize his jealousy of Reiichiro's romantic entanglements. When the opportunity arises, Jinnai makes his move to awaken Reiichiro to his own and Jinnai's feelings.

While the back cover text says that this is a sequel to You Will Fall in Love it is more of an intersecting story, with characters from that manga as supporting and background characters in this one. But other than connection, there is not much here that is any different from every otheryaoi manga. There is a very masculine lead who is aggressive in the relationship and a more passive character that lets the other declare his love first and even initiate physical intimacy over their own initial objections. If this was a traditional heterosexual relationship very few people would say that it was healthy or even attractive. The only attractive aspect of the manga is the art.

You Will Drown in Love is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fushigi Yûgi, VizBig Vol. 1

Story and Art by Yuu Watase
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: I still remember the endless cries of "Tamahome!"

Miaka is a typical junior high school student that is studying hard to get into a prestigious high school, when while studying at the library she discovers a book describing a magical world. That book transports both her and her best friend Yui to that world where they meet Tamahome, a money obsessed martial artist. They girls travel back and forth from Japan and the world of the book, separately and together until misunderstandings and deceptions cause Yui and Miaka to be allied to different empires. This is important because they can fulfill a prophecy by becoming priestesses, allowing them to have wishes that can make or break empires. Each priestess will have seven protectors, who are necessary to fulfill the prophecy so Miaka begins the search for them even as she falls more in love with Tamahome.

Fushigi Yûgi was one of the first big shojo animes so it had and probably still has a fairly big following but by modern standards it is about as subtle a brick. Not that modern shojo is very subtle either, but people could mock it by randomly calling out Tamahome since Miaka seemed to cry it out every 10 minutes in the anime. The manga is not quite as bad but Miaka still is an airhead and you wonder how she can manage to focus on anything long enough to finish it. But despite that, the story does carry you along and it becomes almost addictive, reading (or watching) as much as you can just to see what happens next. Or to see if Miaka will ever be mature enough to avoid calling to Tamahome every time her moods change.

Fushigi Yûgi, VizBig Vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Manga: Bounkenshin

Stories by David Gerrold, Diane Duane, Christine Boylan and F.J. DeSanto with Art by E.J. Su, Chrissy Delk, Don Hudson and Bettina Kurkoski
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Can a story be too faithful to its source material?

This an anthology title, with the first story being patterned on the tried and true "Wesley Crusher learns an important lesson" style of episode. There is also a scientific mystery story while the final two stories explore the fallout of broadcast episodes. These stores are reminiscent of early Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in that they are more cerebral rather than action oriented and are humanistic, as in the outcomes are determined by human emotions and instincts. That results in very specific kinds of stories, ones that Star Trek: TNG moved away from in later episodes and in the spirit that Gene Roddenberry created the series in. This is not necessarily a judgment on the stories, but it does describe them and if you are expecting stories from other eras of Star Trek you will be disappointed.

The cover proclaims that one of the stories is written by David Gerrold, who is best known for writing the original series episode The Trouble with Tribbles. However, his contribution is the Wesley Crusher story which feels like it goes over ground that has been covered in many episodes before. David Gerrold has written some very adult oriented material, but in this case it feels like that he wrote a story that was more kid or comic book oriented. All of the stories are relatively self-contained, even the ones that spin out of broadcast episodes, with the only thing that you really need to know is that Picard once was taken over by the Borg. The stories are almost too much like the broadcast episodes, taking on many of the same themes without adding anything new.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Manga: Bounkenshin is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Monday, July 13, 2009

Updates to the Blog

So soon after our last delay, now we are having computer problems. Add together a cat, a glass of water and a keyboard and you end with a keyboard with only half the keys working. Until we get a new keyboard updates may be a bit random as we wait for access to a public computer.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Amefurashi, vol. 1

By Atsushi Suzumi
Published in the US by Del Rey Manga

Slugline: More little kids who exist to force the plot along.

Gimmy is a mechanic of a desert village that depends on a nimbus tree, a giant magical tree that provides the village's water. In exchange for water, the tree's goddessAmefurashi asks for dolls. Gimmy as the village's handyman is asked to make the doll, but is so caught up in the details that he blows the deadline for the doll's delivery. Gimmy's younger siblings Mel and Mil run off and pretend to be dolls to appease the goddess, with Gimmy climbing the tree to recover them. On the way he finds an annoying young girl named Sora and discovers too late that she is actually the Amefurashi. Gimmy tries to make a deal to get his siblings back, but while working out the deal Ciel, another amerfurashi without a tree steals Sora's tree's heart. Without it, the village will no longer get water so Gimmy decides to help Sora get back her tree's heart.

