Friday, May 28, 2010

Starcraft: Ghost Academy vol. 1

Written by Keith R. A. Decandido with Art by Fernardo Heinz Furukawa
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Brain panning is not an "This your brains on drugs" reference.

This manga fills in a missing gap in the Starcraft: Nova novel when Nova goes to the Ghost Academy.  In Starcraft, Ghosts are psionically powerful humans that are drafted to help keep the Dominion secure.  Nova is training to be one after suffering the the standard traumatizing childhood awakening of her psionic powers that both drives and isolates her.  But she is not allowed to be too isolated because the Ghost Academy trains in teams, and because of her isolated nature the others in her team suffer in their grading.  Things come to head when one of her teammates, a son of powerful political leader, helps create a situation in which another teammate who is a drug addict goes off the rails.  Though Nova helps her teammate and graduates to the next stage of her training, she has her memories erased of the incident and gains a new foe she does not even remember.

This is another title where the lack of knowledge about Starcraft handicaps the reader since it seems to expect that you already know background. This is made worse because Nova has already starred in a novel with the manga taking place in a gap in the novel.  As an example, some of the characters seem extraneous but if the reader knew the larger story their presence may make sense. The main character Nova is in a journey to be more connected to her fellow soldiers, but there is a moment of that journey that is missing. In the manga she realizes her behavior is harmful, and there are moments where she connects with the rest of her team, but there the moment in between when she makes the decision to change which is missing. While these are problems, they are not terrible ones since one of the purposes of the manga is to fill out the Starcraft backstory, so as long as it does that the manga has some worth.

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

- Ferdinand

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Cafe, vols. 1 + 2

By Kou Matsuzuki
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline:  Don't people need to search for happiness somewhere other than small shops?

Uru decides to live on her own so not to get in the way of her mom's happiness with her new husband, so despite still being in high school she has gotten her own place and her own job.  Her job as a waitress at a cafe brings her into contact with odd people, the strangest being the cafe's chef Shindo who is a strange mixture of caring and impassiveness.  The three workers of the cafe help each other and their patrons out, though mostly Uru needs their attention.  Uru, after she learns she didn't have to leave the house, needs the help to balance her own growth and independence to her mother and stepfather's protective impulses.  Otherwise their major challenge is when a competing cafe issues a challenge to them but despite Uru's foolhardy acceptance of it, everything turns out well though the competing cafe workers settle into a resigned tolerance of Uru and her cafe. 

This is another entry in 'happiness can only be found in a small shop' genre of manga.  This reminds me a lot of Haru Hana, which was reviewed in March, not in the characters but in the situations that they find themselves in.  In both an late teen, early twenties woman enters the shop, whom the female protagonist first looks at in suspicion but whom later becomes friends of the shop's workers because of the way they help her.  She becomes a supporting character that continues to show up and in both titles the character is introduced at the end of the first volume.  But while this a faithful entry into a well-established sub-genre, it still is a solid one.  Other than one or two extreme character traits (which in comparison to other manga are not that extreme) it remains well-grounded.  The story and characters deliver a satisfying but not particularly memorable manga.

Happy Cafe, vol. 1 and vol. 2 are both available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.


Friday, May 07, 2010

King of RPGs, vol. 1

Written by Jason Thompson with Art by Victor Hao
Published by Del Rey Manga

Slugline:  We will deny any similarities between the reviewer and the manga's characters

Shesh had a problem with computer RPGs, but after the therapy, shock treatment and lifetime wireless ban he goes to college and can act somewhat normal.  There are temptations at college but when Shesh goes to a RPG club he discovers they have pen and paper RPGs rather than the computer games he once abused.  As he considered leaving he is challenged by the gamemaster Theodore and after his friends ask him to, he decides to play just one game.  What he doesn't know is Theodore is his match in obsessiveness but to pen and paper RPGs.  Theodore discovers a talent to provoke Shesh into unleashing his frenzied player persona that therapy had supposedly tamed.  After dealing with the repercussions of his first gaming session, Shesh's attempt to find a gamemaster to safely game with brings him into conflict with a gamer that takes advantage of the collectible games and a student officer who is convinced of the evil of playing games.

This manga hits in the middle of my two loves (well, the ones that are not real people at least) manga/comics and tabletop roleplaying games.  I may not have been as obsessive and as Theodore, but my college room (my house now) was filled with just as many game rulebooks as it was graphic novels and manga.  While my time in college predates World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs that broke Shesh, other computer games were just as effective on people I knew, in fact I knew people similar to all the characters.  So all of the characters ring true, but are overlaid with a shonen filter.  This includes that no one is really bad, they are misunderstood or victims of circumstance and everything devolves into a personal challenge.  Still, it has enough gaming in-jokes to satisfy the gaming crowd (such as the culmination of the final story arc of the volume harking backing to a gaming urban legend) but does not need in-depth gaming knowledge to get the humor and the story, which was the problem with the review earlier this week of .hack//4koma.

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

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


By Koichi Sumimaru
Published in the US by Tokyopop

Slugline: hack is just a very bad cough

.hack is one of those series that appears to be very popular despite all of my attempts to understand it.  Considering that there is little attraction for me towards a humorous take on it.  It seems that most of the volume requires previous knowledge of the .hack characters and story in order to get the jokes, though I suspect even if I did understand more of the references I would not find them very funny since the their setups are not very interesting.  The volume is actually a compilation of four different creators take on .hack, though Koichi Sumimaru is responsible for most of the material.  This is unfortunate, since that material is the least funny in the volume despite giving the title it's name.  The 4koma, or four panel gag strips, starts the volume, making it a hard slog to wade through it and reach the other creators contributions.  Most of the other creators' material can be understood on its own, without being already immersed in the .hack universe, but by the time you reach it any enjoyment that could be had has been leached away.  Unless you are a hard-core .hack fan, especially of The World and The World R:2, there is nothing here worth your time.

.hack//4koma is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ratman, vol. 1

Story and Art by Inui Sekihiko
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Rats are not exactly good models for heroes or villains.

Shuto wants to be a hero, which is more possible than the typical childish fantasy because he lives in a world where super heroes are common. Even though he is short for his age and so few people take him seriously, he continues to espouse the notions of justice that he believes are the bedrock of heroes. Only two people seem to take his desire seriously, a slightly odd student at his school named Mizushima and Rio, the daughter of the head of the Hero Association. Shuto finally gets his chance to be a hero by rescuing Mizushima but discovers that it was to trick him to undergo an experiment and be forced to become a villain by Mizushima's sister. Shuto's first mission as a villain brings him into conflict with the Hero Association, leading to Rio vowing to hunt him down personally along with the Hero Association as a whole.  Shuto is torn between his heroic desires and the messed up reality that he finds himself forced into.

Shuto has the sort of personality that is so earnest in wanting to be a hero that he would normally annoy anyone. So when the trap is sprung and he is forced to become a villain instead, Shuto's stunned response makes the story. Sure, that particular twist can be seen coming a mile away, but since it is a twist that the character would never expect because of his nature, the readers can allow themselves to enjoy it. Sadly, for the moment the female characters are just foils for Shuto to react against rather than having their own personality.  While parts of the manga descends into parody the fact that Shuto is taking the heroic ideals so seriously suggest that will have a more mature examination of them, though the rest of the story may be less so. It is the interplay between the two that will keep things interesting.

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