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