Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rampage, vol 1

By Yunosuke Yoshinaga
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline:  Who knew the skull could be sliced through like butter?

Zhang Fei is a wanderer in ancient China during a period when the bureaucratic eunuchs corruption has lead to civil unrest.  Which basically describes all of China's history, but in this instance the forces hoping to bring change are called the Yellow Turbans. In their fervor to bring change they commit as many crimes as their opposition, so Zhang Fei agrees to join a volunteer force against them lead by Liu Bei. He sacrifices his life to save a little girl but instead of dying he wakes with a cursed spear after a near-death dream experience. When in fear for his life the spear takes control and is relentless in destroying the enemy but is reluctant to return control over his body. Liu Bei is revealed to be secretly a woman and has experience with the power that has Zhang Fei in its grip, so he joins her and her army despite being told of the risks of the cursed spear, hoping that they can help each other with his power and the Yellow Turbans.

One of the annoying things that I find with historical Chinese tales is that I can never keep all of the names straight so that the frustration of working out character references by their context may be spoiling my review. That may partially explain why it seems that the characters' rationales and why they react in the ways they do always seems to be off in the title, appearing to be more the creation of convenience and plot rather than motivation. But since the whole point of these characters is for gratuitous violence and nudity, accomplishing that seems to be more important than the journey there. This is not a deep story, at least not yet, so looking for anything more than battle scenes and having a chance to ogle some non-sexual nudity is probably asking for too much. The violence is done in loving details while the nudity is not, with them not being tied together so the story so far has not been disturbing, but it is just an excuse for violence. Fortunately, it well orchestrated violence.

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


Monday, March 22, 2010

Deadman Wonderland, vol. 1

By Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline:  Prisons and amusement parks are not a good combination

In the near future Ganta is among the few survivors of the Great Tokyo Earthquake but by the time he is a teenager he barely remembers it and has adapted to high school life.  The mysterious Red Man then kills everyone else in his class and Ganta is convicted of the crime and is quickly sent to Deadman Wonderland, a combination private prison and amusement park built on Tokyo's ruins.  Private prisons are never nice places in fiction and Deadman Wonderland is no exception with prisoners pitted against each other to entertain visitors and earn privileges.  In the case of death row prisoners like Ganta, the privileges include living for another three days.  To help him survive long enough to prove his innocence a childhood friend from pre-earthquake Tokyo is helping him while Ganta also learns to master the powers that the Red Man left in him while killing his classmates.

While there are some similarities to such titles as Battle Royale and Death Note (here are our reviews for Death Note 1-6 and 7-10), here the main tension seems to be from Ganta coming to grips to the mysteries that surround him.  The Red Man is central to these mysteries and at this stage in the series he is like a storm that comes in and upsets the natural order of Ganta's life. Shiro, Ganta's childhood friend, helps lighten the title though still leaving the danger in it intact. That way the story is not too dark though how maniac Shiro is will have to be managed so it doesn't become silly and descend into parody, admittedly not terrible danger. This is a good start to a potentially complex emotionally charged thriller, but it is still only a good beginning not proof of a successful continuing title.

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


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Only One Wish, vol. 1

By Mia Ikumi
Published in the US by Del Rey Manga

Slugline:  Why do people like monkey paw stories so much?

Students believe in an urban legend that if you text under the right conditions you will get an angel to make one wish come true. But things are never that simple. Here, as in many other monkey paw-like stories, getting exactly what you wish for leads to the worst possible outcome.  The angel will fulfill only one wish, there is no chance to take it back, no matter how much it is needed. In this volume, a trio of friends tear themselves apart from jealousy and anger over who will wish a boyfriend to them. A dead girl has to find the wrong boy to kiss to bring herself back to life. A boy and girl who are so alike have blindly to find each other across the city. A girl shrinks a boy down to doll size until he loves her. In all of these, what can go wrong with the wish does often without any recourse.

This seems like a monkey paw in search of a good story to grasp onto. At first, having wishes go wrong seems like a good foundation for a series but variations of it has been done so often it is hard to find a new take. Plus if the story is always about wishes going wrong, reading it gets depressing as people keep on destroying themselves despite the best of intentions. This problem is realized as while the first story has a very traditional 'be careful what you wish for' story the later ones depart from that strict formula. The angel is a like a ghost character which helps prevent readers from blaming her for the evil that befalls the other characters but there is nothing emotional linking the stories together. The manga feels well written but empty. There is a short Tokyo Mew Mew! story included for the creator's other fans.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Haru Hana, The Complete Collection

By Yuana Kazumi
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline:  What is better, music or a massage?

Hana has just moved to Tokyo, hoping to overcome her previous experiences with boys and work at being a violinist.  Her problem is that she breaks out in hives whenever she even touches one, but she hopes that things will change.  Haru is a fellow student that soon learns to tease Hana by touching her and causing her to breakout, but he has his own problems that he needs to be distracted from.  He works as massuesse while trying to recover his memories, while Hana is forced to work at the same place to pay off her sister's debt.  Needless to say it is inevitable that these two will team up together, each using their own skill in a relaxation center that is named after them, Haru Hana, as they work to understand and help each other (and the occasional walk in customer).  And of course, become emotionally involved.

