Thursday, April 30, 2009

Animal Academy: Hakobune Hakusho, vol. 1

By Moyamu Fujino
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: The animals are literally telling you what to do.

Neko Fukuta has never been a good student, so she was worried about being admitted into a high school. She finds one named Morimori, passing an admissions test that had very offbeat questions. Meeting some of her fellow students on the way to the school's dorms the oddities kept on piling up even as she befriended her fellow student Miiko. The school's headmaster almost turns her away, but is so impressed by Neko's desire to go to school that he allows her to enroll. It is only after Neko is formally admitted that she realizes that this is a school for shapeshifting animals to learn how to act human, and that Miiko is a somewhat possessive cat. All of the students assume that Neko is cat also because of her name but she has to keep her nature as a human being secret.

Another entry in the "human stuck in a nonhuman school" genre, which Rosario + Vampire was an entry of, with a previous review. Considering the target age of this title (10+) it is probably safe to say that this will be a less intense title to maintain that age rating. But as result of that all of the characters seem to have been flattened, simplified so not too be challenging to the reader. Neko doesn't seem to realize what she is getting herself into even as it is dangled in front of her while Miiko, once she is revealed as a cat, becomes a very stereotypical cat who just looks like a person. I guess I should be happy that Niiko doesn't have cat ears that no one seems to notice. There does appear to be secrets lying just out of sight to entice interest, but Neko is so low-key that she will have to be thrown into them to become involved. Who wants a protagonist that is that oblivious? Which is a shame, because I see some things here that remind me of the first couple of volumes of Harry Potter, but it seems like it won't reach that potential.

Animal Academy: Hakobune Hakusho, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maid War Chronicle, vol. 1

Presented by Ran
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: At some point perverts stop being cute.

The Prince of Arbansol is about to go through his coronation and become king. Cacao, one of his six personal maids is hoping that will encourage Alex, the prince, to show some maturity because currently he is a major pervert who enjoys ordering his maids around way too much. Cacao is the only one of the maids who pushes back, having grown up in a circus and being a featured attraction there gave her self-confidence with the only reason for she currently being a maid is to save enough money to start her own business. But she is forced to flee with her fellow maids and the prince when the kingdom of Nowarle invades. Prince Alex claims that all he needs to retake his kingdom are beautiful women around him, well beautiful women armed with legendary magical weapons that usually are wielded by the realm's knights. Prince Alex's way around that little restriction is by creating an order of maid knights and immediately inducting all of his maids. Cacao gets a claymore sword and being the only one of the maids that has half a clue and any fighting experience, works to keep her fellow maids and Prince Alex alive.

This manga feels very old school, with a traditional pervert with a heart of gold and a whole array of characters named after food items. Those elements have been merged with the modern manga tradition of fan service via the use of maid uniforms whose skirts magically shorten when convenient. This is a light story, even by the normal standards that piece of fluff stories are measured by. The fight scenes are set up nicely and the fan service seemed mild, even with the gratuitous nudity. Or it could just be that I've been numbed by reading so much fan service. Still, the prince, despite the attempts to make him a funny and harmless pervert still makes my skin crawl and requires a major personality transplant to become tolerable.

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


Friday, April 24, 2009

Future Diary, vol. 1

By Sakae Esuno
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Knowing the future means knowing how you are doomed.

Yukiteru doesn't have any friends but he consoles himself by having a hobby, which keeping an exhaustive diary of the events around him on his cell phone. It is one of the few things he talks about to what he considers to a playful yet dangerous imaginary god of time and space Deus. The imaginary god turns out to be very real when Yukiteru's diary changes to show what he would have written for 90 days into the future. At first Yuki enjoys and exploits having future knowledge but this ends when Deus' playful and dangerous nature is revealed. It turns out Deus gave 12 people future diaries based on diaries that they were already keeping and whomever is the last one alive will replace Deus as the god of time and space. Yukiteru's initial enjoyment of his diary only made him a prime target of a serial killer and a terrorist bomber, both of whom are diarists. As a mixed blessing, a fellow student at Yuki's school, Yuno Gasai, had been stalking him and her diary is filled with details of his life, which helps him survive. The detective Keigo Kurusu has his own criminal investigation diary and is determined to end all of the mayhem that the future diaries are causing and the three of them ally together by the end of the volume to stop the other diarists and keep Yuki alive.

