Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ai Yori Aoshi, vols. 1-3 collected

By Kou Fumizuki
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: True Blue Boredom

Kaoru has left his abusive family behind to go to college, but a childhood friend appears one day. Aoi remembers when they were betrothed to each other, and has spent her life getting ready for that, and just because Kaoru is no longer the heir to his family fortune is no reason to change plans now. Kaoru does like Aoi, and they manage to come to arrangement that allows them to get to know each other better at the cost of keeping their relationship a secret. Of course, that means that Kaoru's friends at the college have to get involved and complicate things.

Thank goodness this was a collected edition, because the first volume went by in a blink. I have learned to appreciate, even sometimes treasure the fact that a manga story can take its time to unfold, but in this case it means that in the 2nd and 3rd volumes that are still hitting all of the shojo cliche story/settings, such as the amusement park, hot springs and school festival chapters. The characters are really earnest and all, but all I could think while reading it was boring, boring, boring. Seen it all before, over and over. There is all of this storytelling potential about Kaoru and Aoi's families, and it is not even touched upon in the first three volumes of the series. Maybe creators need to fill the first few volumes of series with these cliche scenes in order to get in the time to explore the characters and get a handle on them before heading into more individualized stories, but that just means that we end up reviewing a lot of similar first volumes of shojo titles. Is there anything bad here? No, not really, but it is very run of the mill. If you have read more than a dozen shojo titles, you can skip this volume without missing much.

Ai Yori Aoshi, vols. 1-3 collected is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Magic Touch, vol. 1

Story and Art by Izumi Tsubaki
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: A happy beginning to a massage shojo

Chiaki is a shy high school student who only comes into her own when she is working with her school's massage club. Her sister always get her into trouble and her mother always takes her sister's side, soChiaki find massage an activity and place where she can help people in a concrete way without having to worry about being undercut. There is a popular male student named Yosuke whose back is so tense that Chiaki just wants to sink her hands into it, but Yosuke demands that she has to be his girlfriend first. Yosuke has confused Chiaki with her sister, who destroyd and dumped Yosuke's brother but he learns that Chiaki is very different from his expectations.

Every time that I think I have found a premise for a manga that will never work, it still manages to surprise me in a pleasant way. Let's face it, high school romance set among the massage tables just calls out for a snarky commentary. While there is still a lot to snark about, the story does manage to work. It is not very thrilling mind you, using many of the same old shojo cliches that we have seen before. Look, a character that can cook so well that everyone talks about it and a romance filled trip to the beach! But considering the topic, I expected this story to be a dog, or fall into every cliche out there, and it manages to avoid the worst excesses and be somewhat believable. And since this blog is at least in the hundreds of shojo series reviewed, yes, sometimes that is all that is necessary to be pleasant surprise.

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


Friday, March 13, 2009

Peace Maker: Kurogane, vol. 1

By Nanae Chrono
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Cat boys gone bad!

Ichimura Tetsuno continues to be trained by the famous Shinsengumi, with the figures that feature in almost every anime and manga set in the Meiji Restoration making a guest appearance or in a supporting role in the title. There is not much of recap of what has gone before, so who all the characters are and what their relationship to each other is not immediately clear. What makes it even more difficult is that there is not a clear plot in this first volume to distract you from the fact that you don't know much about the characters. A couple of new characters (I assume) are introduced, which means that since I have not read the first series I know these new characters much better than the stars of the series. The antagonist (I think) steps forward at the very end of the volume, so there is not much information about what his plans or goals are. The messy art style doesn't help, because while I can tell the new characters apart, the older ones that I haven't really had a chance to mentally indentify get muddled together. While this is a beginning of a new story arc for Peace Maker, the lack of recap or introduction to the main characters makes this a bad first volume to pick of the series.

Peace Maker: Kurogane, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka, vol. 1

By Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka, Co-authored with Takashi Nagasaki and Supervised by Macoto Tezka with the cooperation of Tezuka Productions
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: A re-imagining of a classic Tezuka/Astro Boy story

Gesicht is a homicide de
tective in a near future where intelligent robots are common. It has been only recently have robots become difficult to tell apart from humans with robots getting married and having child robots, but robots are still somewhat removed from humanity by an emotional distance. Even Gesicht, himself a robot, can't help but feel some distance from the victims he tries to find justice for. His latest case is the murder of Mont Blanc, has very little emotional distance for everyone in Europe, since Mont Blanc was a beloved and wildly popular forestry robot who was also an environmentalist, poet and former soldier from the Asian wars. Mont Blanc's crime scene is very similar to the crime scene of a human murder which cause a great deal of worry for the authorities. If the two murders are related, only a robot would have the strength to tear apart Mont Blanc but no robot has killed a human in eight years. This disturbing contradiction drives Gesicht to consult with that killer robot, who warns him that there are 8 targets, all powerful robots many with connections to the Asian war. One of them is Atom, better known to American readers as Astro Boy.