Haru Hana falls into this weird territory between plot driven manga and slice of life ones.  The volume's stories are meandering but have some purpose, but not enough to say that they are moving towards something.  It is only until the final third of the volume, when the creator probably realized that some sort of conclusion was needed that Haru's amnesia subplot is resolved with various aspects skimmed over to do so.  Even the romance between Haru and Hana remains sketchy, but despite it the reader is left with vivid impressions of the series.  The character art helps, being very evocative so that after most of the storylines have been forgotten there remains a very strong image of Haru and Hana working and playing in the shop.  It is that ability to create a lingering image and set of emotions that makes this series worthwhile.

Haru Hana, The Complete Collection is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory

By Sakae Esuno
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline:  Is eating fish with human faces cannibalism?

Aso Daisuke is a former police investigator that  is now a private detective with an unusual focus, dealing with allegories that are more popularly know as urban legends.  For instance, when Kanae Hiranuma hears the urban legend of the axe murderer who lurks under the bed, the story has such an effect on her that it literally becomes real to her, a situation that Aso rescues her from.  Unfortunately she cannot pay her bill and decides to work with him and his even stranger partner Hanako to pay it off.  The cases soon become even stranger and more bizarre, moving from the gotcha factor of the axe murderer to a full-blown psycho-sexual laden tale involving human faced fish.  The manga is given more meaning by the fact that Aso is suffering from allegories himself, making him both less and more than just human.

At first it seem like this will be another creepy-crawly filled horror manga, but it is during the human faced fish story in the last half of the volume that it becomes clear that this is something more else.  The horrors the characters face become less important than then the ones that live in the characters' minds and drive them.  The story could use better explanations of the urban folklores used in the background, for while the allegories that drive the story are well explained, the ones that drive the characters seem less so, especially the one that Hanako is part of.  For an explanation of it, click out this link.  Much like the creator's other work, Future Diary (see the Prospero's Manga review here) this appears at first like many other stories but soon shows that the idea behind it can be much deeper than what the source material may originally suggest.

Hanako and the Terror of Allegory is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

My Darling! Miss Bancho, vol. 1

By Mayu Fujikata
Published in the US by CMX Manga

Slugline: Not ashamed to know how silly it is.

Souka has decided to attend a technical school so she can quickly graduate and get a job to help out her recently divorced mother. Unfortunately she made a mistake and her chosen school is run by grade-based gangs that have many fights and school wide rumbles. It is so bad that Souka quickly discovers that she is the only girl left enrolled at the school yet because she has already paid the tuition she is reluctant to just quit. To encourage her stick around the class leader Yuuki gives her an iron plate to defend herself so while caught up in a brawl she uses it to knock out the Bancho, or gang leader of the whole school. That makes her the school's gang leader so she chooses to defend her title out of fear that someone worse will take it and she uses the role's influence to make something of a school populated by hooligans. That and trying to figure out the violent yet nurturing Yuuki, of course.

While in the beginning of the manga it tries to to tell the story seriously, by the end of the volume it has accepted that the whole idea underlying the manga is a little silly and has decided to roll with it. This becomes especially blatant in the inevitable beach trip chapter. It is this willingness to use the cliches of the formal challenge, the requires field and beach trips of school manga that helps makes what would be just another school manga into something that will be actually remembered. Well, that and the manga has a slightly unusual setting being set at a vocational school, which does not appear to be that different from a regular school but in my understanding has differences that run far deeper than just the cosmetic appearance, so hopefully those differences will come into play in the series.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Panic X Panic, vol. 1

By Mika Kawamura
Published in the US by Del Rey

Slugline:  Why are the bad guys always more interesting than the good guys?

Mitsuki and Kakeru have grown up across the street from each other, her the heir of a Shinto shrine while Kakeru the son of a priest, while their fathers were in constant competition.  That competition has spilled over to their children's relationship so that they do not get along either in school to the surprise of their classmates.  They usually just annoy each other but now demons that have been kept out of the human world for hundreds of years have been released and only Mitsuki and Kakeru can stop them.  Until they find the seals to permanently seal away the demons, they have to work together to convince the demons that have entered the world to behave themselves. 

What a surprise.  The most popular boy and girl in school can't stand each other despite knowing each other since childhood now they have to save the world from a threat that no one else can perceive.  While the plot aspects of this manga are interesting and show some originality the characters themselves do not.  If anything they show very cookie-cutter characteristics, especially in that despite Mitsuki's supposedly equal power in dealing with demons she is instead acts helpless and deals mostly with the demons by talking and making friends with them.  Considering how cliche it is for the girl to be the one to fulfill that role in a story, the characters need to be really interesting in order to overcome that and none of them are up to the challenge.  This is a case where the formulaic approach overcomes everything else and makes this an easily forgettable manga.

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

- Ferdinand