Think of this as a less dark version of Death Note. Not to say that this light and fluffy, but it isn't quite as nihilistic as Death Note was. At least, not yet, though the series could easily go very dark or get less intense fairly easily from this point. The fact that I don't which direction it will take is a good sign. The good guys have some major problems, with Yuki's near breakdown in the face of danger, Yuno having more than a couple screws loose and Keigo almost a little too willing to sacrifice Yuki . The mechanism of the diaries help drive the action, though while some of the diaries at least for now seem like that they can get a little silly. As an example, a bomber keeping an escape diary? But the story grabs hold of ordinary people, throws them into deep end of the pool and we get to watch them react and struggle to survive in a very realistic way.

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

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


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

BakéGyamon, vol. 1

Story and Art by Mitsuhisa Tamura with Original Concept by Kazuhiro Tamura
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: Children's adventures that aren't as dumb as they first appear.

Sanshiro wants to have adventures, much like his missing father had. Unfortunately, he is still a child under the guardianship of his grandparents, who would prefer that he would give up all such foolish dreams and be an innkeeper like they are. They are helped in this goal by living on a small island, making it difficult for Sanshiro to get into trouble. But Sanshiro is not to be denied, so when a mysterious figure offers Sanshiro a chance to be in the game BakéGyamon, which is run by monsters on a Reverse-Japan empty of people, Sanshiro jumps at the chance for adventure. Not even the prize of single wish granted matters more to him than having an adventure. But while Sanshiro is enthusiastic, neither is he ignorant to the dangers of adventuring and he uses his monster allies and the fellow players he wins over to great effect.

You see a device to summon monsters, monster seals and the word 'game' together, you expect to see a thinly disguised collectible card game or an attempt to launch one. Add that Sanshiro starts the volume out as the typical over-excited naive guy, so while he never quite losses that aspect, it is a bit of a surprise that he gains a brain. He isn't the smartest guy in the volume, but he does show something more than just relying on his enthusiasm to get by. If this manga is an ad for card game, it is among the worst ones I've seen, since the creatures that they can summon change by scene and there isn't any particular key cards or the like. The manga's game is more like chess, where the point is to figure out how to use your particular piece (monster) to your best advantage rather than using the manga to showcase the creatures and gameplay. Rather than fighting, it is more like dealing with puzzles and challenges. In that way, the manga was a pleasant surprise, in that it feels no need to be what you expect, but instead is its own story.

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


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wolverine: Prodigal Son, vol. 1

Story by Antony Johnston with Art by Wilson Tortosa
Published by Del Rey and Marvel Comics

Slugline: Sort of the Wolverine you've seen.

Logan is the best fighter at the Quiet Earth Academy, a martial arts school in the northern woods for troubled teens. But Logan was not sent there by parents tired of his antics, but was found on its doorstep without any memory of his past other than his name. Add in his strange ability to quickly heal from any wound and claws that pop out from his forearms, Logan is isolated along with having grown an attitude problem that dwarfs the other students' problems. In an attempt to give Logan some peace the school's sensei takes Logan to New York City, but it only serves to make Logan even more disappointed. Just as the sensei is about to reveal a hint to Logan that there may be others like him, they are attacked by paramilitary types lead by Lady Silence, who can speak directly into one's mind. His sensei is captured, but Logan runs back to Quiet Earth, only to find it in flames and all of the students dead except for the sensei's daughter. Defeating the former student that destroyed the school who was allied with Lady Silence, Logan gains a clue about his origin and who is responsble for hunt for him.

This is a reimagining of Wolverine's origin, who is one of the most popular mutants of Marvel Comic's X-Men. Logan is not a person inclined to deep thought, so he, and thus must of the story is involved in kicking ass. That actually works well, for whenever the story slows down to think or talk about what is going on, the emotional responses of the characters seem shallow. There is not much of that, because most of the scenes are setting up for the fights or cleaning up after the fights, but it was still a block to my enjoyment. There are some shoutouts to other versions of Wolverine's origin, but he has had so many over of the years it is hard to pick them out. The art does show off the fights and their kinetic style well, but some of the details need a little bit of work, for it took me far too long to figure out that Lady Silence was actually a woman. Still, this is a nice action story that doesn't rely on its brand name to carry it.

Wolverine: Prodigal Son, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Venus Capriccio, vol. 1

By Mai Nishikata
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: A boy prettier than any girl and a girl who is as rude as any boy.

Takami and Akira have been friends ever since Takami's mom signed her up for piano lessons in an attempt to combat Takami's tomboy nature. While she never gained Akira's skill at the piano, Takami did enjoy Akira's friendship. But Akira is determined for Takami to see him as more than a little 'sister'. By the end of the first chapter, he has managed to do so, but he has a lot of work left to do in order to get Takami to see him as boyfriend material.

