Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yokai Doctor, vol. 1

By Yuki Sato
Published by Del Rey

Slugline: Even spirits need housecalls

Kutoko is the granddaughter of famous exorcist, but other than the ability to see spirits (called yokai) she has no other exorcist abilities. That doesn't prevent her from using what she does have to become accepted in her school by performing fake exorcisms. Kuro is an outsider in the school, believed to be a pervert but actually reacting to the spirits that only a few can see. Glad to see that someone else has her ability, Kutoko befriends Kuro but is surprised to learn that he is a yokai doctor, one who tries to treat and cure the yokai. From Kutoko's perspective yokai have always been hassle and harmful, but after Kuro rescues her from some trouble by helping not harming a yokai she decides to be his assistant, though not to wear any nurse's outfit. But she hasn't learned all of Kuro's secrets, he is not only a yokai doctor but a yokai himself.

This volume has an interesting beginning with the first two chapters being retold from the perspective of a different character before moving onto original material. This was the result of the first few chapters intending to be one-off story but being successful and the creator starting a series based on it. There are some minor changes to smooth things out for the continuing story, but it is interesting to look at things from another perspective, especially it is in the process we learn character traits. Other than that interesting opening, most of the characters and situations are unfortunately fairly standard and it remains to be seen whether the unusual opening was the result of more than just happy accident.

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


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea

By Nakaba Higurashi and Seiichi Morimura
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: A historical epic without any actual epic story

Temujin is the son of a Mongol chieftain and despite questions about his parentage he rises to lead the Mongols, forging them into a nation. His main obstacle along the way is a blood brother he made while hunting as a youth. But as they both grow older, they become leaders with different motivations until their conflict is carried over to their children until only one family is left alive. Guess which one.

This is based on the same source material as the movie by the same name, but since virtually no one saw the movie and even fewer in the English speaking world have read the source material. Despite the scarcity of the material, the manga reads as if the readers can bridge the gaps on their own, presumably because they have seen or read one of the other versions of the story. There are a lot of gaps to bridge over as the story jumps around in time without warning and with a very generic facial and dressing style for the characters it takes a lot of work to figure who everyone is as eras change. Fortunes twist and turn off panel, so that leaders rise to the height of their power then become friendless with the transition of a single line of text. It comes across as a collection of scenes rather than a story or even a tale of a broken friendship.

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Takeru: Opera Susanoh, Sword of the Devil, vol. 1

Story by Kazuki Nakashima and Art by Karakarakemuri
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: So three fighters named Takeru walk into a bar...

Three fighters named Takeru meet in the island chain Oyashima that is being contested by the imperialist power Amamikado and being defended by the Amazon kingdom of Jagara. But the three Takerus are more interested in following the trail of clues that lead to the Susanoh, one of the swords of the gods. They believe that the trail will lead them to Jagara and the secret of how the kingdom has resisted being assimilated by the Amamikado, but the three sister Queens of Jagara recognize that the three could be the resolution of a prophecy.

This a perfectly fine and nice fantasy sword epic. The fight scenes are pretty well done though the choreography of them could be cleared up a bit and the characters, while not the most original of creations are not cookie cutter creations either. The main problem with the work seems to be pacing, with things unfolding at an odd pace. This is like a car engine with has an odd misfire every now and then, one that you can't trace back to a specific fault, but is there nonetheless and still niggles at you.

Takeru: Opera Susanoh, Sword of the Devil, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Lapis Lazuli Crown, vol. 1

By Natsuna Kawase
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Everyone prefers to go through school to be with the boy they like rather than simply dating them.

Miel is a child of a magical family in the Kingdom of Savarin but despite her family's history of magical prowess she is not interested in pursuing that. She wants to be considered cute and attractive so that she can hopefully marry well, which disgusts her more magically adept sisters. One day while in town she meets Radi , a visiting nobleman who bears a resemblance to the popular Prince Radian, but of course could never actually be him. If you really believe that, I also have this fine bridge in Brooklyn available for long-term lease. Through an amazing 'twist' Miel learns of Radi's true identity and gives up her aspirations of being a gold digger, deciding instead to practice her magic so that one day she will work at the palace helping the Prince.

Why yes, one afternoon is all that is need to change someone's goals from selfish to altruistic ones. Goals that are so so altruistic Miel doesn't even think romantic thoughts about Prince Radi, though he does think she is 'special.' While the storytelling and art are accomplished, at the same time the story itself is so mild that I think the manga's E for Everyone was not intended but merely a side-effect of the title's frantic inoffensiveness. The review rating is not the result of failure or inept execution, but instead as a result of the story not affecting the reader in any way and making one wonder with it in the first place.

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


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi, vol. 1

By Yu Minamoto
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: How modest! Four girls is barely a harem in most manga.