This is an authorized extension of a Tezuka's Astro Boy story arc, now told as a murder mystery starring what was then a supporting character. I was not aware of all this back story when I picked up the volume but it was easily able to stand on its own. The characters and the plot are very subtle, holding more than what first appearances would suggest. Sure, there are some silly bits, such as robots with robot children, but once you accept the premises of the story, everything else flows naturally. Knowing Tezuka's titles would deepen one's appreciation for this homage, letting one recognize the off-handed Black Jack mention, but it is strong even without that knowledge.

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reviews on Wednesday and Friday this week

Was busy doing some volunteer work in the first half of the week, so the reviews are going to slide to a little bit later in the week as a result.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Heaven's Will, vol. 1

Story and Art by Satoru Takamiya
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: Shoujo and the supernatural clash. Cuteness wins!

Sudou is a kanki, a person with the ability to see ghosts and other spirits called oni which she has been trying to avoid all of her life. Well, unholy creatures and boys, whom she just does not understand. While trying to lose pursuing oni a local haunted house Sudou runs into Seto, a crossdressing male dressed as a goth girl and who is an exorcist willing to help her with oni if in return Sodou cooks him/her a cake a day and flushes out more oni. Seto has a sidekick vampire wolf named Kagari that helps them out but is so gruff that he often surprises Sudou. During the course of the first exorcism (which takes up most of the first volume) Seto reveals that is not his/her true name but the name of his dead twin sister. Seto's sister was an exorcist with Seto using his sister's magical fan (which contains her spirit) to perform his exorcisms. The reason for all these complications, including Seto's cross-dressing, is because Seto hopes to make himself enough of a girl to allow his sister to reemerge and take over his body, displacing his spirit but allowing his sister to live again. Despite Seto's guilt-filled rationalization that this is to make up for his sister dying while defending him, Sudou is horrified and is left trying to think of ways to convince Seto to live.

As a Viz Shojo Beat title, this is far more a shoujo than a supernatural thriller, especially with all the talk of feelings rather than planning on how to confront the supernatural. The result is while the characters are well developed the story itself is less so, with the supernatural's rules unclear. In a way, even the art reflects shojo priorities, with Seto's cute goth girl outfits fully realized while the scenes that involve the supernatural sometimes seem unclear and suffer from poor panel construction. I am not a big shojo person, so it would not be a surprise for me to say that I think that perhaps the shoujo aspects should have minimized. But I think that they spent too much of their dramatic energy will on this first case, explaining both of Seto and Kagari's issues in detail together rather than spreading it over several different cases, allowing the supernatural and the shoujo aspects of the title to play off each other rather than existing almost separately. If you are not going to use the supernatural aspects to help inform and explain the characters and the overall story, why bother having those aspects at all?

Heaven's Will, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, vol. 1

By Koji Kumeta
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: Transcending cliches by refusing to let go of the gag.

Itoshiki is a new teacher, but he is anything but excited by the challenge of his school and students. In fact, on the way to the school he tries to commit suicide by hanging himself, but a student saves him from trying to 'grow taller.' Having had family members attempt to 'grow taller' is something that the student gotten used and tries to retain a positive outlook. Her positive outlook is so strong in fact that the student can't see the truth of things right in front of her. At first the story revolves around how Itoshiki and the student's different outlooks clash but the story becomes more about the class Itoshiki teaches. The class is filled with students just as odd as Itoshiki, and as each one is revealed and detailed their eccentricities build on each other.

You have to admire the thoroughness of the gags. Each students represents one of the typical stereotypes you can find in manga, and each chapter adds another one to the mix. What makes this stand out is that these stereotypes are not being used as a storytelling shorthand, but are used as if they were real continuing characters with consequences to their actions. The stalker's line of her own stalkers first show up in her story, then repeatedly show up in the rest of the volume as other characters stumble across them. The gratuitous panty shot girl continues to do them long after her gag is established. Individually the characters and their actions may not be special, but later in the volume when all of the gags start interacting and building on each other, they move past idly amusing then annoying into the land of being genuinely funny.

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