On the face of it, this seems a lot like many other shoujo titles. To a certain extent it is, but the execution of it elevates the title together. Takami is a tomboy, but not so strongly that her feminization seems like a betrayal of the character and while Akira is a talented pianist he still has deficiencies that reflects his human nature. Takami does not immediately fall in love with Akira upon realizing he is a boy, but is open to the possibility as Akira starts working on her. Sure everyone is too pretty and seems unaware of it, but that is just fact of shoujo. Still these are characters I can mostly believe in (while Akira is a little too nice and understanding but does not yet verge on sainthood.)

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


Thursday, April 09, 2009


Extract is an explicit manga, and has been reviewed on Prospero’s Manga – Mature, a review blog for adult titles. Please check there for the review.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Story, Art and Letters by Dany & Dany
Published by Yaoi Press

Slugline: A setting that has nothing to do with the story

Patrick Owens is a burned out political reporter that has seen nothing but the worst of humanity with his one weakness being an appreciation for the ballet star Danya. Of course, Dany has secrets of his own as an illegally modified android masquerading as a human. But despite Patrick's own despair and Danya's secrets they are drawn to each other. Danya's 'teacher,' the former ballet star Nikolaj is using Danya to act out his dreams of greatness, becomes the main obstacle between the two lovers. To resolve this conflict will cost both Danya and Patrick part of their own sense of belonging.

I am a big fan of steampunk, which is why I pulled this out volume out of the review stack. Imagine my disappointment as I read it to find that there was a very few steampunk aspects. What little advanced technology that was in story was not especially steampunk inspired, and the clothing seemed to be draw more from French fashions than Victorian. Patrick's occupation as a reporter did not figure much into the plot, and Nikolaj's connections to the mafia and corrupt politicians remained in the background. Whole swathes of the setting could have been changed without affecting the story. I usually prefer the characters and the setting/environment to interact more, so that the characters are part of the world rather than existing apart of it. Separate from that, the back cover text is especially important with Anima since it is shrinkwrapped, but it gives an impression of a far more nuanced and dark story that what the title really is. But for yaoi fans, the title delivers on its promises, barely avoiding being pornography but showing everything else.

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


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gakuen Prince, vol. 1

By Jun Yuzuki
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: A beautiful story about the cruelty and ugliness of teens

Mizutani has transferred into a new high school which was formerly an all-girl school and is only recently become co-ed. There are very few boys there, and Mizutani learns rather quickly that the boys are a commodity that the girls use and abuse as they wish. One of the few ways out for boys is to be in a relationship with a single girl, and in desperation Mizutani finds the first girl that doesn't seem to be interested in hunting him down and dragoons her into being in a relationship. Okitsu has spent most of her time in high school trying to avoid attention, but with Mizutani's announcement, she is now in the sights of every girl in school who thinks they deserve a chance at Mizutani. She is bullied and even set up to be sexually abused, despite Mizutani's various attempts to protect her. He eventually releases her from their 'relationship' but Okitsu, upon seeing Mizutani being cornered and threatened with being tasered into sexual activity, restarts their 'relationship.' But there are more traps that remain for them.

I was ready to take one for the team here, because the back cover text made me expect that this was going to be some piece of painful fluff. But within a few pages, when the girls decide to 'initiate' the new boy in the school with some sexual abuse, and the boy is smart enough to realize he may not like it, this manga showed it understood human nature. Sometimes it can be very impersonally cruel, and the manga shows how the bullying culture in Japanese schools can tear people down just because they are in someone's way. Or simply because they merely appear to want to change, irrespective of what their true plans are. Sure, some of the set-up of the situation is a stretch, but how the characters acted spoke almost brutally true. Especially the moment where Okitsu remains suspicious of the other girls motives, but wanted to believe for a few moments that maybe, just maybe, they liked her. There was no happy fluffy shojo happiness here, or people searching for true love, but teenage hormones running amok and an attitude towards sex that is both envious and dehumanizing. It is a honest look of what would really happen if some of the silly situations that seem to proliferate in shojo would actually happen, and so needs to be read by everyone who sighs dramatically over shojo. Sure, most shojo is written as an escape from the reality of teenage romances, but in this someone can see what happens in the real world and emphasize more with it.