Yoichi is the young samurai in training deep in the mountains of Japan, who is told by his father that it is time to go to the city for the next step in his training. It is then revealed that despite the implications otherwise the story is set in modern Japan, which makes the story 'dangerous country bumpkin in the big city.' Fortunately what distracts him from turning this into a more destructive story is that his father sent him to a dojo run by four sisters. Now one of the sisters is too young (I hope she is considered too young) and one is not really interested in him other than for use as a research tool for her manga, but there is two sisters who unsurprisingly, are secretly attracted to him. For the fan-service needs Yoichi keeps on tripping, falling and bemoaning that gravity is a harsh mistress, forcing him to grab onto the sisters at very inappropriate places and times. But could the two girls on the last page of the volume bring actual danger, or just end up as two more girls for the harem? I suspect that will be an easy prediction for most readers.

People who have deep childhood or family connections seem to run into each other all the time on the street of Tokyo, so it must be a pretty small town, right? Sorry, I was just appreciating the foibles of manga storytelling. Despite several of the characters being highly trained martial artists, they all are very clumsy feeling the need to grab onto various naughty bits as they go down. Of course, none of the characters' subconscious are at all just very, very horny. It would be a lot more honest if the story went with that direction rather than having all of these teenagers' minds being as pure as driven snow, especially the girls. But that is just a general problem in many manga. The two main characters (Yoichi and the oldest sister) are too flawless to be more than two dimensional, but I found the sister who has given up because of the older sister's perfection to be the most interesting. I am glad to see that someone around those characters realizes just how unrealistic they are and has had the perfectly rational response of 'why bother?' because anything they do will simply be done better by someone who doesn't even realize they are crushing their hopes and dreams. But other than that, pretty standard harem comedy, not a lot of fighting, at least not yet, and the characters are rather standard. Pretty to look at it, nice if you like fan service or harem comedies, but not much of interest other than that.

Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dogs Prelude, vol. 0

Story and Art by Shirow Miwa
Published in the US by Viz

Slugline: Percussively putting the pieces into play.

Dogs Prelude introduces four loosely connected characters that live in a noirish near future city. Each has their own drives and personality, and we see three out of the four at emotional turning points in their lives. For the fourth one, well his emotional damage is that he likes to shoot things when he goes into nicotine withdrawal. There is no unifying story in the volume, but because this is a prelude it is possible that the subtext of the four character's stories might be woven into a single overarching one. While there is a bit of over thinking and melodrama, the characters are interesting on the individual level and even if their stories are needlessly confused in order to make them more 'noir,' they are still engaging enough that I care that the characters' care about what is happening to them. This is reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop in tone, though no of the characters seem like direct analogues yet, though that comparison might give you an idea of whether you will appreciate it or not.

Dogs Prelude, vol. 0 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dinosaur Hour, vol. 1

Story and Art by Hitoshi Shioya
Published in the US by VizKids

Sluglines: Bad humor and hungry dinosaurs are a winning combination!

Dinosaur Hour is basically a collection of humorous short skits that feature dinosaurs making fun of and exploiting their own natures. There is some mild educational content here, but it certainly not a focus and it shares only the basics (how big a dinosaur is, what period it existed and whether it was a carnivore or herbivore seems to be most of it.) There are no continuing characters in the volume and most of the dinosaurs are identified by their species rather than having any specific name. The humor is pretty juvenile and transparent, so rather than being for all ages it is really more for young ages. Keeping in mind that many of the jokes revolve around whether or not the dinosaurs can manage to make each other dinner, it is much more a boy book. The art is not very good, but since that this volume is basically sketch comedy, the fact that the art itself is barely more than a sketch works, and it allows the readers to have enough distance from what is happening to be able to laugh when someone becomes lunch. Once you take those limitations into account, it is pretty funny for what it is and doesn't try to do too much with what little attention that the volume will probably get from the typical reader.

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


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Honey Hunt, vol. 1

Story and Art by Miki Aihara
Published in the US by Viz Shojo Beat

Slugline: Parental abandonment issues galore!

Yura would seem to have a pretty good life since both of her parents rich and famous. But her parents treat her as an afterthought and at best treat her with a sense of benign neglect. Things finally come to a head when Yura's father's affair is discovered and her parent's divorce. At the same time, Yura discovers that her best friend Shin has been sleeping with her mom every since he went off to college. Lost, Yura goes off on her parents in front of the paparazzi. Her diatribe attracts the attention of one of her parent's agents, who offers Yura a chance to stand on her own two feet away from her parents and her old life. With that opportunity Yura begins a career in acting so to be independent and be able to get her parents to recognize her.

I disliked Hot Gimmick! (well, the novel version of it) a previous work by this creator. While I am not sure how much I buy into Yura having a special gift into acting, Yura's struggle for recognition from her parents is powerful and one I suspect many manga readers can emphasize. Having your family not only not understand who you are and what you do, but also being not even sure if it is worth trying to understand what you do is one of the universal adolescent anguishes. Unlike many stories where the parents are out of touch in order to give the main characters a free arena of action, the emotionally missing parents here are what drives Yura. While Yura herself is a little passive, but helps represents someone who has kept her head down most of her life and is only now learning how to do otherwise. The breaking of her old habits are more likely to be a gradual process than a sudden one, making this title feel very real.

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