For once none of the characters are stupid. While they make mistakes, there are mistakes that are believable and match their character traits. Gimmy is a little too perfectionist for his own good, Mel and Mil are impetuous and Sora has a hard time understanding what the heck the humans want or are even actually are saying. The only concern is with the plotting, with the story first looking like it will be about howGimmy is going to convince Sora to return his siblings and only later it being about Gimmy and Sora teaming up. Ordinarily it would be better if the story didn't feel the need to switch tracks, but this feels like a mostly organic change rather than desperate flailing around to find something to do.

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

- Ferdinand

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Loudest Whisper, vol. 1

By Temari Matsumoto
Published in the US by Blu

Slugline: Not much whispering or meaningful conversations here.

This is an anthology of yaoi romances that focuses on their start. There are two multipart stories, the first one showing two friends in school that are so close that rumors begin that they are dating. Apparently that is that is need to date and then quickly move into a physical relationship. The other story, which ends the volume, concerns with a young heir of a vast fortune and the bodyguard that has protected him since he was a boy, and their bond that turns into something more. In addition there are several single chapter stories sandwiched between the two longer stories in the volume.

In the first story of the manga there is about as much passion as one could find in a church bake sale. The characters begin a relationship simply because other people suggest it there is no drive on the part of the characters that suggest they find it good for anything other physical release. The final story has an unbalanced power relationships that just scream wrongness and exploitation to me. The relationships that seem somewhat balanced between the partners and have some emotion attached are the stand alone stories but it is not enough to overcome the damage that the two longer stories inflict on the volume.

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

- Ferdinand

Friday, July 03, 2009

Game X Rush, vol. 1

By Mizuho Kusanagi
Released in the US by TokyoPopo

Slugline: Isn't it supposed to be easy to tell a bodyguard and an assassin apart?

Memori may be one of Japan's best bodyguards but because he works for his brother's small agency he is chronically overworked and underpaid. Yuuki could be a new hire for the agency, taking some of Memori's workload though he is more than a little bit off by Yuuki's casual attitude. That casual attitude hides a core of competence that Memori starts to warm up to, only to have it revealed almost too late that Yuuki is an assassin that is after Memori's client. Though Yuuki does not succeed, Memori cannot just forgive or forget as they continue their relationship, as it becomes strained and strange with Yuuki eventually becoming a employee of a large rival agency.

The premise of the manga begins as an entertaining one, as an assassin and a bodyguard becomes friends and rivals, but once their roles are revealed to each other it is difficult to keep the premise believable. For a while it feels like the story is flailing about trying to keep Memori and Yuuki snarking but not getting any more aggressive at each other. While at the end of the volume the premise has been recast enough for them to be friendly rivals, it is now difficult to believe in the competence of either one of the main characters after the previous shenanigans. Realism is not be demanded in manga, but the characters need to at least act in ways that are consistent with who and what they are.

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

- Ferdinand

Updates to the Blog

Sorry that there has been a posting lag, but I was sick for a few days. We will get back to posting on a regular schedule along with making up our backlog.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

KimiKiss, vol. 1

Art by Taro Shinonome with Story by Enterbrain, Inc
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Why bother having doubt or suspense in a shoujo manga?

Kouchi begins the second semester wanting to have a girlfriend and start kissing. So far he has not had much luck but his childhood friend Mao takes him under her wing teaching him how to be the perfect boyfriend. While learning how to date Kouchi realizes that he wants to turn Mao's 'practice' dates into something more real.

KimiKiss is based on a popular virtual novel/dating sim (for a definition check this wikipedia entry.) Virtual novels often give you a selection of different several girls to date. It appears that this manga series will have each volume focus on a different female character from the virtual novel, with how each girl ends up with the boy. Mao, the girl from this volume, is one of the childhood friend that becomes the girlfriend archetype. All she needs to do is show up, makes herself available and be friendly, and before page 100 they are liplocking away. Kouchi is a blank slate with only a few details brushed in, with many of his character bits coming from Mao's revelations about herself. There are no real challenges or other challengers for Mao to overcome before starting a relationship with Kouchi beyond that he is a boy and they sometimes need to have things spelled out for them. The art is nice in fan servicey way, not that many panty shots and the like, but Mao's, umm, assets still get to ignore gravity.

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

- Ferdinand