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


Monday, April 06, 2009

Samurai 7, vol. 1

Original Story by Akira Kurosawa and Manga by Mizutaka Suhou
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: A classic story written down for the shonen crowd

In the far future, after a war that raged across the solar system, the samurai that helped end it are left without a purpose with some having been reduced to pillaging to survive. One village, afraid of what will happen when the bandits return when the crops are ready, decides to hire samurai to defend them. Katsushiro is a young man pretending to be a samurai, equipped with a powerful sword, and he decides to help when he runs across the villagers' representatives that are recruiting the samurai. Katsushiro is eventually revealed as being an impostor, but manages to convince six samurai to join with him to defend the village. On the way to the village they meet and defeat an group of the bandits, but not before the bandits manage to send word to their leader that the village is getting samurai defenders. The battle also reveals aspects of the various motivations and personalities that are driving the samurai to help defend this village.

Samurai 7 is quite upfront of it's inspiration, Akira Kurosawa's famous movie The Seven Samurai, though this version of the story is set in a science fiction future. But the biggest changes to the story are not because of the change of setting but are the result of a radical shift in the tone of the story. The original version had a dark tone, with samurai hired because they are hungry and the fear of the villagers of the samurai that they have to rely on being very palatable. In comparison, what we have here is a tone that would not be out of place for any shonen story, in that they are looking for true samurai who have brave and kind hearts. That is just one example of tone shift that I think does no credit for the manga, and I think misses the point of adapting The Seven Samurai. That being said, after the first 2/3 of the manga being all touchy-feely, they managed to make up for it by blowing stuff up pretty. For many sins can be forgiven for good action scenes. But if you are looking for something that has the same emotional impact and resonance as the original movie The Seven Samurai, it hasn't made it's presence known here in this manga.

Samurai 7, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Friday, April 03, 2009

Negima!? Neo, vol. 1

Original Concept and Story by Ken Akamatsu with Art by Takuya Fujiima
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline: A manga of an anime of a manga

Brilliant ten year old mage Negi graduates from his British school of magic and has to go to Japan to teach at an all girl school. If that is not the set-up for a Harry Potter fanfic filled with Mary Sue overtones, I don't know what is. Negi has to help the various girls at the school deal with their problems while advancing his own magic by 'partnering' up with someone. Since he surrounded by teenage girls, guess who his partner will be? Let's not forget he has to keep his magic secret from the students even as several of the students have magical natures. This is a harem comedy, with all of the negatives that implies along with the above slugline literally being true. This is not the original manga that the TV and various OVA series are based on, but a manga based on the anime that was based on the original manga. Sometimes the multiple versions can be a benefit to a property, with each iteration allowing the story to become ever more focused and removing distractions. But there is also the possibility the story will lose focus like a photocopy, as each iteration gets further away from the core of the story. I am not sure here if the various iterations is helping or hurting the story.

My rating from Negima!? Neo comes from several different aspects of the story. Harem comedies have a hard time being believable, as in if you can believe whether or not people will act these way. Here there is not much of an attempt at believability, with everyone embracing their inner stereotype and going with it and the characters being all surface. The plot reads like a bad fanfic (yes, there is good fanfic) with a thinly disguised Harry Potter stand-in. If you already love Negima, here you get some more, but other than that, this is just not a very well done manga.

It is almost if this was the culmination of the search for the best way to deliver fan service, cutting away of everything else that can get in the way of delivering fanboy goodness but may also have other uses, like story or subtext, or even text for that matter. While that may be fine for some, there is no reason that a manga can not also deliver an interesting story because that does not necessarily have to interfere with delivering fan service, it is not an either/or equation.

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


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Maid Sama!, vol. 1

By Hiro Fujiwara
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Anger and daddy issues go together is the taste great, less filling of storytelling

Misaki has dad issues, and using the toughness she had cultivated after her dad abandoned her to help keep the male dominated school body in line at her school in her role of president.. But every character in manga has a secret and hers is that to make some money she works at a maid cafe, where she has to be polite and call visitors master. This does not come easily to her but Misaki manages to keep the two parts of her life separate until Takumi, the bored and thus sexy head male student at her school discovers it. Rather than take advantage of her over it, Takumi uses it as a reason to get close to the one girl in school that is not intrigued by his natural charm, thus making Misaki the only one that interests him at all.

The intersection of the maid and high school settings gives some slightly new twists to many of the same situation that fill out all shoujo . Sometimes that is all it takes to bring a little bit of freshness to staid situations. It is also nice to see for once that the missing/abandoned parent issue being used for more than just a rationale to keep cast size manageable and for explaining why high school students can stay out for all hours. Having a missing or otherwise uninvolved parent seems to be a staple of anime/manga but it rarely seems like it drives any of the characters in a meaningful way, unlike in many types of American fiction. Here at least her father's abandonment has shaped and changed Misaki in ways that matter and if her father ever returns you have some juicy storytelling potential there.

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