Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Songs to Make You Smile

By Natsuki Takaya
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: When do shojo songs not make you smile? 

Songs to Make You Smile is an anthology volume by Natsuki Takaya, creator of Fruits Basket.  This collection is mostly of one-off stories of young love, though there is a Tsubasa: Those With Wings story included that uses its characters to tell a twisted Snow White tale.  The story that gives its name to the anthology is a high school romance between an unemotional singer whose emotional songs touch the heart of a girl whose own heart has been lost due to bullying.  Next, Chisato feels emotionally cut-off from her recently deceased father but through the actions of her new stepmother she reconnects with him.  Inagaki is a world class violinist who other students often deride for riding on his famous parents’ coattails, but a viola player can hear his true original music playing through.  Finally, a young man given to knitting and other less than manly arts is given the courage to declare his love through the actions of his grade school cousin.

One of the worst parts of any anthology is that often they hide one or more clunkers that just are not very good but rely on the rest of the anthology to get readers.  None of the stories here are that, surprising since it was originally published before Takaya's far better known Fruits Basket, meaning that they were made when she was still gaining experience.  There are several different artistic styles she in the book showing that growth, with the one with the Chisato character looking the oldest but none feeling dated.  There does seem to be reliance on standard storytelling elements but while none of the stories feel original neither do they feel particularly cliche-ridden.  The only story that particularly stands out is the Tsubasa: Those With Wings side story, mostly because it is such a cheerfully abusive tale that manages to avoid being cruel.

Songs to Make You Smile is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

World of Warcraft Shadow Wing, vol. 1 The Dragons of Outland

Story by Richard A. Knaak with Art by Jae-Hwan Kim
Published by TokyoPop

Slugline: Watch out for falling dragons!

The demons that attacked Azeroth have been defeated and pursued back to their homeworld through a mystical gate.  Among the armies that followed them back to Outland are Tyri and Jorad, who have been seen before in the Warcraft titles.  Jorad is still desperate to prove himself as a paladin of the Light so he takes on an important mission to coordinate friendly forces but he is waylaid and rescued by Tyri.  Tyri, who is a blue dragon that can transform into an elf, has felt herself drawn to Outland by her magic.  Together they convince some of Outland’s inhabitants to help them solve the mystery of the strange Nether Dragons and what their connection to other dragons be.  Meanwhile, a Death Knght has learned how to seize control the Nether Dragons and is planning on using them to rule Outland.

The World of Warcraft manga have been reviewed previously (see links), some of which have been by the same same creative team but they earn their new low rating for the new reasons here.  This is because of how the story is told rather than the content or the style of the story.  Richard Knaak is better known as a novelist and it seems that most of the problems come from using a novel’s pacing in a manga.  Five or ten pages of text reads a lot slower than the same number of pages in a manga.  A character that changes their mind over five pages of text seems more natural, like they had a chance to cool off and think, while doing so in the same number of pages in a manga pages seems like a waste to have the first scene at all.  Once again, it seems that this title would appeal just to fans of World of Warcraft rather than a wider fantasy audience.

World of Warcraft Shadow Wing, vol. 1 The Dragons of Outland is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

Friday, August 20, 2010

Portrait of M & N, vols. 1 and 2

By Tachibana Higuchi
Published in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Why does love have to hurt?

Mitsuru and Natsuhiko have both started in a new high school and have attracted attention because of their appearance and aloof demeanors.  But they both have secrets that drove them from their old schools and inaccurate rumors about those secrets have followed them and begin to make their lives more difficult.  Fortunately no one has learned that the secrets are that Mitsuru is a masochist while Natsuhiko is a narcissist.  While both have triggering events that cause their behaviors to flare out of their control, they manage to keep them a secret despite the other students’ curiosity.  Their shared secrets tie them closer together even though their respective obsessions put up obstacles to being emotionally honest with each other.  The mental confusion and uncertainty that they both face comes across each day as they try to keep their secrets and rein in their behaviors.

While aspects of Mitsuru and Natsuhiko’s relationship feel true, especially their uncertain feelings, the portrayals of their masochist and narcissist tendencies are not, especially with the idea of having such blatant triggering events.  Those are not intended to show the difficulty with living with such tendencies as a teen, but instead to set up comedic situations.  That uses up a lot of the respect the manga had earned, because it turns what could have been serious high school drama into something that uneasily straddles the divide between drama and farce.  The title would have been much better served if the humor had came from the story or if there were characters there for comedic relief.  There are several characters that could have taken that role, but they were not central enough to the story to take up that burden.  Still, a good story that is undercut by a cheap device to inject comedy.

Portrait of M & N, vol. 1 and vol. 2 are both available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nightschool, vols. 1-3

By Svetlana Chmakova
Published by Yen Press

Slugline: A other kind of Plot? What Plot? story.

Sarah is the new Night Keeper of the Night School, a school for supernatural children including Weirns (witches), vampires, mermaids and many others.  Being held in a public school after the human children have left shows how close the two worlds are, especially since there are Hunters who make sure that the night creatures do not push at their boundaries.  But Sarah’s disappearance, not only physically but from people’s memories begins a series of events that may bring a dangerous prophecy to pass.  Sarah’s sister Alex already has a curse upon her, but to find the sister that no one remembers she enrolls in the Night School while a group of trainee Hunters and their Seer try to find who stole time from some of them.  There is seven prophecy children and though they are not known even to themselves, the consequences of their meeting will be terrible.

The characters are done well, at turns scary as they show off their more dangerous aspects while at other times they are cute and childish such as when they act like the teens they are.  The big problem is that while there is a strong overall plot, with the prophecy and the seven children waiting meet again, the actual plot in each chapter moves slowly.  Part of it may be a function of having to follow multiple characters who may (or may not) be the prophecy children but the end result is that Sarah’s story comes across as the main story but not as the most important one considering the number of scenes she isn’t even tangentially involved in.  The other potential prophecy children get less time than she does but get equally complicated plots so it feels that their stories are moving at a snail’s pace.  It didn’t feel so bad in the first volume, but by the end of the third the feeling becomes oppressing and the question is when are things going to happen?

Nightschool, vol. 1, vol. 2 and vol. 3 are all available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand